Twins & Cleveland All about Close
A Wednesday notes column:
Football is in the news but the sports focus in this town starting Thursday night and continuing through Sunday afternoon will be the Minnesota Twins-Cleveland Indians four-game series at Target Field. The Twins lead the AL Central Division by 3.5 games over the second place Indians in a tight race to determine the champion by season’s end in late September.
“It’s going to be a battle,” Twins president Dave St. Peter told Sports Headliners yesterday as he looked forward to the upcoming series. “Every game is going to be close. It’s probably going to come down to the final innings one way or another. Little things are going to make huge differences in terms of a team making mistakes and (the) other team capitalizing on those mistakes.”
In nine previous games between Cleveland and Minnesota, six have been decided by one or two runs. The Twins have won five of the nine games spread over three series, two in Cleveland and one in Minneapolis.
There are 10 games yet to be played between the two teams before the regular season ends, with seven of them scheduled at Target Field. The Twins, 70-43 overall this season, are 35-21 on the road, and 35-22 at home. The Indians are 66-46 overall, with records of 36-24 and 30-22 at home and away respectively.
It’s accepted doctrine playing at home is advantageous. Players sleep in their own beds, prepare for games in familiar routines, and know the quirks and nuances of the home ballpark. There is also the energy of the home crowd. “Our fans can play a huge role in what happens here down the stretch,” St. Peter said.
Thursday night’s game is expected to have attendance of over 30,000, with tickets also remaining for the final three games of the series, but St. Peter said Friday, Saturday and Sunday could sell out.
A Twins sweep will send Indians fans buying up Maalox in large quantities. If Cleveland wins all four games it’s problematic for the Twins but probably won’t boost Maalox sales here like in Ohio. “If there is a sweep either way, it puts a team in a hole,” St. Peter said. “I tend to think of it both ways.”
Twins center fielder Max Kepler had one hit in his first 19 at bats against the Indians this season. Since then he is 9 of 19 with five home runs and eight RBI. Those five home runs came in consecutive at-bats during June and July games against now departed Indians starter Trevor Bauer.
St. Peter talking about recently acquired reliever Sam Dyson who is on the Injured List after just two games with Minnesota: “We expect he is going to contribute mightily to the Twins.”
Ken Novak, going into his 31st season at Hopkins as boys basketball coach, is wowed by Paige Bueckers, the first-team prep All-American on the Royals girls team. “She is the only girl I’ve ever seen that I think could play for a good boys’ team,” Novak told Sports Headliners.
He likens Bueckers, the dynamic point guard who will be a senior this coming school year, to the legendary Pete Maravich who played flamboyantly with jaw-dropping ball handling and passing skills. Novak said Bueckers combines so many fundamental basketball skills with a “flair” for the game. She has verbally committed to Connecticut for college.
Novak has his own star in 6-5 senior shooting guard Kerwin Walton, the only returning starter for the Royals. “He is one of the best I’ve coached,” said Novak, who has sent a long list of players to college programs including former Golden Gophers shooting guard Blake Hoffarber.
The legacy coach believes the 6-5 Walton compares favorably to Hoffarber as two of the better players he has coached. “He will be a great college player,” Novak said about Walton. “You don’t get recruited by Kansas (and) Arizona, those caliber schools, and not be really good. I think there is no doubt he is just going to get better.”
Walton, who averaged about 18 points per game last season for Hopkins and is having a high profile summer playing more amateur basketball, holds scholarship offers from 21 schools including Arizona, Kansas, Minnesota, Texas, West Virginia and Virginia Tech, per Rivals.com. But Novak said his star guard isn’t favoring any particular school including Minnesota. “He knows the coaches (at Minnesota) well, and he really likes them,” Novak said.
Walton has made improvements of late and more are expected, partially because of a work ethic that includes practicing four or more hours per day. “He really works at it (getting better),” Novak said.
Novak’s father, 90-year-old Ken Sr., expects to return as one of the Hopkins boys assistant coaches next season.
Eric Morken, writing yesterday for Echopress.com, reported Alexandria’s Treyton Thompson will transfer for next season to an Indiana prep school. A class of 2021 recruiting target, the Gophers have offered a scholarship.
It was 50 years ago this summer that Noel Jenke, one of the Golden Gophers’ best athletes ever, made his professional baseball debut as an outfielder with AAA Louisville. Jenke had hit .402 in the spring of 1969 playing in his first and only season for the Gophers. The Boston Red Sox were eager to sign him and Jenke, who represented himself, knew he had leverage in the negotiations because the NFL’s Vikings and NHL Blackhawks wanted him, too.
Now retired from corporate security work and living in suburban Milwaukee, Jenke never revealed the bonus amount the Red Sox gave him and he still won’t. “It was more than the Red Sox wanted to pay me,” he told Sports Headliners. “It was one of the highest bonuses paid in the MLB draft that year, if not the highest.”
Jenke’s negotiating leverage paid off after the Red Sox initially offered $50,000. Following his contract signing the team also gave him a Chevy Impala. Jenke, who negotiated the deal surrounded by “three piece suits,” was glad he remembered the advice of a tax attorney who told him, “It’s just as easy to ask for $100,000, as it is $25,000.”
An Owatonna, Minnesota native, Jenke only played one season of baseball at Minnesota because football coach Murray Warmath insisted he be available for spring practices. As a college baseball senior, with his football eligibility expired, Jenke became an All-American but as a professional never made it to the big leagues and ended up playing five seasons in the NFL with the Vikings, Falcons and Packers. He won seven letters at Minnesota, with three each in football and hockey, and one in baseball.
As with other sports, analytics has become important in the MLS including with the Minnesota United. CEO Chris Wright told Sports Headliners there are “global data and analytics companies” that provide details on every pro soccer player in the world who is a member of a club registered through FIFA.
Wright can call up information on thousands of players based on a description of what he is looking for. He and those who work for the United can also identify a specific player they are scouting to learn more about him via analytics.
Wright said his club also employs “two and a half full-timers” as scouts, while also having about 30 part-timers who take a look at players for the United.
Bloomington, Minnesota native Steve Rushin, a former National Sportswriter of the Year, speaks to the Twin Cities Dunkers group August 20.