Monday, Jun. 18, 2018

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Whiffs Pileup for Byron Buxton


Notes on the Twins, Gophers, MIAC and horse racing:

Byron Buxton, the Twins 23-year-old centerfielder who has failed as a hitter in parts of two previous years with the Twins, is striking out at an alarming rate during the first two weeks of the season.

Buxton has struck out 19 times in 34 plate appearances—an eye-catching 56 percent of his at bats. He has three hits and a batting average of .088.

In 298 at bats last season he struck out almost 40 percent of the time while hitting .225. In 2015 it was 34 percent of his plate appearances, along with an average of .209.

Buxton looks overmatched by big league pitching, frequently not able to make solid contact when his bat does put the ball in play. If he receives enough plate appearances he could threaten Miguel Sano’s team record for striking out the most times in one season, 178. While Sano struck out 40 percent of the time last year, he also hit 25 home runs with 66 RBI as part of his .236 average.

Buxton has never approached that kind of production with the Twins, but his fielding has often been spectacular. He has already made plays this season that have both teammates and fans applauding. He hasn’t been producing runs but he has been saving them.

Buxton is an asset running the bases, too, but his dismal hitting performance will have to improve if manager Paul Molitor is going to start him everyday. It’s understandable that a young hitter like Buxton will struggle early in his career but it’s difficult to remember a player looking as feeble as Buxton who then went on to stardom. Such a future has long been predicted for the Georgia native who the Twins made the second player selected in the 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft.

Buxton was one of nine players who had at least one hit yesterday when the Twins had their most productive run scoring of the season, winning 11-5 against the Tigers. Buxton had a bunt single in five at bats, including two strikeouts, as the Twins continued their impressive start to the season. Minnesota, 6-3, plays the White Sox at Target Field tonight.

P.J. Fleck

The Gophers spring football game at TCF Bank Stadium starts at noon Saturday, and will be telecast later by the Big Ten Network beginning at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free for the game which is expected to last about two hours. Then, head coach P.J. Fleck and players will sign autographs on the field for 30 minutes.

Former Gophers football star Jim Carter told Sports Headliners that Wake Forest defensive coordinator Jay Sawvell has reached out to Mike Sherels for input. Sawvell was the Gophers defensive coordinator last season when Sherels worked for him as linebackers coach.  Sherels dealt with life-threatening health issues in 2016.

The defensive preparation by the Gophers and the upset win over heavily favored Washington State in the Holiday Bowl last December represents one of the great coaching jobs in U history. My opinion is the 17-12 win over the Cougars was the second best Gophers bowl win ever—with only the 1962 Rose Bowl victory against UCLA more impressive.

For the 15th time in 16 years, Saint John’s led Division III football schools in average attendance per game, 7,787. Bethel finished 11th nationally in per game attendance at 4,201. The MIAC, for the sixth consecutive year, led Division III conferences in average, 3,193.

The Gophers basketball team is being mentioned for preseason top 25 rankings and possibly a Big Ten championship in 2018. Minnesota coach Richard Pitino acknowledged that in his April 6 blog on

“Expectations will be sky-high going into next season,” he wrote.

Pitino is looking forward to coaching Texas A&M transfer Davonte Fitzgerald who missed last season with the Gophers because of a torn ACL. “When healthy, he shows flashes of being our best player,” Pitino wrote about the 6-8 forward. “There were times last year that he blocked just as many shots as (center) Reggie (Lynch). He’s getting healthy and working hard in his rehab. Will look at him at the 3 and the 4 next season. Great versatility!”

Former Gophers playing pro basketball overseas include Andre Hollins, Braunschweig (Germany); DeAndre Mathieu, Valga (Estonia); Trevor Mbakwe, Zenit (Russia); Carlos Morris, Oliveirense (Portugal); and Maurice Walker, Worcester (Great Britain). reported Wednesday that a record 307 players from NCAA schools—or 32 percent—appeared in NHL games during the 2016-2017 season. The Gophers have 18 alums: Nick Bjugstad, Alex Goligoski, Seth Helgeson, Hudson Fasching, Eric Haula, Eric Johnson, Phil Kessel, Nick Leddy, Paul Martin, Aaron Ness, Kyle Okposo, Kyle Rau, Mike Reilly, Nate Schmidt, Jordan Schroeder, Brady Skjei, Thomas Vanek and Blake Wheeler.

Arizona State’s hockey program appears likely to make a commitment to the WCHA this summer, with league games starting in the 2018-2019 season.

Canterbury Park opens its live horse racing season on May 5 and will also have racing May 6—the same day as the 143rd Kentucky Derby. This will be the first time since 2008 the Shakopee racetrack has offered live racing on Derby Day which annually attracts more wagering dollars than any other day at Canterbury. Combined wagering, including from various simulcast sites and live racing at Canterbury, is expected to exceed $1.5 million this year. Advance wagering at Canterbury for the Kentucky Derby starts May 4.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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