Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: The Minnesota Twins need a bounce back season

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By Eric Nelson
March 23, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

FT. MYERS, FL – Sports Nuggets from the southern tip of Twins Territory...

• On the rebound: The Minnesota Twins are hoping for a bounce back season in 2017. The Twins were historically bad in 2016 posting a 59-103 record and finishing 35 1/2 games behind Cleveland in the AL Central. Putting that debacle in the rear view mirror and not repeating it, is the team’s main goal this year…

• Spring Cleaning: Minnesota is busy prepping for the upcoming season here in the Florida Grapefruit League. The Twins are focused on fundamentals such as defense and base running, and are trying to put together a pitching staff that can elevate the franchise back into contention. Hope and optimism bloom in the spring like the lush, green SW Florida landscape. The Twins believe they will be better. Goodness knows they better be better…

• The Great Unknown: Plenty of questions are swirling around the Twins. Can Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano fulfill their potential? Can Phil Hughes and Kyle Gibson become solid starting pitchers? Can Brandon Kintzler be an effective closer? Will new school, sabermetric front office guys like Derek Falvey and Thad Levine micromanage every move of old school manager Paul Molitor? The answers will be revealed in the coming months…

• Off the Grid: Because of their woeful ways, there is little buzz about the Twins in the sports-saturated Twin Cities. They are getting lost in the shuffle. The only way to change that is to start winning ASAP…

• March Mellow: While NCAA March Madness whips the nation into a frenzy, Spring Training in Arizona and Florida continues at its own leisurely pace. One cool thing about the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues is that games are played in smaller, intimate minor league venues. Fans often mingle with their favorite players and ticket prices are cheaper than the regular season…

• Saluting Dallas: The Twins defeated the Phillies 4-2 on Thursday in Clearwater, FL. Before the game Philadelphia paid tribute to former manager Dallas Green who died earlier this week. The 82-year old Green was the Phillies skipper when they won their first World Series title in 1980…

• Baseball Marriage: Philadelphia has definitely had more than a spring fling with Clearwater. The Phillies have been training in the city since 1947…

• Bolt City: Btw, Clearwater has more lightning strikes per capita than any city in the US. Clearwater is part of the Tampa Bay metro area which often gets hit by lightning. Guess it’s no surprise that the NHL team is nicknamed the Lightning…

That’s Creative: Ft. Myers is located close to the iconic Florida Everglades. So, the ECHL hockey team based in this city is known as the Florida Everblades…

• Spectacular Span: Going from Ft. Myers to Clearwater means traveling up I-75 to I-275 and crossing over Tampa Bay on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. This spectacular span is the world’s longest cable-supported concrete bridge…

• Panoramic View: The apex of the SSB is 430 feet high. The Gulf of Mexico, Tampa Bay and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg are all visible from the top…

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Hope Springs Eternal…

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

A Couple of Thoughts

Adrian Peterson took his last hand-off for the Minnesota Vikings last year, and it’s a sad goodbye that is being played out in the press and behind the scenes. AP is owed serious money ($18 million for 2017) that the Vikings are not going to pay and the story should reach a conclusion in the next week, or two weeks at the latest.

There’s a major cap-hit upcoming that the Vikings are unwilling to take, and that’s going to prompt this near-immediate action. One may recall that Peterson made his big money in 2014 despite being suspended for the severe paddling of his 4-year old son, an event whose repercussions cast the Purple in a bad light; and was perhaps made more grievous when AP’s response was that the league (and to a lesser extent, the team) was coming down on him unfairly.

Minnesota General Manager Rick Spielman spent much of his recent exclusive press conference saying things like “Adrian will always be a Viking” when he wasn’t talking about the plethora of quality running backs available in this years draft. Folks, that is what you call the handwriting on the wall of Peterson’s career in the Twin Towns, a tenure that was spectacular, if now sagging to the finish line.

The powerful running back doesn’t believe he’s done yet, and the great competitor in him is determined to finish his NFL run on a higher note. No doubt he would like to compete for a Super Bowl championship in the twilight of his grand career. New York’s football Giants could be a landing spot for Peterson (at less money), as they have created salary cap space with a couple of high-profile player releases. The Giants came close in 2016 and a healthy AP could seriously assist Eli Manning’s pocket survivability.

He’s going to be 32 the next time he “suits up and shows up” on the Gridiron. A lot of hits have been rained upon Peterson’s phenomenal physique (maybe the most athletic and pound-for-pound powerful build this journalist has ever seen in any locker room). But time waits for no man, and it won’t wait for AP. The big business of the National Football League spares no one. It will be interesting to see where Peterson plays this fall. One thing is certain – it won’t be in Minneapolis.

 

ON THE BASEBALL FRONT, the Minnesota Twins are into the exhibition season down in Fort Myers and looking for improvement just about everywhere – which should be the case regarding a team that lost 103 games. With the notable exception of Brian Dozier (who hit 42 home runs, played excellent defense, and may be the best second baseman in the game) this is a team that needs to get better ASAP in every department.

The good news is that I believe they will show solid growth this year, and will provide Twin Cities baseball fans with some exciting baseball along with an additional 15-20 wins. When you are at rock-bottom, the only direction one can look is up. And so it is with Minnesota and its cast of underachievers, a number of whom should be ready to break out.

I’m talking about the speedy Bryan Buxton finally playing up to his billing, like he did in September of last year (he hit 13 homers between AAA and the Bigs). What a catalyst he could be at the top of the line-up, setting the stage for Dozier, Miguel Sano and Joe Mauer et. al. Bux needs to cut down on his strikeouts and show more general discipline at the plate – which he should, with skipper Paul Molitor working with him daily this spring.

The Twins have brought a bunch of old-timers down to camp, including Torii Hunter, Mike Cuddyer, Dave Winfield (for several days, he resonated big-time with Buxton) and a few others. Jack Morris will be around for the pitchers, along with Bert Blyleven. After last year, its all hands on deck for 2017! Molly is encouraging these guys to communicate and contribute as they see fit, within his guidelines.

I say, great! Let’s get Sano rolling and playing a solid third-base with about 30 homers and 30 doubles…the man has good-buddy David Ortiz written all over him! Max Kepler is the best-hitting German in the world – and he can play Major League Baseball. Kennys Vargas will finally emerge, and Jorge Polanco will turn into a major league shortstop, and  Jason Castro will be the answer at catcher…

Hey, spring training is for dreamers! But the Twins do have some talent to work with. Ervin Santana needs a little more luck than last year to win a cool 20 games, and Kyle Gibson is ready to shed his youth and man-up on the mound. Phil Hughes should be on a short-leash but could succeed, and let’s see Jose Berrios finally live up to his potential.

I’m in Florida soon, and will report back after watching a few ballgames. As of this writing, the boys have dropped their first two spring training outings. Mauer and Dozier haven’t played yet and spring games don’t count any more than wedding cake at a divorce. Yet, believe me, Molitor is watching things like a hawk. That HOF’er and World Series MVP takes 103 losses personally, and it’s not going to happen ever again.

In fact, just like 2015 when Las Vegas had the Twins to win 70 games, plus or minus, and they won 83 – LV has Minnesota at 70 again, which would mean they would lose 90+ games. Head to the bank! Those suggested betting numbers are not going to happen, and my money is headed out west on Minny. They will be a .500 club at least. Without my upcoming visit to Florida in hand, I nonetheless see improvement at every defensive and offensive spot, as well as the mound.

Yeah, call me a dreamer… but I’m not the only one. Bottom line; I just don’t believe they are very far from being a decent-to-good MLB team. An updated report in a couple of weeks.

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Baseball Hall Of Fame Voting 2017

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

Cooperstown Here We Come

It is official on this January day that Jeff Bagwell (86% of vote, need 75%, 7th year eligible) Tim Raines (86% 15th and final year on ballot) and Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez (75%, first ballot HOF’er) have been voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the BBWAA. They will be formally inducted at the always engaging HOF Induction Ceremony on the weekend of July 28-31 in historic Cooperstown, New York.

As I’m known to say to friends and fellow baseball people, Induction Day is something special to see and well worth any effort and expense to be there – at least once. The Paul Molitor ceremony in 2004 was a event that will never be forgotten by those who attended (Dennis Eckersley, relief pitcher extraordinaire, also went in that year) and was particularly memorable for me as someone who had the privilege of seeing Molly play both in college and the pro’s. I also had contact with Eckersley, as a young journalist in Chicago, when he was a struggling starter with the Cubs in the early ’80’s.

What a place, and what a weekend! The museum aspects of Cooperstown (it’s called the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for a reason) are extraordinary, and visiting the place is a must for serious fans of the grand old game. And that is despite the fact that the times they-are-a-changing regarding the tenured baseball writers who vote for the eligible players, the baseball greats who are coming to Cooperstown, and the Hall of Fame itself.

Baseball writers who have a vote for the Hall are those members of the BBWAA with at least 10 years of continuous coverage of the game (primarily “beat” writers) as well as those who have been away from that role for less than 10 years. And that has been an important recent change, in that those writers who have been away from the beat for more than 10 years no longer have a vote.

What that means as a practical matter is that the a number of older writers, some of them familiar names in sports journalism, no longer have a vote. They have dropped off the roles of eligible voters. Thus, naturally, the demographic of HOF voters has gotten quite a bit younger. I am not saying that this is all bad, but it must be considered that younger writers have a different perspective on some of the issues of various periods in baseball history – including what is now commonly referred to as “the steroid era.”

And the elephant in the Cooperstown room, the largest issue besides “skill, success and statistics” (as one old-timer told me) regarding election to the baseball HOF, is the use of steroids or performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). Historically, or at least up until recently, a positive test or mention in the congressional investigation’s “Mitchell Report” meant a “blackball” from the Hall.

Of this years players elected to be enshrined, two have had been subjected to substantial rumor and innuendo regarding PEDs (Rodriguez and Bagwell) and one has in fact been “outed” in Jose Canseco’s book “Juiced” which came out in 2005 (Rodriguez). Canseco states that he injected Rodriguez (along with Mark McGwire, Juan Gonzalez, and Jason Giambi, among others) in the butt with ‘roids and provides some detail. Well, Pudge is not just in, he’s a first ballot selection!

Bagwell has admitted to using androstenedione, a semi-steroid still legal when he (and Mark McGwire) admitted using it in 1998. He denies any and all steroid/PED use – as does Rodriguez. Canseco has been vilified by many in baseball, including his former 1989 World Series manager in Oakland, Tony LaRussa, who has called his book and steroid abuse accusations “an attempt to gain attention and make money.”

Having read the book, I will say it rings true. That doesn’t mean Canseco is a good person – look up the details of his legal transgressions and prepare to be amazed – but his recollection of people, places and events doesn’t sound like make-believe. After all, some players have readily admitted that they were willing to do most anything to stay in the game or gain power – but most won’t talk and the tight baseball community doesn’t encourage such elucidation. What happens here, stays here has always been the rule.

A percentage of the new generation of baseball writers views LaRussa as someone who benefitted from the steroid era, in that users such as Canseco and McGwire helped manager Tony achieve a world title (in fairness, he’s had success everywhere he’s gone, especially St. Louis). The logic goes that if LaRussa benefitted from the era and is in the Hall, then how can we punish the men who made his selection possible?

Also, there is a perception that former baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who oversaw the tainted times and was recently enshrined in the HOF himself, either did not do enough to eliminate efforts to cheat the game or turned a blind eye to the true depth and challenge of drugs on baseball. Why wasn’t there more of a concerted effort to banish steroids when the evil medicine began to rear its ugly head?

And the big question now becomes – how do you justify keeping legends and record holders such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens out of the Hall when other users or suspected users are in? Mike Piazza is another name, already in the HOF, who has been indicted by innuendo and accusations but has nonetheless been enshrined. The grey area is getting murkier by the month and year, but it is still left to a select group of writers – a younger group of writers, perhaps less duty-bound to yesterday’s assumptions – that will determine the baseball Hall’s enshrinement future going forward.

And just a quick personal note; this kind of stuff has been around for a long while, so count me among those who believe baseball’s response to drug cheating could have been more forceful and better executed. In 1980 my collegiate baseball career as a shortstop at Northwestern University was ending, and not necessarily by my choice. I’d had a pretty good run in the Big Ten, but didn’t make enough of a mark to be drafted, despite never striking out in Big Ten competition and running the 60 indoors to establish my speed on the record (as Casey Stengel once said – “you can look it up”).

I was a four-tool player and the scouts knew it. Yes, I was fast and had a good eye, strong enough arm and was a fairly intelligent player. But I didn’t hit the ball deep very often, had clear “warning track power” which was considered a deficiency – especially with the All-American Paul Molitor lighting things up playing short at Minnesota and setting the bar awfully high for midwestern shortstops!

An acquaintance from the NU football team, let’s call him “Doug” (a lineman with good size, played a year for the Cowboys) attended a number of our games and ran into me after my last season. “Tom, maybe you could use a little something,” he said. Norm was known for selling weed, and I thought that’s what he meant. It wasn’t. He broke down for me what he had available, and it was steroids. He used that word, first time I had ever heard it.

Steroids…

I said no and have never looked back, despite the crazy money coming at that time to baseball – big money that has only gotten bigger. But I had a profound love of the game from about age three, and a respect for my body as well. And enough of something, I’d like to call it integrity, that it just wasn’t going to happen.

This was 1980, 35-plus years ago. The stuff was out there, even at a place like NU. And with the money, the fame and the adulation, there is certainly incentive to compromise values at the highest levels of the National Pastime. There’s also a heck of a lot of temptation in the minors for help getting to the top, as we have seen. The Dominican Republic is a juice factory, as I have documented in previous writing. Latin players face unique challenges. Colleges usually don’t do any testing for drug abuse in baseball and more high-schoolers use steroids than you would think.

But a lot of what is out there is very difficult to prove, and that is part of the challenge. I saw Barry Bonds when he started his career and he looked quite different 10 years later – a much bigger head, among other things. An amazing player at all times, even without 70-plus assisted homers. Same with Ivan Rodriguez, who looked impossibly powerful when I saw him in a hotel shuttle. He was traveling with his entourage at the ’99 All-Star game. Just massive in his body shirt – tough, rough and buff. Take a look at the drop-off in his numbers after the Canseco book when he presumably stopped juicing, in 2005.

Who knows? I don’t, and neither do the Hall-of-Fame voters.

But they do…

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: Brian’s song should only be heard in Minnesota

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By Eric Nelson
December 6, 2016
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the frozen north…

 

•Tradewinds: MLB’s winter meetings began this week in National Harbor, MD. The Minnesota Twins are looking to improve their ball club after a 2016 season in which they completely unraveled. Yes, when a team goes 59-103 changes are necessary. The Twins need pitching of all kinds – starters, middle relievers and a closer. There is speculation that Minnesota will dangle 2B Brian Dozier as trade bait to get some pitching. Hopefully that won’t happen. Unless the Twins get a Jake Arrieta, Corey Kluber or Clayton Kershaw-type pitcher in return, Dozier should stay put. It makes no sense to peddle a franchise cornerstone…

•Brian’s Song: Dozier had a monster season in 2016 batting .268 with 42 home runs, 99 RBI and 104 runs scored. Dozier was also solid defensively – he had just eight errors in 151 games at 2B. Dozier is a fan favorite, a leader in the clubhouse and one of the team’s few building blocks. Unless the Twins get an overwhelming offer, there is no reason to peddle Dozier. The last thing fans in Twins Territory want to see is Dozier being dealt for prospects that they have never heard of. This has been the Minnesota m.o. for too long…

•Moving Up: The Twins have promoted Deron Johnson to Senior Advisor of the Scouting department and Sean Johnson to Director of Scouting. Deron Johnson has been with the Twins organization since 1994. Sean Johnson started with Minnesota as an area scout in 2002…

•Playoff Push: If the Minnesota Vikings are going to qualify for the NFL post-season for the second straight year they will need a fast finish. The Vikings (6-6) probably need to go 3-1 or 4-0 to make the playoffs. Minnesota plays at Jacksonville Sunday and has no margin for error. The Jaguars (2-10) have lost seven straight games and are desperate for a win. Jacksonville QB Blake Bortles has thrown for 2,930 yards, 20 touchdowns and 15 interceptions this year…

•Final Four:  After Jacksonville, the Vikings host Indianapolis (6-6), travel to Green Bay (6-6) and then finish the regular season in Minneapolis against Chicago (3-9)…

•Dress Code: The decision by Carolina coach Ron Rivera to bench Cam Newton for one series against Seattle on Sunday night was comical. Rivera sat Newton because he did not wear a tie on the Panthers flight from Northern California to SeaTac Airport. Rivera’s decision takes the No Fun League to a new level. Who cares if players wear ties on flights? Casual dress should be good enough. Rivera whiffed on this one…

•Dressing Down: If I were coach, I would want my players comfortable when they travel. Sweat suits would be allowed. These guys aren’t stock brokers going to work in the financial district. Let them dress the way they want. Good character and on-field performance should be what counts – not wearing a coat and tie…

•Taxing Situation: Newton has played three times in California this year – Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara and regular season games in Los Angeles and Oakland. According to USA Today, any athlete who works in California is taxed on income they earn in the Golden State – which will cost Newton $220,000…

•Say What?: It is mind boggling that the LA Rams have given HC Jeff Fisher a contract extension. LA is 4-8 this season and according to ESPN, Fisher’s 164 career losses are the second most in NFL history, one behind Dan Reeves. This decision definitely won’t have Rams fans rushing to buy tickets. The Rams second honeymoon in So Cal will be quicker than a Kim Kardashian marriage if they don’t start winning soon. Losing is not tolerated in star-obsessed Los Angeles, where the fan base has too many other options…

•Bowl Bonanza: College football’s 41-game bowl season starts later this month and Minnesota plays Washington State on December 27 at the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. The Gophers (8-4) and Cougars (8-4) are both unranked and will be eager to finish their season on a positive note. Washington State is coached by Mike Leach – yes the same Leach who was Texas Tech’s coach when the Red Raiders rallied from a 31 point third quarter deficit to stun Minnesota 44-41 in overtime at the 2006 Insight Bowl in Tempe, AZ…

•Validation Victory: If the Gophers knock off the Cougars, it would be their best win of the season and give the program momentum for 2017. Minnesota needs a signature win and the Holiday Bowl is one more chance for the Gophers to finally beat a good team…

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: It’s a Golden finish for Detroit against Minnesota

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By Eric Nelson
November 7, 2016
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the Glass House…

 

•Purple Pain: The Minnesota Vikings are the shakiest first place team in the NFL. Their 5-0 start has vanished, replaced by a three-game losing streak that has exposed their most glaring flaws. The most recent loss was a 22-16 dagger defeat in overtime against the Detroit Lions before 66,807 fans at US Bank Stadium. It was a Golden finish for the Lions as QB Matthew Stafford threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate in OT. Tate caught 11 passes for 79 yards and punctuated his walk-off winner with a somersault across the goal line…

Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate eludes the Vikings tacklers

Golden’s day

•No Norv: One guy who did not see the carnage in person was former Vikings OC Norv Turner – who left the team last week. Daryl Johnston – who was part of the FOX broadcast team that called the Lions-Vikings game – was stunned when he found out Turner had quit. “I was,” Johnston said. “I had an opportunity to talk to Norv. It was a situation here in Minnesota where there was just a disconnect between he and Mike Zimmer and he felt the best thing for the team moving forward was for him to step away so they were allowed to move in the direction that they wanted to move in…”

•Cowboy Connection: Johnston knows Turner well from his days in Dallas when Turner was the Cowboys OC and they won three Super Bowls in the mid-1990’s. “I had a lot of respect for somebody doing that,” Johnston said. “There’s a lot of outside opinions that will say he left the team, and that’s not the case at all. It just gives Minnesota the best chance to win. He said it was the hardest decision he has ever made in his life. It will be interesting to see how Minnesota navigates it…”

•Divisional Logjam: Detroit’s win in Minnesota has created gridlock in the NFC North. The scrum includes the Vikings (5-3), Lions (5-4) and Packers (4-4), as they battle for first place. Like Minnesota, Green Bay is in free fall mode. The Packers lost to Indianapolis 31-26 on Sunday at Lambeau and now embark on a three-game road trip that takes them to Tennessee, Washington and Philadelphia…

•Laquon Sighting: Minnesota WR Laquon Treadwell is no longer missing in action. The Vikings top draft choice from Ole Miss actually caught one pass for 15 yards against Detroit. It will be a bonus for the Vikings if they can get contributions from Treadwell in the second half of the season…

Vikings rookie wide receiver Laquon Treadwell is in the game

Vikings rookie wide receiver Laquon Treadwell is in the game…

•Walsh’s Woes: Vikings K Blair Walsh continues to be inconsistent. Walsh missed an extra point and had a field goal attempt blocked in the loss to the Lions. In a game where every point counted, that adds up. Walsh is 13 of 16 on extra points and 12 of 16 on field goals this season…

•High Stakes: Saturday night’s Gophers-Cornhuskers game in Lincoln is crucial for both teams. Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin are tied for first place in the Big Ten West division with 4-2 records. The Gophers (7-2) have won four straight and have a chance to go to a bowl game with some juice. But their next three games – against Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin – figure to be challenging…

•Sputtering Start: There was plenty of hype, hope and optimism surrounding the Minnesota Timberwolves entering this season. Unfortunately, the Wolves (1-4) have gotten out of the blocks slowly and have blown huge leads in most of their losses. The Wolves fan base will continue to stay away from Target Center until this team proves it can win…

Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns rises with the ball

Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns up and over from ten feet…

•Three is not a charm: Minnesota has been horrible in the third quarter this season and needs to fix that problem asap. The Wolves play at Brooklyn on Tuesday and Orlando on Wednesday…

•Free Agent Plums: According to MLB.com, the top 5 free agents this off-season are – Justin Turner (LA Dodgers IF), Yoenis Cespedes (NY Mets OF), Edwin Encarnacion (Toronto DH/1B), Dexter Fowler (Chicago Cubs CF) and Josh Reddick (LA Dodgers OF)…

•Goal Oriented: Minnesota United forward Christian Ramirez has won this season’s Golden Boot award that goes to the player who scores the most goals during the season. Ramirez had 18 goals for Minn U and a career total of 50. Ramirez has won the Golden Boot in two of his three years in the NASL…

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