Posts

Thomas U. Tuttle

Negro Leagues Baseball Conference – Harrisburg, PA

Print this entry

by Thomas U. Tuttle

I’ve recently returned from the Jerry Malloy Negro League Conference, held this year in Harrisburg, PA – the capital of Pennsylvania and just 35 miles down the road from the historic battlefield at Gettysburg, while in the other direction lies State College and Penn State University.

Everyone is familiar with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh as the “major league” cities in the Keystone State (extra points if you knew that state nickname), but it is indeed Harrisburg that is the seat of government.

The Capitol of Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s capitol 

Harrisburg, with its spectacular architecture and utterly magnificent capitol building located in the center of the downtown area (called upon completion “the most beautiful building in America” by no less than Theodore Roosevelt) is a gem, with a vibrant community supporting it.

Most everyone is also familiar with the fact that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, forever changing the landscape of Major League baseball. Branch Rickey and Robinson, along with others, defied the “gentleman’s agreement” that had kept baseball white for decades.

Harrisburg and its neighbor, Steelton PA (home of a massive and once thriving Bethlehem Steel factory), contributed mightily to black baseball by simply being the home of the Harrisburg Giants – and for a good chunk of the 1920’s, the host of HOF’er Oscar Charleston, critically underrated superstar Rap Dixon and the exceptional Fats Jenkins, among others.

During the first half of the 20th century, despite the ignominy of baseball’s separate but unequal state, tremendous baseball was played by black ballplayers throughout the country, with organized ball in numerous major cities well underway in the early 1900’s.
Think in terms of the Baltimore Black Sox, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Homestead Grays, Chicago American Giants, Newark Eagles, Birmingham Black Barons and the powerful (also legendary) Kansas City Monarchs – among others.

The Harrisburg Giants team of the mid-1920’s was outstanding, with one of the great outfields of all time, led by Oscar Charleston and Rap Dixon. Oscar has long been recognized as one of the games all-time greats (as exemplified by his HOF status) but it is Dixon who was the focus of much research and study at the conference.

Graveyard marker of Harrisburg Giant, Rap Dixon

Graveyard marker of Harrisburg Giant, Herbert “Rap” Dixon

Rap hit the first home run by a black player ever at Yankee Stadium in 1930, was known to be one of the best defensive players in NL history, and had a record 14 consecutive plate appearances with a base hit – still the record as recognized by “major league equivalency.” What makes the mark all the more impressive is that it came in a series against the powerful Homestead Grays.

(It should be noted that Ted Williams reached base 16 consecutive times with a number of walks and hit-by-pitch appearances a part of that impressive total.)

Dixon is credited with a lifetime batting average of .315 with roughly 18 home runs, 27 steals and 125 runs scored for every 150 games played. Teams in the Negro Leagues did not have the 154 game schedule of white teams, partly for the simple reason that they were not allowed to play in numerous parks, and only on certain days in the yards that were open to them.

Despite adversity, the black game flourished for many years and created many legends of the game. Almost all of us are familiar with the legacy of HOF pitcher Satchel Paige, and many of us the superb baseball exploits of Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell. But there are many more names that resonate in the cities that gave rise to the greatness of blackball.

Rap Dixon is just one of them, but what a player he must have been. They say he was a fine gentleman as well, who was sorely missed when he died, too young, at age 42 years.

Print this entry

Thomas U. Tuttle

These Losses Hurt

Print this entry

by Thomas U. Tuttle

 

The Minnesota Twins lost a couple of ballgames to the Baltimore Orioles heading into the All Star break, hitting the traditional midpoint of the season a couple of games over .500 at 45-43. After staying reasonably competitive to start the second half, the Twins headed out west to visit the best team in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers (71-31) and have been outclassed while paying the price for the visit.

Three straight losses to LA, with blown leads in each defeat and an especially painful loss on Wednesday, have left Minnesota with a stumbling 49-51 record and in danger of becoming irrelevant in the Wild Card race. The Twins are now 5 1/2 games behind Cleveland and four behind the improved Kansas City Royals.

Manager Paul Molitor doesn’t believe this is a time for major concern (“With 62 games to play, no…” he said following the most recent loss) but fans can be excused for catching a bad vibe after this series. The team stays in California to play Oakland and then San Diego, with a strong need to get back on track immediately.

If this isn’t a crisis, it sure feels like one.

On Wednesday, Minnesota struck early and hard, taking a 5-0 lead before dropping the game 6-5. Ervin Santana started and failed to reach his 12th victory, giving up a couple of home runs in what could be considered just a fair start for the Twins ace. Still, they were in position to win before the Dodgers finished off Brandon Kinzler with three singles in the bottom of the ninth.

In the top half of that inning, Max Kepler led off with a double and advanced to third on a ground out. But the lack of clutch hitting that has hurt the club all season showed itself again when Jason Castro and Jorge Polanco struck out back to back, ending the threat.
Get that run across the plate and give a lead to Kinzler and let’s see what might happen?
Of course, that’s woulda, coulda, shoulda stuff…

After a day off, Minnesota faces Oakland with three starters who were not in the rotation, or in Molitor’s imagination, when the season started – Jaime Garcia, “Bert” Mejia, and Bartolo “I’m a young 44” Colon. This has to be concerning; with disappointing Kyle Gibson jettisoned to the minor leagues and starting pitching once again a guessing game, the Twins need a lot of things to go right to stay in the hunt.

Dan Gladden told me at the 1987 World Series team reunion night last week that the first couple of weeks after the All Star break are, in his opinion, almost always critical to a teams success going forward. I agree, and in that that light there is plenty of reason for concern.

While teams like Cleveland (8-2 in last 10) and Kansas City (8-2 last 10) are getting healthy, playing well and pointing for the postseason, there is a growing feeling that the Twins (3-7) are hanging on while trying to stop the bleeding on a fading season.

They play five more games in California before returning home to face Texas, and the likes of Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish, in a four game set. While Texas is something like 16 games behind front-running Houston (who had the Dodgers and the Astros as the best teams in baseball?), the Rangers feel capable of doing some playoff damage if they can somehow grab the second wild-card spot.

There is a belief that Minnesota needs to get on a winning track right now to remain relevant. There is danger in falling short these days, as the pack around the .500 mark will begin to separate. Blowing 5-0 leads, even against a team as strong as Los Angeles, can shake a teams confidence in critical ways. Now they need strong starts and clutch hits to hang around – items in short supply of late.

Print this entry

Thomas U. Tuttle

On the Road to Yosemite

Print this entry

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.

Print this entry

Thomas U. Tuttle

Twins at the Break…

Print this entry

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.

Print this entry

Thomas U. Tuttle

Story Of The Lightning Bolt

Print this entry

by Thomas U. Tuttle

Having just returned from one of my regular forays into the Caribbean, Jamaica in particular, I’m pleased to report that the fastest man in the world is doing just fine.
Yes, Usain “Lightning” Bolt is holding up well and, to prove it, he ran a final “home” 100 meters at Jamaica’s National Stadium in a casual 10.03 in front of 30,000 gold-clad Jamaicans – and me!

It is a long drive from T-Bird on the Cliffs, Negril, Westmoreland Parish to Kingston, Saint Andrew Parish – and to the glittering, extraordinary track palace near the center of town. As Yankee Stadium is the house that Babe Ruth built, so too is National Stadium Mr Bolt’s, having won his first major race – a 200 meter – just before his 16th birthday and indicating his recent 100 will be his last competitive race in Jamaica.

He does plan to run the World Championships in London this summer, and he stated once again that will be the final competitive 100 of his illustrious career.

My friend and occasional driver, Mr Everton “Biggs” Williams, knew we were watching history as the sizable crowd grew in excitement. When the climactic sprint event drew closer at “Salute to the Legend – Racers Grand Prix,” the frenzy grew – until the Big Man, as is his style, slyly and slowly emerged from the tunnel to the sounds of Ziggy Marley on the sound system. Bedlam, joyful exuberance, and a little dancing from Bolt – which finally yielded to the silence of a fandom that knew there was just a little more work to be done.

It was incredible how quiet the 30,000 became as the race came close to the gun sounding; you could have heard the proverbial pin drop from about 100 meters.

And just like Rio de Janeiro (yes, you will recall I ventured to Rio for the Olympics) he came out of the blocks cautiously, caught the pack at the 50 meter mark, and then blew by the field for another solid, going-away triumph. Running just over 10 seconds doesn’t make Sir Bolt very excited, but his countrymen and women were plenty enthralled nonetheless.

As he executed his signature “To The World” pose during his final victory lap at the National Stadium, he was once again the ultimate man of the moment – just as he has been since 2008, a superb and unequaled Champion and true hero of the Jamaican people.

Olympic and World Champ at 100 AND 200 meters in 2008, same thing in 2012, ditto for Rio in 2016 – which I was so privileged to witness and whose images will never leave my mind. The Big Man won the 100 and 200 meters in THREE consecutive Olympic Games.
It’s hard to even wrap your head around such an accomplishment!

And Biggs and I will never forget our warm evening in Kingston, when an entire city put away its numerous challenges and problems to cheer for the greatest track athlete in history – and one heck of a person.

Courteous during a brief meeting with “Biggs” Williams and myself, Bolt was raised humble outside Trelawny in the north of the island – -and reflects, on an international platform, his outstanding parenting. A gentleman through and through, he is in fact a wonderful symbol of hope for Jamaica.

And the fastest man EVER, pure and simple – World Record Holder in both sprint events (forget the WR relays) and, arguably, the Greatest Athlete in the History of the World.

“To the Worl, Mon, To the Worl!”

Yah Mon…

Print this entry

Thomas U. Tuttle

Santana The Man

Print this entry

by Thomas U. Tuttle

A couple of years ago the Minnesota Twins picked up veteran righty Ervin Ramon Santana with the hope that he could become the club ace and provide leadership to a young staff. Instead, they picked up a very expensive (four years, $55 mil) and challenging player situation, a man who was about to be suspended for half of the 2015 season on suspicion of performance enhancing drug use.

Santana was nonetheless able to contribute a little something to the Twins surprising team that year, finishing 7-5 for first year manager Paul Molitor’s overachieving (83-79) squad – all the while consistently denying the usage of anything illicit.

2016’s debacle season (59-103) was aided by Santana’s inconsistency and lack of support from the Twins offense, resulting in a weak 7-11 record despite an impressive ERA of 3.38 – among the top ten in the American League. Those of us who watched a number of his appearances in ’16 know that he pitched in hard luck on several occasions, but also gave up some crucial blows, at critical times, from the opposing side.

This year, our man Ervin is just right. His win in shutting out the Giants on a recent Friday gives him more wins than last year (eight) and one of the best all-around statistical seasons in baseball to this point, with one more shutout (three) than the rest of the league combined (two). Pretty amazing run thus far, and an All Star game start could well be just a couple more wins away.

(Interesting but little known fact: Ervin was actually born Johan Ramon Santana in La Romana, Dominican Republic – but there was a problem with that first name because, as most Twins fans know, there was already another Johan Santana – the formidable and established MLB star who throws from the left side. “I needed another first name, so I went with Ervin because it sounded good,” he said.

Against the Giants, he not only pitched the Twins to a 4-0 complete game shutout, Ervin also hit a bases clearing three-run double to greatly help his own cause. Not bad for a guy who rarely takes batting practice.

In serving up an exceptional 4-hitter, with 26 of 31 possible first pitch strikes and a triple San Francisco’s only well-struck base hit, he provided more evidence that, right now, he’s one of the best in the game.

Granted, recent two-time World Champion San Francisco has been having trouble this year, but the Minnesota road warriors continue their dominance away from home. When you think about it, the facts are nothing short of amazing; as of this writing the Twins are a baseball-leading 20-8 when visiting and a MLB worst 12-18 in the friendly confines of Target Field.

With a team not that much different from last season, they are in first place by two games in a division that looks like it could remain in play all summer. The defending AL best Cleveland Indians are struggling to find themselves, with some major cogs underperforming to this point. The White Sox continue a period (years) of struggle and the ongoing failure of Kansas City requires more study; the Detroit Tigers, for my money, could still be a team that emerges strong.

Minnesota has a bullpen that puts out fires with gasoline, including a closer in Brandon Kintzler who pitches with grit and technique rather than overpowering hitters. That said, and despite a couple of glaring blown save outings, his efforts have garnered 17 saves and the faith of manager Paul Molitor. “Brandon has to pitch to his spots, but he can be effective doing that,” said the Twins skipper. In other words, he “pitches to contact” – not exactly the classic flamethrowing bully called in to safely close out a win.

With Kyle Gibson finally giving a first-rate pitching performance and Jose Berrios looking like he has found his confidence on the mound, things are continuing to evolve with the starting rotation. Those two are the recent good news, with both garnering important wins of late. Early season starter Phil Hughes was disappointing in recent starts before he went on the DL, and erstwhile number-four man Hector Santiago has been Mr HR Dinger of late, with 12 home runs in 25 innings during his recent miseries.

Frankly, the starting pitching still has to be regarded as suspect, and the bullpen can be considerably worse. The cause for optimism is that this team finds ways to win despite clear challenges on the mound (former closer Glen Perkins won’t be back to help this year, if ever). And the offense can be darned explosive at times despite inconsistencies – more on that next time.

So back to the good news of Johan, er, Ervin Santana. With a great lead starter who commands confidence from the players behind him and strikes a little fear in the opposition, there are possibilities that good things can continue to happen in the Twin Towns. Or at least, perhaps, on long road trips for the battling squad that plays its home games near the banks of the Mississippi.

Minnesota Twins pitcher Ervin Santana

Ervin Santana leads the Major Leagues with 3 Shutout peformances thus far…

Print this entry

Thomas U. Tuttle

Twins Roar Ahead

Print this entry

by Thomas U. Tuttle

Years ago, when yours truly was playing high school baseball in the Chicago area, pitching won a bunch of games for us, but a dynamic offense won a lot more. We would put the hammer down with a diverse bunch of talent and outscore the opposition en route to a 26-4 record and a league title. Speed and power and solid defense was a fun way to win.

While most of us will agree that pitching wins ball games, we clobbered teams with bats, led by future Chicago Cubs first round draft pick Brian “Ozzie” Rosinski. He was the biggest threat, but not the only one; a trip down memory lane reminds me of the names Bobby Brasher, Ronnie Strong, Brian Walker, Bobby “Chief” Schwartz and a host of others. They could hit, night and day…

We also had an ace on our generally passable staff, big Cazzie, and when he was on the hill we were awful tough to beat (a state tournament-ending loss revolved around a blown call at second base involving yours truly with Caz on the hill). He was our Ervin Santana and that tourney loss might have been one of two defeats he suffered all year.

Ah, Glory Days, baby, as Boss Springsteen so brilliantly put to music! “He could throw that speed ball by you, make you look like a fool, boy…”

Yep, the Twins are living in the best of both worlds, as exemplified by their 14-7 offensive thumping of Baltimore which was followed by a 2-0 Santana gem and another Jose Berrios confidence builder, a 4-3 victory concluding Minnesota’s sweep of the Orioles. Look out Ma, the Boys have won four in a row and have led the Central for more days than any other team in the division. And with Cleveland’s best hurler, Corey Kluber, on the disabled list, there is no way the Indians are going to run and hide like last year

If the Twins have a solid June, they should stay relevant for the balance of the season – not bad for 2016’s worst team in baseball.

This year’s Minnesota team doesn’t have a bunch of cannons coming to the plate, but they can manufacture runs and even had a record tying 16-game home run streak. And while they are not going to flat-out crush you on most days (they’ve only scored in double figures a couple of times), they are led by the increasingly formidable Miguel Sano, who looks to be developing into one of the best power hitters in the game and is putting fear into American League pitchers – hanging around the league leaders in 4-baggers, slugging percentage, RBI’s and runs scored will tend to do that.

Sano leads the offense, brings a great attitude almost all the time, and is the unofficial leader of the Twins sizable Latin brigade. “Love to hit, love to hit…” he told a few of us after a strong game this spring. “Just doing my thing.” You can’t help but think of the one-time young Minnesota slugger David Ortiz when our big Miggy talks, smiles, hits etc…

The Latin thing is for real, with major contributors to offensive – and pitching – success coming from locations around the Caribbean. Jose Polanco, strong at shortstop and strengthening as a hitter; Kennys Vargas, potentially an important piece of a successful offensive ballclub; Eddie Rosario, Eduardo Escobar, Santana, Berrios, Santiago, etc…etc…

These guys from the warm winter spots, although they exhibit occasional youthful inconsistency, can really play. And they’re a lot of fun to watch as they mature, playing much better baseball than last year.

It’s also fun to see Joe Mauer look like he’s enjoying the game a good deal more than he has the past couple of years. He had his first three-hit game since last August, ’16 recently, and Mauer’s glove has been just short of brilliant at first base. He’s both laughing AND leading – one can almost remember why we’re paying the man about $25 million a year.

Almost…Monopoly money aside, this is a team that mixes and matches their players well. “It’s a well thought out team,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter after being swept in the three game set. “You can see how the parts fit.”

Max Kepler is becoming a major leaguer, the solid Brian Dozier is strengthening and leading, and Jason Castro is the serious catcher that he was expected to be. In a word, he’s exceptional at handling pitchers. The Byron Buxton saga continues – and is going to continue for a long time, hopefully including some offensive production to go along with the Gold Glove center fielder. My sources say he’s getting close to being the steady offensive threat that is expected; all of us are waiting for the arrival of consistency at the plate.

Pitching wins more games than hitting, so they say. The Twins will need to add a few pieces on the mound and likely at the plate to truly contend for a pennant. But one has to give manager Paul Molitor credit; he has stayed patient while staying the course and keeping faith in his young squad – emerging, once again, as an early manager of the year candidate.

Back in Chi-town, in the glory days, things could have ended awful sweet…just a few outs away from a state title. There was something about a missed tag at second base, surely a blown call by a visionchallenged umpire, and a baseball dream that slipped away.

It was just one of those crazy things that happen in the sport, something like going from worst to first at the major league level. You just never know about about baseball, but I’ve got to tell you – I tagged him!

HE WAS OUT!

Print this entry

Thomas U. Tuttle

Twins Starters Hold The Key

Print this entry

by Thomas U. Tuttle

 

The Minnesota Twins are only a few games from being a quarter of the way through the 2017 season, and things are looking – and feeling – pretty good around Target Field. And well they should, as the squad holds onto a share of first place as of this writing.

Starting pitching has been pretty solid in general, with the recent upside surprise from Jose Berrios adding to the positive vibe. Of course, just about anything he delivered would have looked better than most of last year’s outings. Berrios was considered a key to a successful 2016 campaign and his miserable 8.00 ERA – in a fair sampling of outings – matched the futility of Minnesota’s entire baseball season, the worst in its history.

It’s awfully early in his return to offer predictions, but JB (as Brian Dozier likes to call him) looked like a different pitcher his first time out – pitching with the command and confidence that was sorely lacking last year. For the Twins to make a meaningful run in 2017, Berrios could be critical. Count me among those who think he’s going to continue on a new path this year.

Ervin Santana has been outstanding, with the exception of the blowout loss to the Red Sox, where he gave up a trio of four-baggers and poured a little gasoline for the bullpen to ignite. He’s throwing well, keeping the ball down and staying among the league leaders in ERA, innings pitched, and won-loss record. At least for now, Ervin is one if the best guys on the mound anywhere, and this true team player is enjoying it. Look for Santana, tough after the break last year, to keep his mojo going.

Of course, the Twins need to have a strong Santana because the other starters inspire significantly less confidence, despite winning records at this early stage. That does not include the departed Kyle Gibson, the number three hurler jettisoned along with his 8.20 ERA on May 4th. Gibson has good stuff, as he displayed during a strong spring, but move him up here and things have consistently turned frustrating – maddeningly so.

The great St. Thomas baseball coach Dennis Denning always preached, “work fast, change speeds, throw strikes.” A simple mantra that he demanded from his pitchers, and they were rewarded with results including a national championship. Gibson might have had trouble pitching D-3 for Denning, as he worked slow (frequently going deep into counts and taking his time doing it), struggling mightily to control his sinker while showing little confidence in his fastball – and generally getting rocked once he found himself in trouble.

“It’s not working. He’s putting us in a bad spot more times than not,” said manager Paul Molitor in sending him down. I’ve regarded Gibson as a key to the Twins success over the past couple years, given his tools and potential, but I could be completely done with him if Berrios can rise to the occasion. Jose has jumped into the number four starter spot, and we need him to perform well immediately – which he did! That said, good luck Kyle Gibson – here’s hoping you make it back to MLB – somewhere…

Starters Phil Hughes and Hector Santiago have benefitted from pretty good run support and fairly solid defense. That said, Hughes has had good command of his pitches despite giving up a lot of hits and runs, per usual. Phil has to use his multi-speed change-up effectively, and thus far he has, utilizing veteran knowledge and experience to make his less-than-overpowering stuff work for him. Watch his ERA, already high, and if it heads north expect the Twins to start heading south.

Same kind of thing with Hector Santiago, the new lefty who throws hard and can be outstanding when he is on. He’s a strikeout pitcher when things are right and is super-tough on left handed hitters with his delivery and pace. Molitor likes him and said earlier this year in Florida, “he’s a major league guy with big-league stuff who is going to help us this year.”

Hector is a competitor known for his intensity and is eager to have a great year; he should be, given his mediocrity after the Twins obtained him last year (but thanks for helping us dump Ricky Nolasco!). Santiago has always been around the .500 mark during his runs with the White Sox and the Angels, was 3-6 in Minnesota last year, and could break out this year. He needs to – and like Phil Hughes, if he stumbles badly the challenges will be great. But so far, pretty good…

Let’s hope the new rotation can hold things together.. The Twins need the starters to remain accountable, particularly given the uncertainties of the bullpen, led by the gutty closer Brandon Kintzler and a few guys named Moe (everybody else in the pen with ERA’s over four). Can this rotation stay solid? Clearly this is strictly a wait and see for Twins fans, but if Berrios can fill a big gap in keeping us off the Tyler Duffey feed-bag and win a bunch of games, things could stay tight in a winnable division.

And that’s because the offense is interesting. More on the lively Minnesota bats and the awesome Miguel Sano later this week.

Print this entry

Thomas U. Tuttle

Wild ghosts of days gone by…

Print this entry

by Thomas U. Tuttle

 

When I was a young guy, there was a youth hockey team called the Minor Hawks that played out of Chicago and traveled around playing the best teams that could be found. Unlike the famous NHL Blackhawks, indoor ice time was at a premium and outdoor rink hockey was at the whim of the weather spirits. Still, this early traveling all-star team was about as good a squad as any in the Midwest.

Or should I say “lower” Midwest. Because of a fair amount of local-area success, the coaches decided to play some more serious competition late in a 1970’s-era season, so up we went to Madison, Wisconsin, where the competition ramped up and the losses, while consecutive, were fairly competitive.

Then it was on to tournaments in the Twin Cities and Duluth, and soon a whole new understanding of the  game of hockey was brought to our attention – along with fast skating, solid checking, tape-to-tape passing, wicked wrist-shots, solid slap-shots and serious goaltending. There was a group realization by the Chicago kids that not only were we overmatched and outscored – we really really didn’t belong in the same building with the guys from Minnesota. They might have been 13 and 14 years old, but the dudes from the State of Hockey schooled us big-time and the numbers on the scoreboard reflected that.

I’m not sure this reminiscence has much to do with the Minnesota Wild’s demise in the first round of the NHL playoffs, although the Wild ended up being schooled in five games by the St. Louis Blues and coach Mike Yeo. Yes, goalie Jake Allen was stellar in the nets – particularly in the first game when he stood on his head in making 51 saves on 52 shots – and the Blues were timely on offense, but it seemed like Mike Yeo knew what needed to be done for victory and executed his plan perfectly.

While Allen certainly deserves all the credit for the victory in game one, Yeo ramped up his defense for the rest of the series, using his knowledge of Minnesota and its players to turn up the heat on the Wild scorers. The Blues played a super-physical brand of hockey and made the Wild work hard to get any scoring opportunities, using guys with names like Bortuzzo and Bouwmeester, Pietrangelo and Parayko to clog up the middle and make sure the W’s offensive threats knew what they were up against.

And actually, this reminded me of our best guys on the Minor Hawks, Ray and Eddie and Big Al, being shut-down in the Twin Cities and Duluth on our trip up north. Every time our top players started to move up the ice, looking for some space to execute, here would come two or three big kids ready to bust things up. In our case, we had never seen pressure like that, and it didn’t let up. Just scoring a goal was a cause for major celebration (I think we scored six during our week in Minnesota).

The Wild have been in tight checking games, and they are not young kids. But take a look at the production of Minnesota’s top offensive threats in the playoffs versus the regular season. Leading scorer Mikael Granlund was almost invisible, with no goals in the playoffs. Nino Niederreiter and Zack Parise were largely neutralized, as was the power play – and the normally strong blue line contribution was minimal. Hey, Minnesota scored just five goals in the first four games of the series – a mere 1.25 goals a game. When they finally busted loose for three goals at home in game five, it fell short again in a 4-3 overtime loss.

Bruce Boudreau’s history of getting knocked off in the playoffs continues (this was his ninth playoff exit, four with the Washington, four with Anaheim, and now the Wild) and the pressure on the coming season will be intense. Part of his problem is the perception that he’s a great coach (leading the Mighty Ducks to first place each year of his tenure; the Wild to their best record ever) who simply can’t win in the playoffs – a leader who is unable to  “win the Big One,” if you will.

You have to know this dilemma will carry over to next year and, unfortunately, lead to the regular season being a kind of tune-up for the “real” season: the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It really is a different deal in post-season hockey, with the top-seeded Blackhawks vanishing in four straight against the Nashville Predators and the number two Wild departing to the Blues – sayonara to Montreal as well.

Us old Minor Hawks kids know the feeling of getting beat, if not by close scores. Ray and Eddie, our leaders and most talented players, never quit (unlike accusations that Parise and Ryan Suter cost Mike Yeo the locker room prior to his exit from Minnesota) and I don’t believe the Wild gave anything less than their best. But it simply wasn’t enough against a tough defensive team that knew how to play the Wild and executed a solid game plan. And it is hard to argue that Yeo wasn’t the better coach in the series.

Mike Yeo was genuinely classy in victory, as many of us in the media knew he would be. Minor Hawks coach Atkinson was classy, too, when we succumbed to defeat by big numbers. We never won the big one (or any big game), but we learned a great deal and still had fun.

Unfortunately for coach Boudreau, he needs to win a big one badly, and that rough road is going through Chicago or St. Louis or somebody tough – that just how NHL hockey goes in the springtime. Fun only accompanies winning.

Print this entry

audio logo

GDG rundown for Easter and Passover weekend (Apr. 14-16)

Print this entry

It’s another loaded week of sports across the country.  Let Eric and Larry condense it all down for you.  They pour through all the bits and pieces to bring you the big news from the Downtown Minneapolis studios.  The Wild begin their postseason run, while the Wolves get set to watch another playoff season at home (Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio offers his thoughts).  The Twins continue to impress early on.  Out west, Oakland just can’t seem to hold on to its sports teams.  And former NFL player (and Super Bowl champion) Ryan Harris discusses the importance of Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney.

The Disappearing Oakland Sports Scene

Segment 1: The reaction is still pouring in from last week’s announcement that the Oakland Raiders will be heading to Sin City.  Our hosts revisit the impact that this move will have on the east side of the Bay Area.  And what’s up with Oakland’s struggle to keep sports franchises?

 

Steel to the Core: Remembering Pittsburgh Owner Dan Rooney

Segment 2: The NFL world is mourning after the death of Pittsburgh Steelers CEO Dan Rooney on Thursday.  Larry reveals a familial connection to the owner, while Eric explains how he embodied the franchise that he ran.  Plus, will St. Louis be successful in their pending lawsuit against the NFL?

 

K.C. Connections & Triumphant Twins

Segment 3: Falling back on memories of days past, the guys revisit their respect for Kauffman Stadium.  The Royals, however, haven’t had a glowing start to the season.  A lot of that had to do with the Twins.  Speaking of…what are the reasons this edition of the team has seen some early success?

Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri

Kauffman Stadium – Kansas City, Missouri

 

Eric, Larry, & Ricky Rubio Lament Lost Chances for the Wolves

Segment 4: The Timberwolves’ season has come to an end.  Larry briefly discussed this lost campaign with point guard Ricky Rubio.  Then, our hosts recap another season where the organization missed out on the playoffs.

Minnesota Timberwolves new Logo displayed on giant scoreboard above court at Target Center - Minneapolis, MN

Timberwolves unveil new logo at Target Center

 

GDG Chats with Ryan Harris About a Legendary Owner and a Puzzling Free Agent

Segment 5: One man that got to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dan Rooney is Twin Cities native Ryan Harris.  The former offensive lineman discusses the owner’s legacy.  Plus, what does he think of Colin Kaepernick’s inability to find a new team?

 

A Wild Tussle to Open the Playoffs

Segment 6: The fellas take a minute to look into the hot button topic of the man that was dragged off of a United Airlines flight.  After that, the Wild were bogged down in Game 1 of their First Round postseason series against St. Louis.  What should we expect from the rest of the series?  Eric and Larry break down the angles.

 

Print this entry

Podcast