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Twins’ Molitor Likely Safe for Now

July 08, 2018 - 1 Comment

 

The Twins haven’t historically made a habit of firing managers during the season, but that doesn’t stop speculation Paul Molitor’s job could be in jeopardy.

The Twins were predicted to contend for the Central Division title before the season started. Injuries and player performances below expectation have resulted in the team being 10.5 games out of first place as of today and 16 games out of a wild card spot. The club’s 38-48 record puts Minnesota 10 games under .500. The team has lost 10 of its last 16 games, although most recently the club has won three consecutive home games against the Orioles, who have the worst record in the American League at 24-64.

A friend of Molitor who has spent part of his professional career working in the business side of baseball said it’s been an unfortunate first half of the season and he hopes the manager is not “a casualty of it.” Molitor managed the Twins two years ago when they lost 103 games. But last season Minnesota finished with a surprising winning record and earned a wild card spot in the playoffs. “I don’t think he got stupid since last year,” Molitor’s friend said.

Molitor was named the 2017 American League Manager of the Year. He is known for his baseball intellect and steady manner. From the outside he looks like a manager most players would prefer to play for. “He’s a great ambassador for the organization,” the source said. “He’s a world-class guy. I would hate to see anything happen with Paul.”

Sometimes change occurs and it’s not an indictment of the people in charge. Management can decide it’s prudent to have a new leadership voice in the clubhouse. The Twins organization, though, is known for its loyalty and didn’t terminate Ron Gardenhire during seasons when he lost 99, 96 and 92 games. Gardenhire was, however, removed as Twins manager after the 2014 season and following four consecutive years of mostly disappointing results.

Falvey & Levine

Back then Terry Ryan headed the baseball department but he hasn’t been in charge since two years ago. Baseball bosses Derek Falvey and Thad Levine inherited Molitor when club president Dave St. Peter hired them in November of 2016. Last season Molitor was in the last year of his three-year contract and despite a successful summer performance by the team, the two decision makers took their time on a new deal. They waited until the season was over to ask Molitor to return, giving him a reported three-year deal.

There has to be doubt among the many Molitor loyalists on whether Falvey and Levine think they have their ideal field boss. The two decision makers are decades younger than the 61-year-old Molitor. They have also come up through a different era of baseball than Molitor and are data-driven executives.

If the Twins continue to falter this season, Falvey and Levine’s commitment to Molitor will be tested. The two seem like deliberate decision makers and a verdict on Molitor could more likely come after the season than during it. The decision on the manager is likely to be theirs, not that of St. Peter or owner Jim Pohlad who is long ago on record as a Molitor admirer.

If the Twins finish the season with an embarrassing performance and record, the most likely scenario could still be a Molitor return in 2019 but with a revised coaching staff. There’s no doubt most of the team’s failures so far are the result of misfortune with injuries and players not maximizing potential, but coaching always plays a role in team performance. Molitor has some staffers with limited MLB resumes who seem more deserving of scrutiny than the manger.

“This is a lost season,” Molitor’s friend said. “The chances of coming back (at mid-season) are impossible, or near impossible.”

The Molitor supporters just want to know the Hall of Fame player and Minnesota native will be in the dugout next season.

Worth Noting

Didn’t get enough fireworks the last several days? The Twins will have a fireworks show after their game Friday night against the Rays. The first 10,000 fans at Target Field that evening receive an Eddie Rosario bobblehead.

Sports Headliners reader Dana Marshall emailed a reminder that pitcher Eddie Bane made his professional debut 45 years ago on Wednesday, July 4, 1973 at Met Stadium. Bane was selected out of Arizona State by the Twins in the June 1973 amateur draft, and a crowd of 45,890 came out to see the beginning of the left hander’s career on July 4. Although Bane impressed in his debut against the Royals, the Twins didn’t win the game. He only had seven MLB victories during his career.

Former Viking wide receiver Ahmad Rashad is featured in the current issue of Sports Illustrated. The article references the part-time work Rashad did with WCCO TV during his career with the Vikings and how the experience helped his post-football broadcast career.

The feature describes the many relationships in sports and entertainment that have defined Rashad’s life. In Rashad’s 1988 autobiography, he tells of his close friendships with Bill Cosby and O.J. Simpson, according to S.I. More recently he’s known for being pals with Michael Jordan.

The S.I. issue is themed “Where Are They Now?” and among the stories about famous figures from the past is an article on another former Vikings wide receiver, Percy Harvin, who was troubled by severe anxiety during his NFL career and retired early.

Athlon Sports ranks former Eden Prairie star J.D. Spielman, now at Nebraska, the No. 17 wide receiver in college football. Gopher redshirt sophomore safety Antoine Winfield Jr. is one of the 50 most underrated players in college football, per Athlon.

Transfer Noah Rasinsk, after spending the first two seasons of his college career at Concordia University St. Paul, will play for the Gophers this fall and will have two seasons of eligibility. The Lakeville South High School alum was the Golden Bears’ top scorer in each of the past two seasons with an average of 75.64 as a freshman and 73.15 as a sophomore.

 

Results Mixed on U Season Tickets

July 02, 2018 - (0) comments

 

It looks like Golden Gopher ticket buyers are excited about new women’s basketball coach Lindsay Whalen, but not as much with football’s P.J. Fleck.

Back in January of 2017 athletic director Mark Coyle hired Fleck to upgrade football recruiting and compete for Big Ten championships. After 18 months the 37-year-old Fleck has improved the recruiting, according to experts who rank major college programs. The winning? Minnesota’s record was 2-7 in Fleck’s first Big Ten season and no one is predicting a big year in 2018. However, Fleck boosters, and there are many, believe the Gophers will be competing for West Division and Big Ten titles in a few years.

The University of Minnesota Athletic Department reports that as of June 21 public season football ticket sales totals have declined from 2017. The number of accounts on June 21 of this year was 6,031 and the total number of tickets was 20,673. That compared with June 21, 2017 totals of 6,457 and 21,418.

How did the Gophers do in total football public season tickets last year? They sold 22,131 public season tickets.

Public season ticket prices for football begin at $249, compared to the least expensive price of $310 a year ago. The DQ Club season ticket price has been reduced by $300.

Mark Coyle (photo courtesy of Minnesota Athletic Communications)

Although Whalen, 37, had no previous coaching experience and is still playing for the WNBA Minnesota Lynx, her hiring is one of the most popular moves the Gophers have made in a long time. Whalen, a Hutchinson, Minnesota native, was a legendary player for the U. An Athletic Department spokesman told Sports Headliners when Coyle is out speaking and mentions Whalen’s name, the audience bursts into applause.

As of June 21, the Gophers had 803 public season ticket accounts for women’s basketball with 2,038 tickets sold. Those totals are major increases since June 21, 2017 when the figures were 480 accounts and 1,295 tickets.

Last season the total number of public season tickets sold was 1,338. Although there has been an $8 increase per season ticket, the Gophers are on track to easily exceed last season’s total.

Gopher women’s basketball has mostly been mediocre since the Whalen era ended in 2004. Her hire, though, has created expectations of not only winning championships, but perhaps even making the program financially profitable for the first time in U history.

Consider Whalen’s resume. She was the first three-time All-American in program history, a three-time All-Big Ten selection and three times made Academic All-Big. She led the Gophers to their only Final Four in program history in 2004. Her jersey, No. 13, hangs in the rafters of Williams Arena. She is also a four-time WNBA champion with the Lynx and is playing in her 14th WNBA season.

Despite a disheartening season in 2017-2018, public season ticket sales for Minnesota men’s basketball remain stable. As of June 21, there were 2,118 accounts and 6,256 public season tickets sold, compared with totals of 2,256 and 6,255 a year prior.

The Gophers sold 7,174 public season men’s basketball tickets for the 2017-2018 season.

Minnesota entered last season coming off an 11-7 Big Ten record and a first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2013. Preseason predictions last fall had the Gophers as a nationally ranked team and contender for the conference title, but things collapsed in January with Reggie Lynch’s suspension and Amir Coffey’s injury. Minnesota finished with a 4-14 league record, barely avoiding last place in the league standings.

However, there is optimism about the 2018-19 season because coach Richard Pitino appears to have enough personnel to compete for an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. Forwards Jordan Murphy and Coffey will be on most everyone’s list of candidates for preseason All-Big Ten teams. Other experienced players who can contribute return, and the incoming freshmen class of all Minnesotans appeals to U fans. Another factor motivating repeat season ticket buyers is they don’t like the idea of giving up seating priority at historic Williams Arena.

In addition to Whalen, Coyle made another high profile hire earlier this year when he named Bob Motzko head men’s hockey coach. Motzko, 57, made a name for himself leading the St. Cloud program for 13 seasons including a Frozen Four appearance in 2013.

Motzko’s hiring, though, hasn’t so far been enough to prevent a slide in public season ticket sales. As of June 21, total accounts were 1,636, with 4,644 tickets sold. That compares with figures of 1,900 and 5,352 as of June 21, 2017. The Gophers sold 5,502 public season tickets for the 2017-2018 season.

A $100 decrease in pricing in one seating zone at 3M Arena at Mariucci has been offered to incentivize public season ticket buyers.

With an overall record of 19-17 last season, the Gophers didn’t qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Fan apathy was alarming with large numbers of seats empty in the arena. The record and disinterest were painful for a program long billed as “Pride on Ice.”

Although the renewal periods for existing basketball, football and hockey public season ticket holders closed in May, the totals reported here will increase with new buyers. Sales of new season tickets will continue into the beginning of the seasons in each of the four programs.

 

New & Improved Trivia Quiz Here

June 26, 2018 - (0) comments

 

Well, this is almost as traditional as fireworks and hot dogs on the Fourth of July. My annual Independence Day Trivia Contest arrives early this year so you have more time to share with friends and family.

Okay, so I exaggerated with my opening paragraph, but I am delivering 18 questions about Minnesota sports to test your trivia IQ. Answer 16 to 18 correctly and you might become a future trivia quiz contributor. With 12 or more correct, don’t hesitate to test the know-it-all at work who thinks he is “Mr. Minnesota Sports.” Nail 8 to 11 correct answers and figure you were (somewhat?) competitive. Less than eight right answers? Start prepping for the 2019 quiz.

In composing the quiz I kept reminding myself earlier quizzes had too many difficult questions. Admonish me if I remain too harsh of a taskmaster. So dive into the 18 questions, with no peeking at the answers below until answering every darn one.

And Happy Fourth of July!

Trivia Quiz Questions

1. Name the deceased former Vikings coach who will have his name added to the franchise’s Ring of Honor later this year.

2. Kirk Cousins signed an $84 million contract with the Vikings earlier this year, but coming out of college what round of the NFL Draft was he selected by the Redskins?

3. During training camp the Vikings will host another NFL team for joint practices. Name the team.

4. Name the Twins pitcher who struck out 12 Rangers in Minnesota’s win over Texas on Sunday.

5. Who did the Twins trade to the White Sox in July of 2012 to acquire infielder Eduardo Escobar?

6. When these three Twins are in the outfield they like to say, “Nothing falls (between them) but raindrops.” Who are they?

7. This Twins relief pitcher wears his cap cockeyed and during an early season game pursued snowflakes with his tongue. Who is he?

8. Name the Golden Gopher baseball player who the U announced last week has signed a contract with the St. Paul Saints.

9. Name the new Minnesota Wild advisor who once was the Minnesota North Stars’ GM?

10. Where was Wild star Zach Parise born?

11. Who did the Wild select with the 24th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft and how do you spell his name?

12. Who is the former Golden Gopher basketball player who once made such a spectacular dunk at Williams Arena that ESPN referred to him as the “Jewish Jordan?”

13. This Golden Gophers basketball starter has a sister who was an All-American at Northwestern. Who is he?

14. Who is the Minnesota Lynx guard who also is head women’s basketball coach for the Golden Gophers?

15. The Timberwolves have two players on their roster who played high school basketball in the state of Minnesota. Name them.

16. Where did Timberwolves first round draft choice Josh Okogie play collegiately?

17. Name the Golden Gophers’ junior wide receiver who is a preseason All-Big Ten choice.

18. What’s the name of the Minnesota United’s soon-to-be home stadium?

Trivia Quiz Answers

1. Dennis Green referred to himself as the “Sheriff” and he rounded up more wins than any Vikings head coach in history except for Bud Grant (101 versus 168).

Kirk Cousins

2. Kirk Cousins was drafted in the fourth round by the Redskins in 2012 and no one could have predicted he would one day sign a three-year $84 million deal.

3. The Jaguars will come to Eagan for joint practices with the Vikings August 15 and 16 at the TCO Performance Center.

4. Jose Berrios, looking increasingly like the staff ace, struck out 12 Rangers and gave up two hits in seven innings in Minnesota’s 2-0 win on Sunday.

5. The Twins sent one-time star pitcher Francisco Liriano to the White Sox in a deal that brought infielder Eduardo Escobar and pitcher Pedro Fernandez to Minnesota.

6. Byron Buxton, Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario are so slick in the field they can (presumably) even run down raindrops.

7. Fernando Rodney is the Twins closer who wears his cap like he put it on in the dark and during a snowy game in Pittsburgh pursued snowflakes.

8. Golden Gopher senior infielder Luke Pettersen, who was an All-Big Ten third team selection at second base, has joined the St. Paul Saints.

9. Jack Ferreira, 74, once directed the personnel decisions for the North Stars and now Wild GM Paul Fenton has made Ferreira an advisor to him.

10. Even if you can’t skate, hope you got this one: Zach Parise was born in Minneapolis.

11. The Wild chose 18-year-old defenseman Filip Johansson, and please note the first name begins with the letter “F” and there are two “S’s” in Johansson.

12. ESPN’s SportsCenter was blown away by Sam Jacobson’s spectacular dunk but incorrectly referred to him as “Jewish.”

13. Golden Gopher forward Amir Coffey’s sister, Nia, was an All-American at Northwestern and their dad, Richard, was a member of the Gopher teams from 1986-1990.

14. WNBA and Lynx veteran Lindsay Whalen, 36, was named Golden Gopher women’s coach earlier this year (another uncontested “layup” question and answer for you).

15. Timberwolves guard Tyus Jones played for Apple Valley in high school, while center Cole Aldrich was a prep at Bloomington Jefferson.

16. Josh Okogie, who the Timberwolves selected with the No. 20 pick in the first round, played collegiately at Georgia Tech.

17. Golden Gophers junior Tyler Johnson is a third-team preseason All-Big Ten pick at wide receiver by Athlon magazine.

18. Allianz Field, located in St. Paul, will host the MLS United starting in 2019.

 

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