Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: Minnesota is no longer the North Pole of the NBA

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By Eric Nelson
July 25, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD
@Ericinminny44

 

MINNEAPOLIS -Sports Nuggets from Timberwolves Nation...

•Trade Demand: Kyrie Irving has had enough of Cleveland. The superstar PG is tired of being solar eclipsed by LeBron James and wants to leave the King’s galaxy. Irving’s goal is to force a trade to one of four teams – Miami, Minnesota, New York or San Antonio…

•Hot Spot: By simply listing the Timberwolves as one of his fab four, Irving gives the franchise legitimacy. Apparently Minnesota is no longer the North Pole of the NBA…

•Butler Bounce: Of course, the T-Wolves can thank Jimmy Butler for this perception change. Once Minnesota acquired Butler from Chicago, the Wolves got instant street cred…

•Young Talent: In the last seven days the Minnesota Twins have gone up against two of the most prolific rookies in recent MLB history. Last week the Twins faced Aaron Judge and the NY Yankees in a three-game series in Minneapolis. This week it’s phenom Cody Bellinger as the Twins and LA Dodgers play three in So Cal…

•Dodger Dinger: On Monday night the Twins found out just how good Bellinger is. Bellinger slugged a three-run home run in the 9th inning to give LA a 6-4 win. Bellinger has 28 taters and 67 RBI this season..

•Fun is Good: The St. Paul Saints continue to be one of the best sports bargains in the Twin Cities. Scenic CHS Field is a gem, the ball club is highly successful (34-27 and 1 game behind Winnipeg in the AA North) and the goofy, in-game shtick is comical. The Saints hallmark is baseball mixed with entertainment and they pull that off that better than anyone…

•Lowertown Boom: This is year three for the Saints at CHS. They are part of the reason why Lowertown St. Paul is now a hip spot. There are cool parks and trendy restaurants near CHS and a good vibe in the area…

•Oh Maya: Not many athletes have a trophy case with more hardware than Minnesota Lynx G Maya Moore. On Saturday Moore collected another trophy after being named MVP of the WNBA All-Star game in Seattle. Moore scored 23 points to lead the West to a 130-121 win over the East. It’s the second straight season Moore has been ASG MVP…

•Vanishing Act: There are plenty of things to focus on as the Minnesota Vikings begin training camp this week in Mankato. One focal point is second year WR Laquon Treadwell – who had just one catch last season. Treadwell was persona non grata as a rookie and the Vikings need to get much more from their 2016 first round draft choice…

•Done Deal: Even though this is just the start of training camp for all 32 NFL teams, one thing is certain – New England will win the AFC East. The Patriots have won eight straight East titles and 14 since 2001…

•Name Game: Golden Valley, MN-based Allianz Insurance Company has acquired naming rights for Minnesota United’s future stadium in St. Paul. Allianz Field becomes the 1st Allianz-sponsored stadium in North America and 8th in eight countries on four continents. The soccer specific venue opens in 2019 and will cost $200 million. Capacity is 19,400…

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Just like that, summer’s over!

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By Larry Fitzgerald
July 25, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

Summer — where did it go? Yes, it has been hot, humid and muggy. I was just getting used to it and bam! It’s over!
Yes, we are still in July, mind you, but the Vikings are in Mankato. And when the Vikings go to Mankato, you know what that means: back-to-school sales and the Minnesota State Fair.

They start playing pre-season games in a few weeks. The Vikings announced this is their final season training in Mankato. Mankato State University has been their summer home for 52 consecutive years. 2017 will be their last.
Training camp is all business. Ninety players each on 32 teams report at the beginning, and when September rolls around 57 players will have survived.

I must say training camp is not what it used to be. The players don’t hit as much as they used to. The teams, thanks to the NFLPA, actually show a greater concern for the players’ health.

Coaches for years built the mental toughness of their teams by working their players hard in the heat and humidity of late summer conditions. That meant lots of hitting during the twice-daily practices.

Everything the players do in camp except going to the bathroom is recorded on video. The contracts that the players sign don’t kick in until September, the start of the regular season. NFL players make about $400 each week during training camp.

Most of the jobs have already been won. However, for a few veterans who get challenged by rookies and second year players, this could be the end of the road.

It’s football, football, and more football — training, lifting weights, sprints and gassers. There is nothing to love about training camp. The coaches are seldom happy. They push you to the brink demanding that you show the potential or consistency they expect.

This is year four for Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer. Two years ago he won the NFL North title. Teddy Bridgewater was his starting quarterback; in 2017 the job, for now, belongs to Sam Bradford. General Manager Rick Spielman has one playoff win in 10 years.

With Super Bowl 52 in February at U.S. Bank Stadium, the pressure is on this team to really be good. If the Vikings are to be a playoff team, they will have to be much better on offense. Last year they could not run the football, and Adrian Peterson is gone. Eventually it caught up with them.

I’ll be making my final trips to Mankato over the next few weeks to gauge the potential of the 2017 Vikings. NFL pre-season football starts with the Hall of Fame game from Canton, Ohio on Thursday, August 3, Dallas vs. Arizona.
You thought I was joking? Summer is over. It’s football season.

 

 

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.

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Thomas U. Tuttle

On the Road to Yosemite

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

It was 95 degrees and humid when I picked up my rented BMW touring motorcycle from the shop just outside Sacramento, California. The bike was equipped with a couple of saddle cases in which to consolidate my gear and various travel supplies. It felt big and strong, and after a quick test ride in the sizable parking lot, along with reviewing the route toward Yosemite National Park, I was on my way.

Yes, Yosemite was my destination, and my long cruise was underway. I took route 16 toward Sutter Creek and “Gold Country” (2% of all the gold in the world was mined within a 15 mile radius of that town), rolling onto the backroads whenever possible (routes 49, 108 and 4 all big fun on the bike – and by car, certainly).

Incredibly despite the heat and arid conditions, much of this region is wine country, with water plentiful this year given a huge 2016-17 snowfall that broke a serious drought and replenished the numerous rivers and reservoirs lubricating the land. Constant sunshine illuminated the rolling landscape, and the zen of motorcycle riding was in full force.

There was a street dance in the small, historic mining town of Amador City, with talented local musicians bringing the people out to the street for dancing, laughter and beverages. Sutter Creek, a few miles away by a historic road, has transitioned fully into a tourist haven with plenty of antique stores and no less than 12 wine tasting rooms. Beautiful, fun town – but bring your wallet!

My bike was outstanding, but was considerably bigger than my Harley Davidson Dyna Wide Glide on which I enjoy cruising Minnesota’s Land of 10,000 Lakes. While straddling the jumbo bike my feet were unable to rest flat-footed in the ground, given how deceptively high the seat was positioned – very different from my low-slung Harley. While I’m naturally very aware of my surroundings at all times, rolling with the heavy 1600cc’s kept me on my toes – literally!

Of course, with the quiet, powerful BMW engine revving nicely, straight line riding was a dream – and getting the hang of the terrains many curves was seriously enjoyable!

Eventually the push was on for Yosemite, via route 120 (one of three entrances to the park), generally set up to serve visitors coming from the general directions of San Francisco, Los Angeles or Sacramento – with SAC considered the best, I’d been told, with less traffic and an easy entrance. Nice ride past ancient Chinese Camp (yes, outpost for labor from Asia in the mid-1800’s – PC has not created a name change yet) with switchbacks leading to significant gains in altitude and attitude. The Sierra Nevada range looming in three directions.

After paying a few dollars to enter the park and receive maps and other information (motorcycle was $25, other vehicles pay different rates, check online), it was a beautiful 15-20 mile up-and-down cruise to Yosemite Valley – the place where numerous campgrounds, park shuttles, ranger outposts, traffic and general busyness rule.

Perhaps it’s a sign of the times that while riding into this stunning environment, I suddenly encountered orange barrels, cones, and road construction crews hard at work. One hour delay. Just chill out, have a sandwich and exhibit my famous patience…Ha!
Let’s hope the National Park Service has a better plan than the Twin Cities.

Eventually, I made my way to the Glacier Point Road – my destination and the beginning of a thirty mile route to glorious views of Yosemite’s immortal sites, such as Half Dome, El Capitan, Cathedral Rocks, Yosemite Falls – and much more.

It’s always sunny in this part of the world during the summer (98% of daily available sunshine) so the spectacular views are guaranteed. Many descriptive words can be used to relate the magnificence of looking directly at these icons of America, with stunning being just one of them. The beauty is beyond words, and the extraordinary hiking trails available takes one to different vantage points off Glacier Point (generally strenuous but very doable hikes).

waterfall at Yosemite National Park

The next time that I visit, it’s going to be before Memorial Day or just after Labor Day. The waterfalls were still going strong during my visit due to the continuing snowmelt – a summer plus. But it’s the crowds that could be avoided by visiting at another time. Put simply, the place can get very crowded – and feels that way.

A Ranger told me that 3.5 of the parks four million average annual visitors arrive between those two national holidays. 2016 brought nearly five million people, so for me the congestion solution is clear – I’ll be back next late spring!

 

And it will be on a motorcycle. The BMW and I made friends during the course of my journey, and I’m going to ride it back. One night on the mountain and two days of hiking were not enough. It’s easy to see why Abraham Lincoln set aside Yosemite land during his tenure, why John Muir worked his entire life to expand Yosemite to its nearly one-million acres, and why legendary photographer Ansel Adams had a hard time leaving once he arrived.

 

Yellowstone was our first designated National Park and is magnificent, but there is indeed something about the grandeur of Yosemite. Maybe it’s the size and the scope and the immediacy of it when viewed from the valley floor, as well as the outer reaches such as Glacier Point.

Breathtaking and Majestic, no two ways about it.

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Athletes must weigh risks vs. rewards

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By Larry Fitzgerald
July 19, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

When you measure the risk versus the rewards of the price that ultimately must be paid by all athletes to compete, sometimes that sacrifice is overlooked or forgotten. Somehow a love for competing takes over and athletes, regardless of the sport or competition, don’t even consider some of the risk they take on to play a game.

The X Games were created by ESPN, and so many of the events that the athletes compete in require them to challenge themselves in ways where you sometimes scratch your head saying to yourself, “No way can I do that or no way I would even try.”

Photographer: Chris Juhn/MSR News

Over 100,000 fans poured into U.S. Bank Stadium over the last week. You seldom hear about the injuries, but believe me, they happen.

Just two weeks ago in one week of NBA free agency, NBA team owners signed off on over one billion guaranteed dollars in salaries to NBA players. In the NFL we have for years been hearing about the horrors of many players battling daily headaches related to concussions that have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements.

Many parents today, particularly mothers, are directing their sons away from football. Hockey, like football, is so much faster today. The game itself requires a lot of physical contact, and because athletes are bigger and faster the collisions that ultimately take place sometimes put many athletes in danger of injury.

One thing is certain: Regardless if it’s baseball, football, basketball, hockey or soccer, the risk of injury cannot be ignored. The physical and mental demands are always there. Sports leagues and their unions have worked harder together in recent years to protect and do what is required to look closer at their athletes and players.

Then there’s boxing. On August 26 Floyd Mayweather, Jr and Irish UFC sensation Conor McGregor will battle in Las Vegas in one of the biggest fights in boxing history. Never has there ever been a fight like this.

Mayweather, after being retired, is coming back for another big payday. The unbeaten 49-0 champion is a convicted domestic abuser who spent some time in prison back in 2010 because of it. He was sent to jail because he battered his woman, Miss Josie Harris, the mother to three of his children. His 10-year-old son Koraun was witness to it and told police.

Since this fight was signed on, McGregor, the cocky, arrogant UFC champion, has verbally badgered Mayweather on his history of domestic abuse. When these two get into the ring, based on their history anything can happen. That in itself makes boxing, and particularly this fight, so barbaric.

MacGregor vs. Mayweather promotion

Both men are confidently stoking the fire using vulgar verbal threats in pre-fight promotional tours to antagonize each other. And, of course, the millions of fans thirsty for this battle will pay $100 each to see the fight on pay per view. This is the ultimate example of risk versus reward.

 

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: The X Games is X-treme fun

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By Eric Nelson
July 18, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD
@Ericinminny44

 

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the Sota sauna..

•Xtreme Fun: I had a chance to see the X Games on Sunday in Minneapolis and was impressed by the product. There was a cool vibe inside US Bank Stadium and the athletes on skateboards, BMX bikes and motocross cycles put on a spectacular show…

•Airborne: The final event of the X Games was punctuated by Colby Raha, who took gold in the Moto X quarter pipe. Raha can elevate better than Michael Jordan and thrilled the crowd with gravity-defying stunts. Three times Raha raced his 250 pound motorcycle up a steep ramp and soared into the air reaching heights equivalent to the upper deck of USBS…

US Bank Stadium interior - July 2017

US Bank Stadium plays host to the X Games – July 2017

•Sealed Up: The only caveat to the entire experience was being stuck inside a dome on a gorgeous July day. Temps outside were in the mid-80’s, but inside the Glass House it was air conditioned and sterile. The pivoting doors on the west side of USBS were even closed – which absolutely made no sense. Opening the doors would have at least brought in some natural air to part of the venue…

•The Sequel: If you didn’t go to the X games, or couldn’t get enough of the event, there is good news. The 2018 X Games are also in Minneapolis…

•Flashback: The Minnesota Twins will salute their 1987 World Series title team this weekend when they host the Detroit Tigers. Many of the ’87 Twins alumni are scheduled to appear…

•Major Legal: NY Yankees star Aaron Judge is a perfect fit for MLB’s all-time legal name team. Others include David Justice, Vance Law and Matt Lawton

•Power Ball: We all know about Judge’s prolific power at the plate (he leads MLB with 30 home runs), but the guy has a bazooka too. Judge threw out Minnesota’s Brian Dozier at home plate in Monday’s game with a one-hop strike from right field…

•Vanishing Breed: New Twins P Bartolo Colon is the last active MLB player to play with the Montreal Expos. Colon – who is in his 20th season – pitched for the Expos in 2002…

•Goodbye ‘Kato: The Vikings long-time marriage with Minnesota State is coming to an end. Next season the Purple will move training camp to the brand new Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center in Eagan, MN. That means this will be the 52nd and final year for Vikings camp in Mankato…

•No Surprise: The decision to leave Mankato is hardly shocking. Once the Vikings began building their state-of-the-art facility in Eagan, their days of camping in Kato were numbered…

•Soccer-Centric: Blaine, MN is the center of the soccer universe this week as the annual USA Cup is being played at the National Sports Center. The tournament began in 1985 with 69 teams but has ballooned to a global event. This year there are 1,168 clubs from 15 nations, 5 Canadian provinces and 15 US states…

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Twins among MLB’s surprise teams

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By Larry Fitzgerald
July 13, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

An old cliché that has stood the test of time is “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” With this in mind, look at the two best teams in baseball as we have reached the mid-summer classic.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are on fire with the best record in the big leagues, 61-29, winners of 26 of their last 30 games. Pitching ace Clayton Kershaw is 14-2 — that’s tops in MLB.

Rookie sensation Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees with 30 home runs is the talk of baseball. The slugger has hit several long home runs. For a franchise with a history of legendary sluggers, the buzz has many dreaming and comparing him already with the past greatness of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Reggie Jackson, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle.

Houston has the best record in the American League, 60-29, with a 16-game lead in the AL West. The Dodgers are 39-11 at home and are +163 in runs scored. The Astros are +162 and 33-11 on the road. Both the Dodgers and Astros are clearly playoff-bound.

The 2017 All-Star Game is in Miami, Florida. The 45-43 Twins are two and half back of Cleveland in the AL Central and have three All-Stars this year. Third baseman Miguel Sano has carried this team; he leads the team with 21 home runs and 61 RBI.

Ervin Santana, 10-6, has been lights out, the ace of the staff. His ERA is 2.99 and he leads the Majors with four complete games. Closer Brandon Kintzler has 22 saves, among the best in baseball. Joe Mauer leads the team with seven game-winning RBI. His back has flared up on him, and he is currently on the disabled list.

With 30 teams in MLB and only 12 of those having winning records, the fight for the playoffs will be the story of the season’s second half.

I would like to see some of the teams that were expected to be in the playoffs play better, like the Chicago Cubs, who won 103 games last year and the World Series. So far they have been a major disappointment, 5½ games back of Milwaukee in the National League Central.

We have a long way yet to go, and I pointed out, it’s not always how you start but how you finish. However, some teams have dug some deep holes to climb out of in the second half. Just five teams in the National League have winning records. The Cardinals, Pirates, Blue Jays, Texas and Baltimore have not played consistently this year.

The Twins will have a chance to stay in the race in the second half; however, they need Mauer back healthy.

Pitching and defense have carried them so far. Young Jose Berrios is 8-2 and looking good. He and Santana give the Twins a solid one-two punch at the top of their starting rotation.

 

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: Northern exposure is great, but the Minnesota Gophers need to go north in the Big Ten West

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By Eric Nelson
July 12, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD
@Ericinminny44

 

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the home of Post-It Notes…..

•Northern Exposure: U of M football coach PJ Fleck is trying to change things up at TCF Bank Stadium. Fleck wants the Gophers to switch from the southern sideline to the northern sideline. That’s great, but I will be more impressed if Minnesota starts going north in the Big Ten West standings…

•Doubling Up: All this sideline chatter conjures up memories of Milwaukee’s County Stadium and Met Stadium in Bloomington, MN. Green Bay occasionally played in Milwaukee and the Met was Minnesota’s original home. The bench areas for both teams at those venues were on the same side of the field…

•Name Change: Now that the U of M hockey team will be playing at 3M Arena it is time to clear up some rumors. The Gophers don’t have to use Scotch tape on their hockey sticks and HC Don Lucia does not have to draw up plays on Post-It Notes…

•Maiden Voyage: The state of Florida is used to hosting major sporting events. There have been 10 Super Bowls in Miami, four in Tampa and one in Jacksonville. There have been countless NCAA bowl games, PGA Tour stops and the annual Daytona 500. However, Tuesday’s MLB All-Star Game in Miami was the first mid-summer classic ever played in Florida. Hard to believe considering that Florida has two MLB teams – Miami and Tampa Bay – and that 15 teams flock there every year for spring training…

•Good Show: Even though it’s just an exhibition, the MLB All-Star game still has juice. Compared to the NBA, NFL and NHL, MLB’s star show is actually worth watching…

•Candy Man: Now that Aaron Judge is the next NY Yankee superstar, does that mean he will get a candy bar named after him like Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson..?

•Standing Tall: Right now the only thing in NYC larger than Judge is the 104 story One World Trade Center…

•Ivy Costs: According to the Chicago Tribune, the Cubs are selling approximately 2,016 pieces of ivy that fell from the Wrigley Field outfield wall after the 2016 World Series championship season. The tab is $200 per leaf, plus $15 shipping and handling…

•One and Done: Based on the way the Cubs are playing in 2017, pedaling ivy won’t be an option next year. Chicago is 43-45 and 5 1/2 games behind Milwaukee in the NL Central…

•Soccer Signing: Minnesota United has inked 22-year old midfielder Sam Nicholson to a contract. Nicholson played the last four years with Heart of Midlothian in the Scottish Premiership League…

•Cool Look: The more I see the Minnesota Timberwolves new logo, the more I like it. The “Aurora green” north star mixed with the “lake blue” basketball is a creative concept…

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Twins at the Break…

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

Major League Baseball is now past the halfway point, with most teams having played well over half of their 162 game season. The Mariners and Rays have played 90 while the Angels have played 92. The Minnesota Twins are at 88, with a two-game losing streak heading into the All Star break while still a couple of games over .500 at 45-43.

The record would be good news, or at least better news, if the team wasn’t stumbling around the past 12 games or so (5-7), and revealing the overall pitching weakness that has plagued this club – for several years. With the starting pitchers, it is largely the same old story, with Ervin Santana consistently tough, followed by an emerging Jose Berrios, and then nothing but question marks among the starters.

In the final game of the first half against the Baltimore Orioles, starter Kyle Gibson reverted to the sorry pitcher he’s been for the past couple of years in self-destructing while unable to emerge from the fifth inning. Talk about a “head case” – – Sigmund Freud wouldn’t have a chance with this kid. Manager Paul Molitor is trying (watch the video of his intense mound communication during Gibson’s last outing), but remains frustrated by the lack of consistent performance from the talented, underperforming Gibby.

Now Minnesota has signed Bartolo Colon, the 19 year veteran who I wrote about in my book State of the Game when he was with the Cleveland Indians (of Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel and CC Sabathia) 16 years ago. I remember asking Twins utilityman Denny Hocking that year who was the toughest pitcher he had faced in the Big Leagues, and he replied without hesitation “Colon.” Well, that was then and this is now…

Forty-four year old Bartolo isn’t getting guys out throwing the hard (98 mph) heat like he used to. And while he has had success the last couple of years, it’s been while throwing all kinds of off-speed stuff with exceptional control (among the lowest ratio of walks to innings pitched over the past three years).

Former hard-thrower Phil Hughes now has to dink around like that, with limited success, but it says here we need to give Colon a chance. Why? Because it has come to that! Despite his failures (2-8) in Atlanta this year, the veteran will get a chance here – I can assure you of that!

And I respect the front office – Derek Falvey and his people – for being willing to take a small chance on something that could help this season. They obviously didn’t sign Colon for the future.

After last year, it has to be considered an upside surprise that the Twins are over the .500 mark (just as the World Champion Chicago Cubs offer the downside at a disappointing two-games-under…). But it does feel like things could be better, and that has led to Molitor’s belief that his squad has another gear that it should be able to access in the second half. Of course, that remains to be seen, especially with the pitching.

“We’ve been searching to round out the rotation,” said Molitor on Sunday, realizing that what he has are green prospects, injured veterans like Hughes and Hector Santiago, with shakiness sprinkled in here and there.

The manager has lost some patience with former top-pick Gibson; “The pace of the game today was terrible. It was hard to watch.” And as for his starter walking the first hitter on four consecutive pitches, Molitor said “that kind of thing gets your attention right away.”

Expect Colon to get his opportunity shortly after the break. And cross your fingers that he can make a significant contribution. Berrios has rebounded from last year, and perhaps Bartolo can surge in the second half. Poor Mollie is running out of options, so if Colon could give them something and Adalberto Mejia and Santiago give the squad a little success, the improving offense should keep them in games.

And one more quick story… Yours truly was playing senior ball for the Apple Valley A’s back in the early 2000’s, competing against some of the top old-guy teams in the state.
One day, down in Rosemount, we ran into former Twins reliever Juan Berenguer in a contest where the almost 50-year-old was still bringing it. Our squad agreed that he was surprisingly tough with a good mix of pitches.

I think he was selling Lincolns and real-estate, which he is still doing, but he was still playing. Mixing it up and gritty, too, for seven innings. Rather impressive, the great baller still playing for the love of the game.

Colon came to Minnesota rather than the Mets, it is said, because he wants to win now – his final shot. It’s not about the money at this point, winning is the thing. Hopefully he and his buddy Ervin Santana can motivate and rally Minnesota’s inconsistent starting staff.

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: The Minnesota Twins are MLB’s most unlikely success story this season

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By Eric Nelson
July 7, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD
@Ericinminny44

 

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the North Star State...

•On the Rebound: The marathon MLB season has hit the halfway point. The surprise team so far is Minnesota. The Twins are 44-41 and just 1 1/2 games behind Cleveland in the AL Central. This is an epic turnaround from 2016 when the Twins finished with a 59-103 record and couldn’t see the first place Indians with a telescope…

•Tater Time: Monday’s home run derby in Miami has the potential to be a great show. With guys like Miguel Sano, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton swinging for the fences, baseballs will be flying into orbit all night long…

•Ball Hawk: Twins broadcaster Dan Gladden was the LF ball boy for the LA Angels-Minnesota game on July 4 at Target Field. Gladden, who played on two World Series title teams for the Twins, is 60-years old…

•Changing of the Guard: I am not surprised Minnesota peddled Ricky Rubio to Utah. This was bound to happen. The Timberwolves were looking for greener grass in the PG pasture which is why they immediately signed Jeff Teague

•Playoffs or Bust: The future is now for the T-Wolves who look a lot better with the additions of Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Teague. Minnesota hasn’t been to the NBA playoffs since 2004 and that has to change this season. The Wolves can only expect their loyal fan base to wait so long…

•Money Ball: This just in – Steph Curry now has more money than the San Francisco mint….

•Cashing In: Last week Curry signed a 5-year, $201 million contract with Golden State – the largest deal in NBA history. Truth is, the Warriors got Curry for a bargain. Golden State can’t pay the two-time NBA champ and two-time MVP enough. Curry is the new face of the NBA – an incredibly popular superstar who fills up arenas. Curry has raised the value of the Golden State franchise and his presence is one reason why the Warriors are getting a new waterfront arena in downtown San Francisco in 2019…

•Coast-to-Coast Popularity: Forget about the Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Cubs or New York Yankees, Golden State is America’s team. Thanks to Curry and his superstar cast, the Warriors are ultra-popular across the US…

•Off-Season Bounce: The NBA Draft and free agency has been more exciting than the just completed regular season and playoffs. The Association has been NFL-like with a knack for staying in the news cycle and garnering media attention…

•Purple Stars: My top five all-time Minnesota Vikings based on impact and production are – Alan Page, Chuck Foreman, Fran Tarkenton, Randall McDaniel and Randy Moss

•Oh My: ESPN the magazine has come out with its 2017 body issue. The group shot of the US women’s Olympic hockey team is my favorite photo…

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Scott Taylor

If They Get Through August, These Twins Will Compete

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Scott Taylor

By Scott Taylor

Twins take first two of July homestand…

MINNEAPOLIS – It was quite a July 4th Holiday for the Minnesota Twins. Not only did they win the first two games of a three-game series with the Los Angeles Angels, but they did it with all hands on deck.

The players who led the Twins to victory are the players you would suspect, but in the meantime, a couple of others that the organization has been waiting patiently for seemed to step up.

On Monday night, Adalberto Mejia won his third consecutive start, a 9-5 victory over a pretty decent Angels team (OK, not as good without Mike Trout, but still pretty good, nonetheless). Mejia (4-3, 4.32 ERA) gave up three runs on nine hits and a walk with five strikeouts. He threw 102 pitches and appeared to be ready to join Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios at the top of the rotation.

“It feels good to be able to hold a team like that,” Mejia said after the game. “I’ve been trying to go at least seven innings in my games and little by little it’s starting to happen.”

Joe Mauer hit a three-run bomb to centerfield while Max Kepler hit s line shot off the garden in right for a solo shot. Kepler had four hits and was the best player on the field. Brandon Kintzler shut down the Angels in the ninth to lock up the Twins 42nd win of the year.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Twins celebrated the holiday with a 5-4 win over the Angels to win the series. The story of the game was Byron Buxton. The Twins centerfielder entered the game hitting .197 and with three hits, including the eventual game-winning home run, he moved the dial to .206. Sure, it’s still lousy, but the fact is, he stole a base and made a tremendous catch against the centerfield wall on the first swing of the game.

Buxton could be a big league star if he could learn how to use his skills at the plate. He needs to bang the ball into the ground, bunt, beat out infield hits and simply use his legs. He easily stole a base after one single, turning a lead-off single into a double. He could be one of the Twins greatest if he could just  figure out how to get his legs involved in his hitting.

“I think he just has to remember during the game all the work he puts into his practice,” said Twins manager Paul Molitor, when asked about Buxton. “When you get in the game, you can’t be overthinking that thing. You just kind of have to let it fly.”

On Tuesday, Kyle Gibson (5-6, 5.82 ERA) was the “good” Kyle Gibson. He went 6.2 innings, allowing two runs on five scattered hits with two walks and four strikeouts. He threw 102 pitches before he was replaced by Taylor Rogers, who got a rude awakening from Albert Pujols, who hit his 12th homer of the year and the 611th of his career, 456 feet to straightaway centre.

The game was close, but Kintzler came on in the ninth once again, picked up his 22nd save of the season and lowered his ERA to 2.41. Perhaps the biggest snub of this All-Star season is leaving Kintzler out of the game. He might just be the best closer in the game.

At the end of the July 4th Holiday, the Twins were 43-40, just a game and a half back of Cleveland in the race for first in the Central Division.

Just two games into the second half of the season and the Twins are legitimately in the race. In fact, they’re tied with Kansas City and Tampa for the No. 2 Wild Card spot. If players such as Miguel Sano, Robbie Grossman, Eddie Rosario, Eduardo Escobar, Mauer and Buxton continue to play as well as they have, the light at the end of that ugly tunnel might not be an oncoming train.

Sure, it’s early. Sure it’s only the first week of July. Sure, Twins fans all expect the bottom to fall out of this thing at some point. But right now, a team that was 59-103 last season is three games over .500 and right in the thick of the Central Division race.

If things are the same by say, the last week of August, it might be time to conjure up thoughts of Kirby Puckett, Jack Morris and Kent Hrbek. Until then, it’s just fun to watch a young team with some very interesting players try to convince itself that it’s good enough to hang on.

 

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