How effectively will 23-year-old Twins second baseman Luis Arraez hit in his second MLB season? That will be among the most intriguing storylines during the 60-game schedule the club starts soon, with its first game July 24.
No Twins rookie ever had a better batting average than Arraez’s .334 in 2019. That’s better than Tony Oliva’s .323 in 1964 and way beyond Rod Carew’s .292 in 1967. The .334 was the fifth highest average for a MLB rookie in the last 100 years, with Arraez challenging storied hitters like Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio.
For career batting average no Twin was ever the equal of Carew who flirted with a .400 season in 1977 and made the cover of Time magazine. Carew, a left-handed hitter like Arraez, also played second base. Both are Latin American born and arrived in Minneapolis in their early 20’s with reputations as contact hitters. Differences between them are Carew had more foot speed and he thrived on chasing pitches other hitters wouldn’t, while Arraez is known for his strike zone discipline.
In 19 seasons Carew had a lifetime batting average of .328, won seven American League batting titles and earned a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. No one is predicting yet that Arraez will have a future like Carew but what fate awaits him in the shortened season ahead? Was his first season an aberration?
For what it is worth, Arraez hit only .103 in 29 at bats in spring training. But over longer stretches he has never faltered at the plate including a minor league career batting average of .331. If pitchers thought they were figuring him out toward the end of last season it didn’t show because his September batting average was .324.
“He is a very tough out,” Oliva told Sports Headliners last year. “He hits to the whole field. He doesn’t strike out too often. Ninety-nine percent of the time he swings (at) a strike.”
Arraez’s 29 strike outs were the fewest in the majors among players with at least 350 plate appearances last season. That’s part of what gave him the confidence to say last week his goals for the shortened season include hitting .400.
Carew, who like Arraez sprayed the ball all over the field, hit over .400 in 60-game stretches, according to MLB.com and the Elias Sports Bureau (July 6 story). In his new book, One Tough Out, Carew talks about being in a zone in 1977, including having 40 hits in 87 at bats. On July 1, 1977 his average was .415. He finished the season at .388 after trying to become the first major leaguer to hit over .400 since Williams batted .406 in 1941.
“To understand the difficulty of keeping an average above .400, consider what happened the day I reached .415,” Carew writes. “I went 2-for-5…and my average dropped.”
In Carew’s second season he hit .272 and wasn’t happy with his swing. In his book he credits manager Billy Martin with helping him make changes. Things clicked with Carew batting .332 in 1969 and setting off a streak of 15 seasons above .300.
Think Arraez will sign up for that?
Cosgriff Retiring & Other Notes
Hopkins girls’ basketball coach Brian Cosgriff is retiring and told players of his decision this morning. He has been the Royals’ head coach for 21 seasons, with seven state titles, 19 Lake Conference championships and 14 section titles. Wishing all the best to Brian who is one of the state’s great coaches ever, and a classy gentleman.
Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, writing a July 6 story for Si.com about how savvy the Tampa Bay Rays are, points out the organization found D.J. Snelten on the internet this past offseason. The former Gopher pitched for the independent ball Chicago Dogs last year but this winter rebuilt his delivery and posted a video impressing the low budget Rays.
Verducci reports Snelten is throwing the ball 96 miles per hour after previously not even being in the 90s. He also has an effective change up. During the offseason he lost 70 pounds.
Snelten, with a minor league contract, is trying to make the Rays roster after being drafted by the San Francisco Giants in 2013 and having many baseball stops since then.
In these trying economic times, colleges are cutting sports programs with tennis sometimes a popular target. Among justifications are the United States Tennis Association provides an alternative for players in developing their games, and scholarships at many colleges go to foreign players in large numbers.
Nobody is indicating the 25-sport Gophers program, including tennis, will see any cuts soon. Of note, though, is five of the eight players on the men’s tennis roster are from other countries, along with two Minnesotans and one South Dakotan. Six of the nine players on the Gopher women’s roster are foreigners, with one Minnesota native.
As of now, the Bloomington-based men’s WCHA has commitments from only three schools for the 2021-2022 season—Alaska Anchorage, Alaska Fairbanks and Alabama Huntsville. Seven schools are leaving the WCHA to form their own league after next season.
Men’s WCHA Commissioner Billy Robertson is working hard to bring three or more new members into his league for 2021-2022. The candidates include schools located in or near major metropolitan areas: St. Thomas (Twin Cities), Simon Fraser (Vancouver), Lindenwood (St. Louis), Arizona State (Phoenix) and Long Island (New York City).
“All are in major markets that would help bring a higher profile to the league…and increase revenue streams and sponsorship opportunities,” Robertson wrote in an email.
Jay Weiner, the former Star Tribune sportswriter and Olympic specialist who more recently held positions at the University of Minnesota and at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, announced his retirement on Facebook Tuesday.
Enjoy a Tuesday notes column with news about prep recruiting, the 3M Open and more.
Don’t look for megastar recruit Chet Holmgren from Minnehaha Academy to announce his college choice this year. While recruits and their families can tire of the relentless contact by recruiters, Holmgren’s father David told Sports Headliners his 7-foot, multi-positional son is unlikely to accept a college basketball scholarship during the fall signing period.
David Holmgren said the most informed decision can be made in the spring because of several factors. Those variables can include the job status of coaches, and transfers going in and out of programs.
Chet Holmgren, who may emerge next winter as the consensus top recruit in the nation for the class of 2021, has a list of seven schools he is focusing on including Minnesota. David, a former Gopher, said his son’s final choice will be “more up to him” than it will be a collaborative family decision.
Totino-Grace tight end Joe Alt, who was a top target for Minnesota’s 2021 recruiting class, verbally committed to Notre Dame yesterday. 247Sports national recruiting analyst Allen Trieu had predicted Alt would choose the Irish over Minnesota, Iowa and other offers.
In a story by Trieu yesterday he quoted John Alt, Joe’s dad, that the recent departure of often praised Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle was a factor in Joe not selecting the Hawkeyes. “He wanted to be trained by (Chris) Doyle and Doyle is gone,” said John Alt, a former Hawkeye. “It fell into place with Notre Dame and it’s hard to argue it.” …
Alt likely is attracted to Notre Dame by a combination of factors including the program’s success in developing NFL linemen, the school’s academic excellence, faith-based values, and storied football tradition. Alt is close to four-star status, per 247Sports.
Jeff Ferguson, who retired as Totino-Grace’s head football coach in February, knows a lot about Alt and has high praise for him as a person and football player. “I think he is just a tremendous prospect,” Ferguson told Sports Headliners.
Alt was a ninth grade quarterback, sophomore inside linebacker and last fall as a junior played tight end for Totino-Grace. In college he projects as an offensive tackle. His adaptability to new positions has been dictated by more than growth spurts that now have him at about 6-7, 240 pounds. “He is very intuitive on the field,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson described Alt as an “amazing” young man who is likeable, level headed and focused on football, academics (near 4.0 student), family and friends.
Ferguson was the Eagles head coach for 18 seasons, winning eight state titles. He continues to work part-time at Totino-Grace in fundraising and while he may coach in the future it won’t be as a head coach.
In March Ferguson’s wife Barb was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has experienced 14 chemo treatments, with three more to go before a mastectomy in September. Ferguson is upbeat about his wife’s health, referring to the cancer as “treatable and curable.”
Spring Lake Park alum Troy Merritt tied for eighth last weekend at the Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club. Merritt tied for seventh in last year’s 3M Open, winning almost $180,000 in his home state. This year’s 3M Open field won’t entirely be known until July 17 but tourney boss Hollis Cavner expects Merritt to play.
The PGA Tournament will be July 20-26 at TPC Twin Cities, and Cavner told Sports Headliners Merritt could do well again. “Good story and good contender,” Cavner said.
Merritt not only knows the course but it’s favorable to the Minnesotan’s fairway and short game efficiency. “It’s a second shot course,” Cavner said about TPC, a layout that doesn’t mandate bombing the golf ball off the tee.
Will Tiger Woods play for the first time in the second-year tournament? “We have no clue,” Cavner said while pointing out many players are delaying commitments these days.
How about paying $1,000 for a club seat between the 30 yard lines at US Bank Stadium for the September 13 Vikings-Packers game? That was the top price yesterday at Ticket King, per Mike Nowakowski of the local ticket outlet.
Nowakowski said his business is down 95 percent since March and the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While his office is taking calls about tickets for the Vikings and college football, he isn’t optimistic about business returning to normal until next year.
There is no word yet about the Vikings allowing fans in US Bank Stadium for games this year but there are ticket buyers despite the uncertainty. The NFL has made its intent clear about having a season but that is subject to debate, with or without spectators.
Nowakowski said prior to March there was an increase in interest in Gophers football tickets. “Before COVID there definitely was some buzz after the (successful) season and the (2020) recruiting class,” Nowakowski said.
Condolences to the family and many friends of Lou Holtz whose wife Beth passed away last week after a long battle with cancer. The legendary Holtz’s coaching stops included the Golden Gophers where he and Beth once were Edina residents.
An online authority ranks Mark Coyle the No. 11 athletic director among 130 FBS schools. This is the latest endorsement of the University of Minnesota AD who was hired in 2016.
It was rumored last fall University of Southern California officials were in town to test Coyle’s interest in their AD opening. There was speculation USC might even be intrigued about not only hiring Coyle, but doing a package deal that delivered Minnesota head football coach P.J. Fleck.
Minnesota president Joan Gabel and the Board of Regents approved a new contract in February for Coyle that extends through June 2026. The deal now pays Coyle $975,000 and brings him nearer the best paid athletic directors in the nation who make more than $1 million annually.
Watchstadium.com’s Jeff Goodman and Brett McMurphy ranked the top 20 athletic directors nationally after grading 130 of them on their football and men’s basketball head coaching hires. The Tuesday article said “grades were based on the success of coaches hired, difficulty of opponents in their respective conferences, bowl appearances, NCAA tournament trips, conference titles and national championships won.”
As athletics director at three schools, Coyle’s ranking is based on his hires of head football coaches Bryan Harsin, Dino Babers and P.J. Fleck. As AD at Boise State he hired Harsin, who in six years has a 64-17 record. Coyle’s hiring of Babers at Syracuse resulted in a program rebuilding, with the four-season highlight so far 10 wins in 2018.
Fleck was one of the nation’s hottest coaching names when Coyle hired him away from Western Michigan in January of 2017. Fleck had a breakout season in 2019 with the Gophers winning 11 games for the first time since 1904. The Gophers won two games against top-10 teams and ranked No. 10 in the final Associated Press poll.
Basketball didn’t figure into Coyle’s No. 11 evaluation by Goodman and McMurphy because he inherited coach Richard Pitino, who in eight Big Ten seasons has one winning year in conference games. Still, Coyle received an A- grade, and among Big Ten Conference peers ranks only behind Ohio State’s Gene Smith and Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez. They rank No. 2 and 3 respectively in the country, behind No. 1 Joe Castiglione of Oklahoma.
If Fleck can continue his success and basketball becomes a winning program, Coyle might one day earn the reputation of Minnesota’s best athletics director ever. There will be inquiries from other schools about Coyle’s interest in moving on but the Upper Midwest native seems comfortable in the Twin Cities and with his job. During Coyle’s time at Minnesota the 25-sport program has compared very favorably with other FBS schools in academics, community involvement and winning.
Retaining Coyle could well be a key in hanging on to Fleck who at 39 remains one of the hot names in college coaching. When schools start bidding for Fleck, and they will if he continues to win, the coach may or may not show interest. If he does, bet your Goldy cap Fleck’s relationship with Coyle will count for a lot on whether he stays or goes.
Hiring the right coach is an inexact process, with a long list of athletic directors failing at the assignment including in the Big Ten. Coyle’s knack for impressive hires makes him a valued commodity at Minnesota where football and men’s basketball must pay much of the budget for the 25-sport program. There is no guarantee, of course, Coyle will always make the right hire but his presence at Minnesota should give Gopher fans more confidence about the future than at most other places across the country.
With COVID-19 remaining a threat, a small number of Division III colleges nationally have cancelled fall sports. What about the 13-member Division III Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference that includes several Twin Cities schools? “At this point I am focused on having a full season,” MIAC commissioner Dan McKane told Sports Headliners yesterday.
MIAC presidents meet July 15 and may have an announcement about football and other fall sports. At that meeting McKane will have feedback from the Minnesota Department of Health. He has been in weekly contact with state health officials for awhile and last Thursday submitted a plan specific to the fall sports season.
The state’s reaction will dictate what happens next with the MIAC, and McKane said the plan could provide a template for all college sports in Minnesota. While the state could approve the proposal as is, or even reject it entirely, the more likely scenario might be recommended changes given that youth sports have already been okayed.
Things change fast with the pandemic but currently all MIAC institutions are planning to have students on their campuses this fall. If some reverse course, but not all, McKane said the MIAC would still allow competition among the schools with students on campuses. If all 13 schools moved to online learning only, the MIAC would not start or continue the fall sports schedule.
As part of the recognition for the 100th season of Gopher men’s hockey this fall, the athletic department is promoting fan voting for the greatest players. John Mayasich, who last played for the Gophers in 1955, is still revered by program historians and is perhaps the greatest player ever at Minnesota.
Mayasich still holds school records including most career points with 298, even though he played in fewer games than many others in the record book. John Mariucci, the so-called “Godfather” of hockey in the state, once said this about Mayasich: “The words to describe the boy haven’t been invented. When I say the best, that’s totally inadequate.”
Happy birthday to retired Gophers trainer Jim Marshall who turns 90 tomorrow (July 3). Marshall worked 42 years for the Gophers and has been retired for 17.
The late Harmon Killebrew, the Twins homerun king, would have been 84 June 29. A great player and person, Harmon died in 2011.