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Historic July for Local Pro Franchises

July 11, 2021 - (0) comments

 

Welcome to a Sunday notes column:

Because of the pandemic and disruption of schedules, MLB, the NHL and NBA hold player drafts this month. It’s unprecedented for fans of the Twins, Wild and Timberwolves to be following all three drafts in July.

The 2021 MLB First-Year Player Draft starts today in Denver and continues through Tuesday. The Twins have the No. 26 selection in the first round and may take a college pitcher. This is the first time the MLB Draft has been part of events built around the All-Star Game (Tuesday night).

The Twins, with a 38-50 record, may earn a .500 record by season’s end. Regardless, they won’t finish with MLB’s worst record in 2021 and thereby qualify for the first pick in the 2022 draft. Twins draftniks have joked about a “tank for Elijah” campaign, referring to super prospect outfielder Elijah Green who is a favorite to go No. 1 in 2022.

The NHL Draft will be July 23-24 at the NHL Network Studio in Secaucus, New Jersey. The Wild draft position is late in the first round but Minnesota does have two picks at No. 21 and 25. The organization needs scoring and playmaking including at center, with that priority likely addressed on July 23.

The Wild will also target the center position in the offseason by looking for a veteran center. Buffalo Sabre Jack Eichel could be on the shopping list.

Gersson Rosas

The NBA Draft will be July 29 in New York and the Timberwolves don’t have a selection in either of the league’s two rounds. Put the odds, though, at 50-50 this will change between now and July 29, with basketball boss Gersson Rosas making a trade with another club for a choice or two in the draft.

The Golden State Warriors have the Wolves first round pick because of the 2020 trade that sent Andrew Wiggins to California and brought D’Angelo Russell to Minneapolis. Wiggins exceeded expectations for the Warriors last season, while an injured Russell missed 26 games because of knee surgery. The defensive limitations of Russell, the performance of Wiggins at both ends of the court in 2021, and having the Wolves’ No. 7 first round draft spot, prompted this opinion last month from NBCsports.com about Golden State executive Bob Myers:

“Myers robbed Gersson Rosas blind and simply left Russell in his office with a thank you card attached.”

Former Gophers star Max Meyer, now in the Miami Marlins organization, is scheduled to pitch in today’s Futures All-Star game in Denver. Meyer is among minor league baseball’s most promising prospects. Josh Winder, a right-hander like Meyer, will represent the Twins via the St. Paul Saints. Winder is 4-0 with a 2.17 ERA in two minor league stops this year.

Before the trade deadline it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Twins move shortstop Andrelton Simmons to the Cincinnati Reds for prospects. The Reds are trying to win the NL Central and have a need at short. The Twins could call up MLB veteran JT Riddle from the St. Paul Saints and finish the season with him. Top prospect Royce Lewis is likely to be Minnesota’s long-term answer at shortstop.

The Twins rotate analysts on TV telecasts but no one compares with 82-year-old Jim Kaat who in recent weeks has been working the booth with play-by-play man Dick Bremer. Listening to Kaat’s insights and storytelling can be better than the game. Within moments his infallible baseball mind might be recalling the first game he ever saw (1946 Briggs Stadium, Tigers and Red Sox), and then advising Twins hitters to focus less on launch angles and more on “situational hitting.”

Word is now retired Mikko Koivu could become a coach with the Finnish national team, and an ambassador for the Minnesota Wild.

In members-only meetings (no guests) the Twin Cities Dunkers will hear from Gophers basketball coach Ben Johnson Tuesday and Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck August 3.

It’s been more than two months since Dave Lee signed off as host of WCCO Radio’s early morning show, with no replacement announced yet. Did a broadcaster from public radio turn down the job? The station should promote news reporter Adam Carter to fill the vacancy. The nephew of former Gophers football captain Jim Carter, Adam is smart, articulate, interesting and personable.

Baseball fan and Murray’s owner Tim Murray will visit Globe Life Field in early August to watch the Texas Rangers. The club’s new home is the only MLB stadium Murray hasn’t experienced.

Bill Robertson’s first day as president and commissioner of the United States Hockey League is Monday. He will headquarter in the same Bloomington office he used as commissioner of the men’s WCHA.

Former Viking Matt Birk will be master of ceremonies of the Taste Fore The Tour fundraiser at Interlachen Country Club July 19. The celebrity attended event and related activities raise funds for Volunteers Enlisted to Help People, the large Twin Cities food panty. A Taste Fore The Tour celebrity recipe collection booklet features 25 recipes, including from Birk, Lou Nanne, Mark Parrish and top local chefs. Each booklet costs $30 and is enough for VEAP to feed one person for a month. More at TasteForeTheTour.com, or HungerRelatedEvents.org.

The Minute Men Amateur Athletic Foundation 2021 scholarship was awarded to Henry Sibley scholar-athlete Brandon Morris.

 

Critics Speak Up on U Stadium Branding

July 07, 2021 - 1 Comment

 

The rebranding of the University of Minnesota’s on-campus football stadium has prompted strong criticism from Golden Gophers fans and former players. The announcement last week that TCF Bank Stadium will now be Huntington Bank Stadium included the news Huntington’s green and white logo will be displayed at the facility. That doesn’t sit well with some M men and fans accustomed to the maroon and gold look of the TCF logo.

University officials have been working with Huntington for awhile on the transition, and the renaming was officially approved by the school’s Board of Regents last week. A couple of days later a trail of emails was sent to Sports Headliners including this from former Minnesota governor Arne Carlson:

“…If our leaders love green and white so much, they can go to Michigan State or North Dakota for their paychecks. I would be perfectly willing to kick in a contribution toward some billboards advertising this appalling lack of loyalty. This would also deeply concern Huntington in that it harms their brand.”

Former Gophers football captain Jim Carter started the email trail sent to many former U players and others like Carlson who are passionate about Minnesota football. Carter, a critic over the years of U leadership in both athletics and school administration, wrote the following:

“The Board of Regents had the authority to ask Huntington to follow what TCF did and use the traditional maroon and gold colors in the signage and branding of the stadium. There was a motion made at a recent…meeting to negotiate with Huntington to NOT use green and white, but to continue our proud tradition of using maroon and gold. The board defeated the motion 8-3. …”

In a telephone interview Carter said he understands the importance of corporate sponsorship to U athletic revenues (the original $35 million long-term deal with TCF Bank is still in place) but he’s an ongoing critic of the Board of Regents who he believes “rubber stamp” agenda items offered by school leaders. To Carter, the U and Gophers athletics are symbolized by maroon and gold, and he didn’t see the passion by regents or other school leadership to fight for the school colors.

“The maroon and gold is a tradition that I think should be protected at the U,” Carter said. “…The folks that are now serving on the Board of Regents and the administration don’t think of it the way many of us care about it.”

TCF Bank entered into a naming rights agreement for the stadium before the facility opened in 2009. This year TCF merged with Huntington which will operate 80 branches in the Twin Cities area. The Columbus, Ohio based-bank will introduce its branding at the U stadium before it’s unveiled at Minnesota banks in October, according to Danny Olsen, a communications executive with Huntington.

Olsen, who is based here and formerly worked for TCF, told Sports Headliners that TCF’s logo colors of red and yellow were “tweaked” to look more maroon and gold at the stadium, creating “perfect colors” to match Minnesota’s. In the minds of critics, including those who have voiced their feelings on fan forum GopherHole, the green and white will be a startling look to what they have seen in the past.

The Huntington logo will be on the front and back of the large scoreboard at the stadium’s open end. The logo will also be on the field in two places, just like the TCF logo was between the 10 and 20 yard lines. Olsen said field logos weren’t in the original naming rights deal but were added more recently when TCF agreed to help with funding for the Athletes Village project.

The Huntington green and white will be displayed on ATM machines in the stadium’s interior. The logo will also be seen in the interior in any previous places where major sponsors like TCF, Coke and Dairy Queen had visibility. The words Huntington Bank Stadium (not the logo) will be in prominent lettering on the outside of the stadium in the blend-with-brick style TCF Bank Stadium used.

Olsen didn’t acknowledge any criticism he has received about Huntington and the stadium. He pointed out Coke and Dairy Queen, both of whom use red and white in their logos, have been displayed for years on the scoreboard. He said Huntington’s green and white colors are “not unlike having your normal logo if you’re a sponsor at a stadium.”

Huntington Bank plans a marketing effort at Minnesota’s opening game against Ohio State September 2 at the stadium. In attendance will be executives from Columbus. Huntington isn’t involved with sponsorship of the Buckeyes or other Big Ten programs.

Worth Noting

Before becoming a college athletic director Joel Maturi was a high school coach. The now retired U AD told Sports Headliners teams he coached had an extra focus when the opening game was against a prominent opponent. Highly ranked Ohio State will certainly deserve the attention of Minnesota players this summer.

“I think…every Gopher in that locker room knows who they are playing,” Maturi said. “They’re going to be playing the No. 1, 2, 3 ranked team in the country in Huntington Bank Stadium for the first game and they’re going to be prepared as such.”

Dick Jonckowski, the Gophers former public address announcer for basketball and baseball, is booking emcee and speaking engagements as the pandemic eases. Sometimes he does both at events and pronounces: “Here is a guy who needs no introduction.”

Jonckowski recovered from lymphoma cancer earlier this year and is feeling fine.

The Collegiate Preferred Seating Exemption provision in the Tax Bill that passed that passed in the state legislature last week will benefit the budgets of Minnesota universities and colleges. Included is the University of Minnesota with predicted savings of more than $1 million per year to help fund scholarships and other programs for athletes, according to the Maroon and Gold Rising nonprofit that advocated for the exemption. Legislative leadership came from Representative Mohamud Noor and Senator Greg Clausen.

Former Gophers administrators Beth Goetz, now AD at Ball State, and John Cunningham, AD at Cincinnati, might draw interest to fill the Nebraska athletic director opening.

Football great Herschel Walker, whose career stops included with the Vikings, may run for U.S. Senate in his native Georgia.

Best guess is everyone on the disappointing Minnesota Twins roster is subject to possible trade this summer. Put an asterisk before the name of No. 1 starter Jose Berrios, with the disclaimer it will take what team brass considers a mega return for the right hander.

The club’s pitching is underwhelming, but the American League All-Star Game roster includes former Twins pitchers Kyle Gibson, Liam Hendriks, Lance Lynn and Ryan Pressly. That’s one-third of the 12-man pitching crew for the July 13 game against the National League in Denver.

KARE 11 sportscaster Eric Perkins announced on Twitter this morning he is leaving the station after 25 years.  He didn’t detail future plans but mentioned he is looking forward to more time with family.

 

100-Year-Old Swain a Gopher Treasure

July 05, 2021 - (0) comments

 

Tom Swain owns eight season tickets for University of Minnesota home football games. That might prompt a yawn, but here is the rest of the story: he or his family have owned season tickets every year except one since 1921.

“The year of my birth,” Swain told Sports Headliners.

This is birthday celebration week for the U grad, class of 1942 with a business and accounting degree. He celebrated his 100th birthday with family on Sunday. The U’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs will host a celebration Wednesday afternoon at the McNamara Alumni Center, and admirers will pay tribute to their friend whose professional career has crisscrossed the private and public sectors including the state’s flagship university. On Saturday he will be recognized for his milestone birthday, military service and dedication to climate change before the Minnesota Twins game at Target Field.

What does 100 feel like? Swain lives independently in a Lilydale care facility. He has spinal stenosis and uses a walker. He has peripheral neuropathy and difficulty with his larynx. But he is an articulate, active, humble and grateful centenarian.

“There are such few people that get there (to 100), I feel very gratified,” Swain said. “I am very fortunate to have made it this far because growing old is a privilege denied to many. I am not sure why I deserve to get to 100 but I am very grateful.”

Swain is a believer in staying active and finding a cause. “It gives you something to wake up for and get involved in,” he said.

When people asked what he wanted to do for his birthday, he brought up climate change. He describes it as the most important issue facing the world and believes much has to be done to avoid “an ominous end to this planet.”

The Swain Climate Policy Fund has raised over $300,000 to create awareness and pay for speakers and programs at the U. At Wednesday’s party attendees will learn more about the initiative that is particularly focused on making younger generations more aware of the climate change story and issues ahead.

Swain has four children, seven grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren. He spent most of Sunday with family and he learned his grandkids have been writing to their representatives in Congress urging them to create better national policy. “The future is pretty bleak for my great grandchildren unless we get involved in more vigorous solutions,” he said.

Tom Swain (Photo credit University of Minnesota)

Swain grew up in Minneapolis and attended Washburn High School. When he was 17 years old his father vanished and no one ever learned what happened to him. Swain drove his dad to the Milwaukee Depot train station for a business trip to Madison, Wisconsin. That was the last he saw of a father who left behind a wife and four children. This was during the devastating U.S. Depression. Resourcefully, Swain’s mom became a successful life insurance agent at a time when women were mostly homemakers and less than 20 years after women were granted the right to vote in the United States.

Swain financed his education at the U by working in the Gophers’ ticket office. When he eventually earned the lofty sum of 50 cents per hour, he was supposedly one of only four students on campus rewarded that much for their jobs.

Swain loved Gophers football as a young man. While he was a student at the U, coach Bernie Bierman’s powerhouse teams won national titles in 1940 and 1941. Swain got to know the players, who were his peers at the U. His life changed, though, when he joined the Army Air Corps during World War II. In 1946 his military commitment ended and he was unsure of the path ahead.

Turned out his connections to the U Athletic Department opened a door for him. Athletic director Frank McCormick had heard complaints from football players that they needed assistance with school work. Swain became the first academic advisor for athletics at Minnesota. “It was my job to get them in school and get keep them eligible,” he recalled. “Now they got an army (of advisors) doing that.”

During his professional career Swain had 16 salaried positions. And with self-deprecation he said, “I had a lot of jobs, I couldn’t hold them.”

At age 75 he became an interim vice president at the U. Then at 83 he came back to campus with the same title, specializing in communications and government affairs. He’s been an advisor to presidents and athletics directors including Joel Maturi.

As a volunteer member of the athletics advisory board, Swain impressed Maturi. “Tom wasn’t afraid to speak his mind,” Maturi said Sunday. “He always did it respectfully but if he didn’t agree with you he said so. I’ve always respected that and admired that.”

Swain has known most of the Gophers athletic directors and he gave present AD Mark Coyle an endorsement, calling him “extremely capable.” These are challenging times for college administrators including at Minnesota. The financial hit because of the pandemic and other developments has caught Swain’s attention. “I hate to see some of the difficulties they’re experiencing now,” he said.

A longtime resident of Lilydale, the town decreed Sunday, July 4 as Tom Swain Day. At age 85 he was elected Lilydale’s mayor, succeeding a 91 year old in what Swain describes as a “youth movement.” He served two terms as mayor and is still on the town planning commission.

Politics has long interested Swain. He was campaign manager for former governor Elmer L. Andersen, who led the state in the early 1960s. Andersen served just one term, failing to be re-elected in a close election. Swain was charged with heading the Andersen recount effort and joked that some folks held him responsible for his boss becoming an ex-governor because he couldn’t find 91 more votes.

Swain, whose private sector career included executive leadership with insurance companies, wrote a memoir in 2015, Citizen Swain: Tales from a Minnesota Life.

Since then he could certainly add more chapters.

 

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