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Twins Follow Potential MLB Changes

May 15, 2022 - (0) comments


Everyone who cares about Major League Baseball knows the game has flaws in the 21st century that merit review. And that’s exactly what commissioner Rob Manfred and his competition committee is working on, with changes perhaps coming as soon as next season.

Already in place is an audio communication system enabling catchers to give signals to pitchers. A high percentage of the 30 MLB clubs, including the Twins, are using the system that improves pace of play. There is no confusion about what pitch the catcher is calling.

“Yeah, we think it is great,” Twins’ president Dave St. Peter told Sports Headliners. “We think it adds more pace. We think it allows our pitchers to get into more of a rhythm.”

MLB is challenged to speed up its game both in pace and duration. Games are almost always over three hours long and commonly clock in past four hours. Last season MLB fans waited on average four minutes and seven seconds to see the baseball put in play, according to the May issue of Sports Illustrated.

There is a rule on the books that says the pitcher is to deliver the ball within 12 seconds when the bases are empty, but the rule isn’t enforced. Adding a visible pitch timer like a shot clock in basketball would get players and umpires on board. It’s speculative as to how much time would be stipulated—perhaps 15 seconds with no base runners, 20 with runners.

Dave St. Peter (photo courtesy of Minnesota Twins)

“We’re in favor of pitch timers,” St. Peter said. “We’re in favor of anything that is going to create more pace to our game, move games along so that players, staff and ultimately fans maybe spend a little less time over the course of any given game.

“We’ve seen it work well in the minor leagues. Almost all of our players have experienced it in the minor leagues and viewed that as a good thing.”

Analytics provides sophisticated data that has changed the game including infield shifts that position defenders in the most effective spots to take away hits. It’s been speculated that today’s .280 hitter would have a .300 batting average years ago, with shifts contributing to the decline.

St. Peter likes the proposed change of mandating only two fielders on each side of second base. He said there is data showing the change will boost offense: “That more balls will find green grass and ultimately more runners will be on base—and running maybe from first to third, or from second to home, and that should create more exciting plays in our game and allow our athletes to be athletes. I think that’s really the goal here.”

St. Peter is enthusiastic about the possibility of making the bases larger, thereby shortening the distances between bases. The art of base stealing is fading in MLB and this change could help reverse the trend. “I think it’s a player safety thing as well for infielders to get around the (the larger) base and avoid runners,” St. Peter said.

An automated ball-strike system, robot umpires if you will, could be coming soon. Advantages? Fans won’t leave the ballpark thinking their favorites got a raw deal on a crucial called third strike when replay showed it was ball four. Umpires don’t always make accurate calls but “Robo” will. An automated consistent strike zone may force pitchers to more often throw strikes, resulting in more balls in play.

Fan entertainment and enjoying the ballpark experience is very much on the mind of MLB leaders including St. Peter. He needs look no further than the state capitol where proposed bills about legalized sports betting are being debated. The future possibility of fans wagering on their phones at venues like Target Field could become reality, and soon.

It’s younger fans who will determine MLB’s future popularity. The interest, or absence of, is already in debate. They have different entertainment expectations than younger fans of even 10, 15 and 20 years ago. Those generations will become “ghost” fans if MLB doesn’t improve its product, making the game shorter, more lively and fun to watch. Technology can help on multiple fronts, including making games interactive for fans wagering at the stadium.

St. Peter expects the competition committee, that includes player representatives and MLB leaders, will make recommendations later this year regarding potential rules changes for 2023.

Worth Noting

Probably the best team in Wild history couldn’t advance in the postseason. The Blues made adjustments that worked and their players performed better than the Wild. Down 2-1 in the series, the Blues outscored Minnesota 15-5 in the final three games.

A hockey insider predicted the Wild will try to improve the roster in the offseason by adding veteran forwards who are physical. The Blues are a physical team and the Wild’s lack of muscle showed in the series including when Minnesota’s forechecking stalled.

The source predicted the Wild will find the salary cap room to re-sign forward Kevin Fiala who was second in points during the regular season but didn’t score a goal in the playoffs. Salary cap juggling could result in the Wild moving on from defenseman Matt Dumba who is signed through next season and expected to earn about $5.2 million.

Fiala reportedly made $5.1 million this season and as a restricted free agent this summer could command a three-year deal at perhaps $7 million per year.

Knowledgeable about the Wild since the franchise’s inception over 20 years ago, the source predicted it’s “50-50” whether the front office brings back 37-year-old unrestricted free agent goal Marc-Andre Fleury. A deal could hinge on whether Fleury is willing to accept an incentive-packed deal because the Wild are unlikely to commit big money to two goalies. Cam Talbot reportedly earns $3.6 million and Fleury makes almost double that sum.

Talbot, BTW, can’t be happy about sitting on the bench and watching Fleury play all but one game in the playoffs against the Blues.

Word is, per the source, the Wild will raise ticket prices for next season. The Wild finished the regular season with a franchise-best ever 53-22-7 record.

The USHL’s Madison Capitols, the lowest seed in the league’s playoffs and owned by former Wild star Ryan Suter, is in the Clark Cup Finals against the Sioux City Musketeers that start Sunday afternoon.

Given his age and preference for the highest profile of tournaments, it could be that 46-year-old golf legend Tiger Woods will never compete in the 3M Open in suburban Blaine. The British Open will be played this year July 14-17 and Woods is committed. The 3M Open is July 18-24.

Wayzata High School alum Karl Gregor is the New England Small College Athletic Conference men’s tennis Coach of the Year after his Tufts team went 17-2 and qualified for the NCAA Tournament as an at-large selection for the first time since 2017.


Lou Nanne: Wild Need Goalie Change

May 11, 2022 - (0) comments


Lou Nanne told Sports Headliners this morning he believes the Minnesota Wild should change goaltenders for tomorrow night’s Game Six against the St. Louis Blues.

The Wild trail three games to two in the best of seven NHL playoff series and will be on the road Thursday night in a must-win situation. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has started the previous five games for Minnesota including last night’s 5-2 loss at Xcel Energy. “He just looked like he was fighting the puck a little bit and not controlling rebounds like he could have,” Nanne said.

In the series the 37-year-old Fleury, a former Stanley Cup winner with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, has a 3.04 GAA and .906 save percentage.

Goalie Cam Talbot was clearly the No. 1 goalie until Fleury was acquired in a late season trade from the Chicago Blackhawks. Nanne believes it’s overdue to insert Talbot into the lineup. “I just think maybe he might give them a shot in the arm,” Nanne said.

Talbot hasn’t played since April 28 and Nanne hopes a layoff won’t impact the 34-year-old if Wild coach Dean Evason makes a change at goalie. Can Talbot play at a high level Thursday night?

“You can never tell until he does it, but what are your choices?” Nanne said. “…I just wish he would have played earlier, that’s all. I just think Talbot was a guy that earned the spot…the way he played.”

Talbot started 48 regular season games for the Wild and was more than solid with a 2.76 GAA in a year that saw him play in the NHL All-Star Game. In the view of Nanne and others, Talbot’s season earned him the opportunity to start the series. But Nanne admires Fleury, too, and he realizes it’s difficult to decide on goalies when resumes of success are similar.

“I just like to see when you’ve got two good goaltenders, try to find the one that is really going to bring you through. It’s a tough decision. Nobody knows when it’s going to be right.”

Kevin Fiala, the Wild’s No. 3 goal scorer during the regular season and second in points, hasn’t found the net in the series. Nanne referred to Fiala as a “gigantic” key in tomorrow night’s game. “They need his help,” Nanne said.

Fiala appears to be pressing and not playing like himself. “He’s so anxious he’s not playing as smoothly as he did,” Nanne said. “I still believe in him. …Hopefully he’s going to come through next game.”

Kirill Kaprizov

In the loss last night, second-year left wing Kirill Kaprizov scored Minnesota’s two goals on power plays. He was in the mix most of the night with potential goals and playmaking despite St. Louis players trying to knock him on his butt or shoving a stick toward his face. “He was absolutely spectacular,” said Nanne who labels Kaprizov the franchise’s best player ever.

Considering the quality of the opponent, the pressure of the playoffs, the physicality and strategies of the game, Nanne said he’s never seen a player perform better than the 25-year-old Kaprizov did last evening.

Nanne has closely followed the NHL for more than six decades. Now the godfather of Minnesota hockey, he was an All-American defenseman for the Gophers, and later a player, coach, GM and president with the Minnesota North Stars who relocated to Dallas after the 1992-1993 season.

Worth Noting

Shortly after the Twins signed shortstop Carlos Correa to the highest average annual salary for an infielder in MLB history, team president Dave St. Peter told Sports Headliners how impressed he is with the All-Star’s character. The Puerto Rico native cares about his teammates and wants to help them, including young players he can influence.

Bob Nightengale of USA Today wrote Monday about the great start to the season Jeremy Peña is having as the rookie replaces Correa as the Astros’ shortstop. “Carlos has been great to me since the first day (two years ago) I met him,” Peña told Nightengale. “He helped me out so much. A mentor to me. …”

The 2022 Vikings’ draft has been second-guessed but received some praise Monday from Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz also with USA Today. He wrote about top 10 steals from the 2022 NFL Draft and he first profiled cornerback Andrew Booth, whom the Vikings selected late in the second round. Injuries have slowed Booth since high school but he could have the skills worthy of going in the first round.

Condolences to the family and many friends of former Golden Gophers defensive end Leon Trawick who passed away Friday. The Washington D.C. native was a sophomore contributor to the 1967 team that won the Big Ten championship and he later became a Minneapolis attorney.

A 1969 Academic All-Big Ten selection, Leon battled brain cancer and was in hospice before passing. An email trail from former U athletes praised him as a great friend.

Former Minnesota Mr. Basketball Tyus Jones, who has a home in the Minneapolis area, could be a coveted free agent this summer after impressing in the playoffs this spring and averaging a career-best 8.7 points in the regular season. The seven-year point guard makes minimal mental and physical mistakes. He could start tonight for the Grizzlies in the absence of Ja Morant, with Memphis trailing the Warriors 3-1 in their playoff series.

Lindsay Whalen, the U women’s basketball coach who will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame September 10 for her legendary career as a player, turned 40 on Monday.

John Anderson

Legendary Gopher baseball coach John Anderson, now in his 41st season, will be 67 next Monday.

Anderson’s redshirt junior right-hander, Aidan Maldonado, is the co-Big Ten Pitcher of the Week. The Rosemount, Minnesota native pitched a career-high seven innings Sunday, allowing five hits and one earned run while striking out eight in a 3-1 win over Nebraska.

Peter King and his identical twin Richard were the first batboys for the Twins in 1961 after the franchise relocated from Washington D.C. Sorry to learn that Peter, from Prior Lake, recently passed away.

Phil Anderson, GM at North Oaks Golf Club and Dave Tentis, PGA head pro at Troy Burne Golf Club, offer their views on the Upper Midwest golf industry as the latest guests on the “Behind the Game” program seen on local cable markets and YouTube. The show is co-hosted by Agile Marketing owner Patrick Klinger and USHL commissioner Bill Robertson


Wild Owner Praises “Special Team”

May 01, 2022 - (0) comments


Craig Leipold has owned the Minnesota Wild since 2008. Before that he owned another NHL franchise, the Nashville Predators.

“This is the best team I’ve had in 22 years of owning an NHL (club),” he told Sports Headliners. “It is the full package; very few weaknesses on this team. …It’s a special team and I think special things are going to happen.”

The Wild finished the regular season Friday night with a 53-22-7 record and second place in the Central Division. That’s the franchise’s best record ever. When Leipold owned the Predators they had best seasons of 51 and 49 wins.

The Wild open the playoffs at home Monday night against the St. Louis Blues. Even a casual Wild fan wonders whether this Minnesota team can make a deep playoff run and perhaps win the league’s ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup. That would be a first for the Wild franchise that started as an expansion franchise in the 2000-2001 season.

“It’s a fine line,” Leipold said. “It takes a lot of luck, let’s be honest. It takes a healthy team. It takes a hot goal tender. It takes very opportunistic goals at the right time. And we have the ability to do all of that.

“We don’t have many weaknesses—and our power play and penalty killing I guess would be the two. But five-on-five we’re in the top of the league. You play five-on-five for 80 to 90 percent of the game so I like our chances.

“The first round against the St. Louis Blues is going to be a really good series. If you’re a hockey fan, you’re going to want to watch these two teams play.”

A developing worry since Leipold spoke to Sports Headliners is Friday night’s injury to forward Marcus Foligno. He left the game against the Colorado Avalanche after being kneed in the first period. Part of a shutdown line, his potential absence in the playoffs would be a setback for Minnesota.

Leipold watched his team practice late last week and he saw energized players enjoying themselves, not a group worn down by the grind of the 82-game regular season. “You can tell, they’re just having a great time.”

Leipold hired general manager Bill Guerin in August of 2019. He has renovated the roster and installed former assistant coach Dean Evason as head coach. Guerin, who came from the Pittsburgh Penguins as assistant GM, has shown a discerning eye for both evaluating player talent and character.

Kirill Kaprizov

Guerin has earned the owner’s trust and confidence in making moves like adding defenseman Dmitri Kulikov last summer. The 31-year-old veteran’s experience and skills were a welcome addition to the roster, and presumably, too, is the Russian’s fit in the locker room where he joined countryman Kirill Kaprizov, last season’s NHL Rookie of the Year.

“Billy knows he’s got the green light to do any of those kinds of deals,” Leipold said. “He doesn’t need my approval for that. He’ll just do that deal. …I was very happy to get a player like Kulikov on our team.”

There is something else about Guerin that impresses Leipold a lot and it’s the GM’s will to win. “He wants to win a Stanley Cup where he is the general manager. Where this is his team. …It’s great to have a GM and a leader in that department that is driven that way.”

Kaprizov led the team in regular season goals, assists and points. He is in the first season of a five-year deal. Kevin Fiala was second in goals and points, and the Wild face a salary cap crunch trying to re-sign the restricted free agent in the off season. “I can tell you when we look at players we want to sign next year, Kevin Fiala is on top of the list,” Leipold said.

The owner can’t be sure he and Guerin will be able to retain Fiala. “If we were unencumbered by a cap system, we would spend whatever it takes to get him. But we live in a salary cap world and Kevin has played himself into a very good contract for next year, and we’ll see where it goes.”

The Wild and other NHL teams went through the worst of financial times at the height of the pandemic when fans weren’t allowed to attend games. Now the Wild are playing before sellout crowds and that’s significant in the NHL where gate receipts are vital to the bottom line.

Leipold said all the home playoff games will be sellouts and his expectation is the same for the 2022-2023 season. “The fans are spectacular. They see in this team a special team as well.”

Worth Noting

Anyone remember a Gopher player performing a song at halftime of a U spring football game? That’s what happened yesterday when sixth-year tight end Sam Pickerign sang on the field while a TV audience watched on the Big Ten Network.

Head coach P.J. Fleck also used his creativity showcasing wide receiver Michael Brown-Stephens who was targeted for numerous passes and also lined up in the backfield while his high school brother, Anthony Brown, watched from the sidelines. Brown is a four-star receiving prospect from Springfield, Ohio who has shown considerable interest in Minnesota.

Brown-Stephens was one of three spring game MVP’s along with defensive back Miles Fleming and kicker Matthew Trickett.

The maroon and gold defenses impressed in the intra-squad game, with defensive line redshirt freshman Austin Booker and Western Kentucky transfer cornerback Beanie Bishop among the standouts.

Byron Buxton apparently likes the month of April. Although the Twins center fielder missed some games with injuries, including yesterday, he played enough to lead the team in home runs and RBI (11). His six homers rank near the top among MLB leaders.

Buxton’s April a year ago was spectacular when he won the American League Player of the Month award. He hit .426, with eight home runs and 14 RBI. He scored 15 runs, with a .466 on-base percentage, an .897 slugging percentage and a 1.363 OPS. He set Twins records for March/April in batting average, slugging percentage and OPS. His OPS broke a Twins record for any month, surpassing Joe Mauer’s 1.338.

Tony Oliva

Hall of Fame-bound Tony Oliva has signed a partnership agreement with Dan Stoltz and locally based SPIRE Credit Union. Oliva will appear in TV commercials and other promotions for SPIRE.

The baseball Gophers will host Nebraska next weekend for a three-game series at Siebert Field. On Saturday Minnesota will honor past teams including the 1960 Big Ten and NCAA championship team. The Gophers also won national titles in 1956 and 1964. No Big Ten baseball team has won the NCAA championship since 1966.


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