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‘Old Man’ Cruz Could Make HR History

 

No player age 40 or older has ever led the American or National leagues in home runs, according to MLB.com. Minnesota Twins 40-year-old DH Nelson Cruz might change that this season.

Although he didn’t finish first, the amazing Cruz led in American League home runs during part of last year’s shortened season. He finished 2020, after celebrating his 40th birthday in July, with 16 home runs and a .303 average in 185 at bats.

Cruz has hit 311 home runs since 2012, the most in the big leagues, per MLB.com. Four times in his career he has hit 40 or more homers. That includes his 41 home run total in 2019 when he was 39 years old. He led the American League in home runs in 2014 with 40, while playing for the Baltimore Orioles.

Although several much younger players like Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels are surer bets to lead their leagues in home runs in 2021, Cruz does seem to get better with age. Not only does he have 57 home runs in the last two years but over the last five seasons no MLB player tops his 176.

Cruz won the 2020 American League DH Silver Slugger Award in a vote by AL coaches and managers. In 53 games he ranked third in league on-base percentage, fourth in OPS, fifth in slugging percentage, tied for fifth in home runs and was seventh in batting average.

Cruz’s successful approach to training and nutrition are well documented. “He is quite a physical specimen and is obviously in tremendous shape at the age of 40,” Twins president Dave St. Peter said earlier this year.

Being a student of the game is part of Cruz’s success story, too. “His baseball related intellect is elite,” St. Peter said. “He understands the game inside and out.”

Cruz will ease his way into spring training, preparing for the coming season while approaching his 41st birthday July 1. In 20 spring training at bats he is hitting .300 and has a home run, although that one doesn’t count in an unlikely but possible campaign to be the MLB or AL 2021 home run king.

Worth Noting

Maybe Marcus Carr, the Gopher point guard and leading scorer, won’t return to the team next season and will opt for professional basketball, but he’s a long-shot to make an NBA roster. It’s highly unlikely he will be selected in the two rounds of the 2021 NBA Draft and he would have to hope for a free agent invite.

On a list of college basketball’s 50 best players this season, SI.com rates Carr No. 46. Minnesota natives Matthew Hurt, McKinley Wright IV and Jalen Suggs are at 43, 42 and 8.

Richard Pitino

Rick Pitino has influenced son Richard Pitino’s coaching career for years including now with Richard’s hiring at New Mexico. Lobos AD Eddie Nunez played for a Rick Pitino disciple at Florida, coach Billy Donovan. While in his 20s, Richard was an assistant coach working for dad at Louisville and Donovan in Gainesville.

Rick, who in his first season back in college coaching has Iona in the NCAA Tournament, looks after family. He once said on local radio here that Richard’s boss, Norwood Teague, was one of the best athletic directors in the country.

The Gophers’ basketball coaching vacancy will probably be filled in three weeks, or sooner. Whoever accepts the job likely has his current team in the NCAA Tournament.

Utah State coach Craig Smith, from Stephen, Minnesota and thought for awhile to be a favorite for the Gophers job, is receiving fan approval out west to fill the University of Utah opening.

The other Big Ten men’s basketball opening is Indiana, and look out for the Hoosiers if they convince Brad Stevens to take the job. Stevens, an Indiana native, was sensational at Butler before going to the NBA’s Boston Celtics.

Randy Wittman, 61, probably won’t draw interest from the administration despite being an Indiana native, former Hoosier star and ex-NBA coach including with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

That was Lewis Garrison, the former Gopher football player and now an experienced basketball official, working last Saturday’s Big Ten semifinal game between Iowa and Illinois in Indianapolis.

The University of Minnesota lost a thoughtful and practical leader when Michael Hsu wasn’t re-elected to the Board of Regents. The Minnesota State Legislature voted Monday on regents and among the new members are Kodi Verhalen replacing Hsu in the Sixth District.

The Minnesota men’s hockey team, winners last night of the program’s second Big Ten Tournament, head into the NCAA Tournament with the most wins in the country at 23-6.

The Minnesota Wild is 6-2 since veteran forward Zach Parise was benched for one game March 3. An NHL authority said head coach Dean Evason plays no favorites and expects everyone to play hard, even his highest paid players. No player receives the star treatment including rookie forward Kirill Kaprizov who has captivated the fan-base.

Have to wonder if former Gopher and now Northern Michigan coach Grant Potulny won’t be the next men’s hockey coach at St. Thomas. The Tommies figure to soon announce the coach who will lead them into Division I play in the CCHA.

Six players representing four schools have been named to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s All-Decade Team for the 2010s: forwards Jack Connolly of Minnesota Duluth and Marc Michaelis and Matt Leitner of Minnesota State; defensemen Justin Schultz of Wisconsin and Alec Rauhauser of Bowling Green and goaltender Dryden McKay of Minnesota State. All-decade teams this winter are part of the league’s 70-years celebration.

There is a tradition of great football clinics in Minnesota but perhaps none match the lineup of speakers for the MFCA’s virtual clinic coming up April 8-10 with Tom Allen, Mack Brown, Matt Campbell, Paul Chryst, Dave Doeren, Pat Fitzgerald and P.J. Fleck. Learn more by visiting the Minnesota Football Coaches Association website.

Vikings free agent signings of linebacker Nick Vigil and defensive linemen Dalvin Tomlinson and Stephen Weatherly hints at the franchise using its first round selection in the upcoming draft on an offensive player, perhaps a guard.

The popular WCCO Radio “Sports Huddle” program hasn’t been on the air for a year and apparently there is no plan to bring it back. The show stopped its long run because of COVID-19 concerns for 100-year-old Sid Hartman who died last fall. Hartman’s birthdate was March 15, 1920.

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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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