Twins Kept the Faith in Signing Cruz
The Minnesota Twins and free agent Nelson Cruz have agreed to a one-year contract keeping him with the team in 2021. The agreement culminates an off-season of speculation whether the 40-year-old DH would return to an organization he’s made a major impact on during two previous years.
“There has been an ongoing dialogue throughout the offseason,” Twins president Dave St. Peter told Sports Headliners today while talking about negotiations. “We’ve always been optimistic that he was going to be a Twin.”
After last season both Cruz and the Twins expressed interest in renewing the relationship in 2021. “We take him at his word,” St. Peter said. “He’s told us… repeatedly, both last season and certainly through the off-season, that Minnesota was a very special place for him, and a place he would love to come back to.”
Twins management, though, had to consider the possibility a deal wouldn’t work out. Other personnel for DH were considered but Cruz was the target. “This was Plan A all along for us,” St. Peter said. “There’s certainly other players that potentially could have been acquired via trade, or what have you, but Nelson Cruz brings so much on the field. Maybe even more off the field in terms of the impact he has in our clubhouse, in our dugout, in our player development system and in our community. So he’s a huge asset for the Twins and we’re thrilled to have him as part of our organization.”
The mutual respect between the organization and Cruz was pivotal in continuing the relationship. “He’s deserved of that respect,” St. Peter said. “I think Nelson has really appreciated being part of the Twins organization. …I think it’s somewhere he feels very comfortable, he feels very welcome. I think he feels very much a part of the fabric of the Twins organization and to some extent the fabric of the Twin Cities. He’s loved spending his last couple of years in Minnesota.”
Cruz is credited with making a major contribution to that environment in many ways including being a model for other players in taking care of his body. His disciplined 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,” St. Peter said.
With experience has come wisdom including knowledge about pitchers and general expertise of his profession. “His baseball related intellect is elite,” St. Peter said. “He understands the game inside and out.”
Cruz was a major contributor at bat last season when the Twins won the AL Central Division. He won the 2020 American League DH Silver Slugger Award in a vote by AL coaches and managers. In 53 games he hit .303 with six doubles, 16 home runs, 33 RBI, 33 runs scored, 25 walks, a .397 on-base percentage, a .595 slugging percentage and a .992 OPS. 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.
Last year Cruz was honored with the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award at the ESPY Awards. He also received MLB’s 2020 Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award, an honor voted on by his peers for a player they “most respect based on his leadership on the field and in the community.”
Jim Dutcher Talks Gopher Road Woes
The Gophers basketball team is in a road funk, with a 0-5 Big Ten record. All losses have been by double-digit defeats and full of embarrassing performances. Next up is a game Thursday night at Rutgers, winners of three consecutive conference games and with a 6-6 league record, 10-6 overall.
It will be interesting to see what the energy and collective confidence is of the Minnesota players. Are things at the point where the Gophers have taken a hit to their confidence? “Oh, I think it has to,” former Gophers coach Jim Dutcher told Sports Headliners.
Minnesota built a double-digit lead in the first half of last Saturday’s game at Purdue. Early in the second half the Boilermakers took the lead and won 81-62. “Once they got caught by Purdue, the game was over,” Dutcher said.
Dutcher, who coached the Gophers to the 1982 Big Ten title and remains a close observer of college basketball, stresses defense is the key in winning road games. “They’ve just had too many defensive breakdowns on the road, where teams end up having big second halves,” he said.
In addition to improved defense, ask Dutcher how the Gophers can build confidence on the road and he suggests playing inferior road opponents. He isn’t joking and points out that unfortunately for the Gophers their January 20 game scheduled in Lincoln against Nebraska (0-5 in the Big Ten) couldn’t be played because the Cornhuskers were dealing with COVID-19.
Minnesota’s remaining road games are at Rutgers, Maryland, Indiana and Penn State. Maryland is 3-7 in league games but used physical play to dominant Minnesota at Williams Arena last month (63-49 win). Indiana is 4-6 in Big Ten games and defeated Maryland at home and top-10 ranked Iowa on the road. Penn State, 3-7 in conference games, is 5-2 at home.
The Gophers, 4-6 in league games and 11-6 overall, are part of a talented and deep Big Ten. Minnesota has impressive home wins, including over Big Ten title contenders Iowa, Michigan and Ohio State to boost its resume for an NCAA Tournament invitation. More success is a must. “They’re going to need some wins along the way, either now or in the conference tournament, because they’re not a lock to go to the (NCAA) tournament right now,” Dutcher said.
Even Minnesota’s best player and leading scorer, point guard Marcus Carr, is struggling on the road, with one of his most difficult games coming against Purdue. A candidate for All-Big Ten, Carr scored six points, making 2 of 13 field goals and going 0-5 on three-point attempts.
“He certainly looked like he wasn’t a very confident player at Purdue,” Dutcher said. “Got off to a bad start. To his credit he was trying to get everybody else involved, but everybody else wasn’t scoring. …He’s a quality player. He just, like the rest of the team, has not been a confident player on the road.”
Todd Downing, the former Eden Prairie High School and Minnesota Vikings assistant coach, is the new offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans. Downing also played for the Eagles and longtime coach Mike Grant, who texted congratulations. “I just said give it to the big boys,” Grant told Sports Headliners.
Grant anticipates Downing is excited about his promotion from tight ends coach to OC. “I’d be excited, too. It probably pays $1 million a year,” Grant said.
Anonymous hockey authority talking about physical foes and 5-9, 200-pound Minnesota Wild rookie Kirill Kaprizov: “Put him on a milkshake and double cheeseburger diet.”
Capital Club organizer Patrick Klinger is excited about upcoming speakers via Zoom on February 26 and March 11, with Kim Davis and Jason Wright respectively. Davis is Executive Vice president, Social Impact, Growth Initiatives & Legislative Affairs for the NHL. In 2012 she was profiled with First Lady Michelle Obama in Essence magazine’s “28 most influential Black women in America.”
Wright is the NFL’s first Black team president, serving in that role for the Washington Football Team. At age 38 he is the youngest team president in the league and only the fourth former player (four different teams) ever to serve in that position.