Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017


Van Clemens

 

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Twins Need Dominant Santana in NY

September 26, 2017 - (0) comments

 

To most of the baseball world, the Twins look like a “just happy to be here” team going into next Tuesday’s anticipated playoff game against the Yankees in New York. The Twins have lost four of six to the Yankees this season, have an inferior overall record (82-74 versus 87-69), and a roster of key players who are young and inexperienced.

Max Kepler (photo courtesy of Minnesota Twins).

In a one-game playoff young Twins hitters Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco and Eddie Rosario could nervously be chasing pitches they shouldn’t be offering at. Add Miguel Sano, if healthy enough to play, to that list. None of those players have ever been in a Major League postseason game and their inexperience might lead to mistakes in the field and on the bases, too.

It appears all but certain the Twins and Yankees will be the American League’s two wild card entrants. For Minnesota to reverse the disaster of postseason failures against the Yankees in 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010, the Twins will almost certainly need a special performance from their expected starting pitcher, 34-year-old Ervin Santana.

Santana’s anticipated schedule has him starting Thursday against the Indians, then resting and preparing for the Yankees. His experience and skills give the Twins a chance in their playoff game. A win this Thursday will be his 17th of the season and set a career high. He goes into the game with a career-best 3.36 ERA.

Santana, who is among the American League leaders in wins, is paid to have big seasons like 2017 when he was honored with a place on the AL All-Star roster. He has postseason experience and earns $13.5 million annually, according to Cot’s baseball contracts.

The club’s best paid player, $23 million a year Joe Mauer, is also a veteran presence and has played in nine playoff games. He is hitting over .300 for the first time since 2013 and has committed only two errors at first base.

Royals’ first baseman Eric Hosmer hasthree errors, and has started 37 more games than Mauer. Hosmer is the favorite to win the AL Gold Glove award for first basemen.

Worth Noting

After the Vikings’ 34-17 win over the Bucs Sunday, Profootballfocus.com gave its five highest grades among Minnesota players to quarterback Case Keenum, wide receiver Adam Thielen, offensive tackle Mike Remmers, wide receiver Stefon Diggs, and cornerback Trae Waynes. The website said Keenum, substituting for the injured Sam Bradford, “had the game of his life as he torched the Bucs secondary up and down the field.”

Sam Bradford (photo courtesy of Minnesota Vikings)

With Bradford sidelined with a knee injury, the 2-1 Vikings only have three offensive starters who were regulars on last season’s team—Diggs, Thielen and tight end Kyle Rudolph. Yet the Vikings rank second in the NFL in total offense at 400.3 yards per game, trailing the Patriots at 440.7.

Marcus Sherels, the former Gopher and Rochester, Minnesota native, turns 30 on Saturday. He has developed an impressive career with the Vikings as a punt returner and reserve cornerback. Sherels, acquired by the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2010, holds the team career record for most touchdowns returning punts (five).

The Cowboys were the only NFL team worth $2 billion five years ago but now all but five franchises are at that level and more, according to a September 18 Forbes.com article. Forbes released its annual valuations of the league’s 32 teams including the Cowboys valued at $4.8 billion. The league average is $2.5 billion and the Vikings are valued at $2.4 billion.

Ticket prices range from $35 to $140 for Saturday’s Gophers-Maryland game at TCF Bank Stadium. For the Nebraska game November 11, prices start at $90 and go up to $235, while the range for Wisconsin two weeks later is $80 to $210.

Former Gophers Nick Rallis and Adam Weber are working in the football programs at Wake Forest and UCLA respectively.

Former Minnesota Mr. Football J.D. Spielman, now a redshirt freshman and wide receiver at Nebraska, had his first college touchdown reception last Saturday in a win over Rutgers. Spielman also has a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown this season.

Saint John’s and St. Thomas resume their football rivalry in Collegeville next year on October 13. The Tommies will host the Johnnies October 19, 2019, presumably at O’Shaughnessy Stadium in St. Paul but don’t be surprised if talks surface regarding another site after Saint John’s and St. Thomas drew a Division III record crowd at Target Field of 37,355 last Saturday.

Will the Johnnies consider hosting the game at a large neutral site stadium like St. Thomas did this year? “I can guarantee we’ll always play at (our) Clemens Stadium,” Saint John’s athletic director Bob Alpers told Sports Headliners.

Alpers is also the Johnnies golf coach and his team was playing in the Twin Cities Classic on Saturday so he missed the historic football game.

The Division III game last Saturday had a larger attendance than 28 FBS games including home crowds for Maryland and top 20 ranked Washington State. A St. Thomas spokesman also said there were “17,000 hits” on the school website’s streaming the game. A typical Tommies game might have 1,000 to 1,500 hits, while the previous all-time high in hits for a St. Thomas football game was 9,000 last year in a playoff game against UW-Oshkosh.

The WNBA Finals involving Glen Taylor’s Lynx will cause him to miss the Timberwolves team flight to China. Taylor told Sports Headliners he and wife Becky will fly to China after the finals that continue tonight with Game Two at Williams Arena against the Sparks and could go through October 4. The Wolves, who Taylor also owns, will play exhibition games in China starting October 5.

Taylor will participate in an NBA meeting while in China. He owns printing and software businesses in the country.

Taylor said the installation of temporary air conditioning at Williams Arena for the finals will cost about $1 million, and because the expenditure wasn’t budgeted for the Lynx franchise might not make a profit this year. “It won’t help, that’s for sure,” said Taylor who approved the expenditure for the benefit of players and fans.

Taylor remains friends with former Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman who is retired and spending time with family. Adelman’s son, David Adelman, who used to work for the Wolves, is an assistant with the Nuggets.

 

Reporting on a Funny (I hope) Weekend

September 24, 2017 - (0) comments

 

After being warned more than once that I’m not funny, I’m writing this dispatch to make you laugh.

At least smile?

Grin?

Not cringe?

I stayed close to home this weekend despite an array of attractions to cover including prep football, the Vikings, Lynx and Gophers volleyball. I passed, too, on the first-ever football game at Target Field where St. Thomas and Saint John’s set a Division III attendance record of 37,355.

The turnout at Target Field came close to the 38,686 attendance for a 2015 Division I game at Fenway Park between host Boston College and Notre Dame. Well, the Tommies and Johnnies showed those Eastern folks—never mind that BC stinks in football.

My friend and local emcee Dick Jonckowski might wonder if I spent the weekend hunting waterfowl. Jonckowski told a luncheon crowd earlier this month about an alleged encounter I had with a game warden who caught me shooting loons. After scolding and fining me, the curious law enforcement officer asked what loon tastes like.

“Somewhere in between a trumpeter swan and bald eagle,” I replied.

The Lynx play the Sparks in game one of the WNBA Finals this afternoon. The Minnesota franchise made a favorable impression with me years ago when I went down to the locker room after a game. Players were celebrating somebody’s birthday and invited me to have cake with them.

Hmm. I can’t recall that happening after a Vikings game. Must have forgot.

ESPN reported Saturday former Badgers coach Bret Bielema, struggling in his fifth season at Arkansas, will receive a $15 million buyout if the Razorbacks terminate him.

Why didn’t I go into coaching?

The Twins swept a four-game series from the Tigers and will qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Too many Minnesota fans, though, think the “Boys of Summer” will flop right away in the fall postseason.

Boo!

Never doubt a team with a starting pitcher named “Big Sexy,” a “Mighty Mouse” slugger in Eduardo Escobar and a hometown manager trying to save his job.

I did find time recently to revive my golf game. My swing, put in “mothballs” in August, was pretty consistent on Friday. Best advice to hackers for lowering your score: skip the 18th hole and head for “No. 19.”

Even better advice—this is no joke—is heed the words of Hale Irwin, the Hall of Famer who was in town this summer for the 3M Championship. He said two of the most common faults made by weekend golfers is they don’t use enough club for most shots and they rush their backswings.

Tennis got my attention last spring and summer. I took to the courts a few times including a couple of outings with best friend Myron who lives in Michigan but was in town for a visit. We have been tennis pals forever and historically there is a trophy awarded to the winner of our annual series. Long ago, though, Myron started winning with such frequency he stopped bringing the Turnbull Cup to Minnesota.

The epitome of arrogance!

But we now have a travelling golf trophy. Proud to say it rests in a place of honor in my home and not on Michigan soil. (Full disclosure: Myron hardly ever plays golf, except with me. By contrast, some weeks I spend hours at the driving range and watch golf videos on YouTube until bleary-eyed).

During the weekend I contemplated renewing my subscription to the Star Tribune. I am a fan of the sports section but not so much the news and editorial pages that have a definite “agenda.” Let’s put it this way, if a global catastrophe were about to happen, the Strib headline might be: “World to End, Homeless, First Offenders & Radicals to Suffer the Most.”

At my suburban Minneapolis library the St. Paul newspaper has shelf space labeled “Minnesota Pioneer Press.” On this side of the river we’re apparently not clear about the names of the Twin Cities daily newspapers. Is it the Star Tribune, Minneapolis Star Tribune, or “Newspaper of the Twin Cities”? At least one employee has referenced his newspaper as the Star Trombone.”

On my nightstand is a book called Conversations with God. It was published in the 1990s and pretty much explains everything about everything, and forever. Author Neal Donald Walsch talked extensively with God who patiently answered his questions.

I will let you know if I arrange a similar interview. Definitely worth a column—perhaps two or three dispatches.

 

UST-St. John’s in Novelty Game Saturday

September 21, 2017 - (0) comments

 

Don’t expect Saturday’s near sellout crowd at Target Field to create Division I or II football ambitions for academic and athletics leaders at the University of St. Thomas.

Attendance for the Division III Tommies-Saint John’s game could total over 37,000 in the Twins’ home that accommodates a few thousand more fans than that for baseball. Target Field opened in 2010 but this will be the first football game ever played there and whatever the final attendance count the total will set a national record for Division III.

Tommies athletic director Steve Fritz told Sports Headliners his school is “very happy” in the MIAC and playing in Division III, with no intent to become a bigger player in college football despite the record interest in Saturday’s game that has even drawn national media interest. And don’t expect the Tommies to be back in a large Twin Cities stadium in the near future, including two years from now when St. Thomas again hosts Saint John’s in its famous rivalry game that is always a hot ticket in Collegeville or St. Paul.

Fritz is open to considering other options for 2019 but he is thinking his school will play the Saint John’s game at O’Shaughnessy Stadium on the St. Thomas campus. “Right now that’s what our thought is,” he said.

The Twins made the initial contact regarding the 2017 Tommies-Johnnies game at Target Field. The Twins organization is interested in hosting a few annual attractions that can be held during the baseball season when the club is out of town. The Twins are the promoter for Saturday’s game, taking the risk and gaining the reward regarding finances. Fritz said St. Thomas receives a financial guarantee similar to revenues for hosting past games with the Johnnies at O’Shaughnessy Stadium, and could be given extra compensation as part of the school’s deal with the Twins.

Fritz declined to reveal specific figures. As in any MIAC football game, the visiting team receives no share of the gate receipts or other game revenues.

Fritz predicts the crowd will be about evenly divided among St. Thomas and Saint John’s fans. Tickets are for reserved seating and are scaled at different prices up to $35. Student tickets are $10 and buses will run for more than two hours Saturday morning from the St. Thomas campus to Target Field prior to the game’s 1 p.m. kickoff. Contrast ticket prices with a 1989 game that the Tommies hosted against Saint John’s when adult tickets were $3, student tickets $2.

The Tommies and Johnnies always draw attention when they meet in a football rivalry that dates back to 1901, with attendance even totaling 17,327 for the 2015 game in Collegeville. But Saturday’s get together is an opportunity to accommodate many more fans in one of America’s acclaimed baseball parks.  A spirited rivalry, plus the novelty of Target Field, has made for an attraction bigger than anyone, including the Twins, expected.

“This is really something,” Fritz said. “The Saint John’s game is always big and always fun and all that…but this kind of thing is hard to imagine.”

Reportedly the all-time single game attendance record for a Division III football game was set last fall when UW-Whitewater hosted UW-Oshkosh. Announced attendance was 17,535.

A St. Thomas spokesman wrote via email that the Target Field game is “on pace to surpass the attendance at 20 of the 40 FBS bowl games held last holiday season, including games that involved South Carolina, South Florida, Indiana, Utah, Baylor, Boise State, North Carolina State, Vanderbilt, Maryland, Boston College, Mississippi State and Colorado State.”

The 3-0 Johnnies, averaging 67.7 points per game, are ranked No. 6 nationally in the AFCA coaches poll. The 2-1 Tommies, who have won six of the last eight games in the rivalry, are ranked No. 11 in that poll. Johnnies fans prefer to remember a stretch between 1993 and 2009 when their team won 16 of 17 games against the Tommies.

Glenn Caruso (photo courtesy of University of St. Thomas)

The Tommies probably can’t lose Saturday’s game and retain much chance to qualify later for the Division III playoffs. Despite that pressure to avoid a second loss this season, and playing before a record crowd, Fritz said his coach, Glenn Caruso, isn’t taking an unusual approach to the game. “He’s as well prepared as anybody I’ve ever seen,” Fritz said.

Emotions will be intense for coaches, players and fans at Saturday’s historic game. Fritz acknowledged a win would mean even a little more than a typical victory over the Johnnies. “…Obviously this one is pretty special,” he said.

After 14 consecutive Tommies-Johnnies games played on artificial turf, the 2017 version will take place on a grass field running parallel to the baseball third base line. Part of the field will be the Twins’ dirt infield. Things could get sloppy if rain forecasts prove correct. AccuWeather.com predicts a 55 percent chance of thunderstorms around 1 p.m.

Precipitation won’t enhance the fan atmosphere on a special small college football afternoon. “I don’t think it ruins everything, but the better the day the better the atmosphere,” Fritz said.

 

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