Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: The Minnesota Twins best move with Brian Dozier was no move

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By Eric Nelson
August 22, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

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

•Status Quo: Sometimes the best move is no move. That is true for new Minnesota Twins bosses Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. Despite all the trade rumors swirling around 2B Brian Dozier, he is still wearing a Twins uniform – which is a good thing…

•Brian’s Song: It’s preposterous that Dozier was ever on the trading block. The guy is a cornerstone player and a key part of the Twins young foundation of talent. This season Dozier is batting .264 with 26 home runs, 71 RBI and 71 runs scored. He has also been solid defensively (just 4 errors in 534 chances) and is a leader in the clubhouse…

•Tater time: Dozier now has 143 career home runs, which is 10th on the Twins all-time list…

•Speed Thrills: Minnesota CF Byron Buxton has to be one of the fastest athletes in team sports. In a 100 meter sprint I would take Buxton over any of the Viking wideouts…

•Blair’s Revenge: It’s great that Seattle K Blair Walsh connected on a pair of 52-yard field goals last week against Minnesota and it’s great that Walsh apparently has his mojo back. Walsh even taunted his old team, gesturing to the Viking sideline after both kicks. But, the real test for Walsh will come in key regular season and post-season games. That’s when the kicks really count – not in the pre-season…

•Time Warp: According to ESPN.com, Atlanta HC Dan Quinn has a clock on his office wall with no numbers. Each of the 12 spots are replaced by the word “now,” reminding Quinn to stay in the moment…

•Dinkytown Depression: ESPN.com also ranked the happiest and most miserable college football fan bases. Minnesota is 107th on the list. Ohio State is number 1 and Texas State is last at 128…

•Long Trip: Rice and Stanford open the season on Saturday and it’s not in Houston or Palo Alto. Instead it’s in Sydney, Australia. For some odd reason the NCAA wants the Owls and Cardinal to travel to the other end of the globe to play a football game…

•Smart Move: Kudos to Notre Dame and Wisconsin for scheduling a home and home series. In 2020 the Irish and Badgers play at Lambeau Field in Green Bay and in 2021 they meet at Soldier Field in Chicago. It’s great to see teams play nonconference games with some juice…

•Badger Ball: Give Wisconsin credit, the Badgers usually face at least one power program in their non conference schedule. In recent seasons Wisconsin has played Alabama and LSU, and this year travels to BYU on September 16th…

•No DC for KD: No one should be surprised that Golden State’s Kevin Durant is not going to the White House if the Warriors are invited. Why go where you are not wanted or welcome? KD’s decision could open the flood gates for other athletes to ignore the polarizing POTUS…

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: Imagine how good the Minnesota Twins would be if the front office actually tried to win

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By Eric Nelson
August 15, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD
@Ericinminny44

 

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

•In the Mix: Imagine how good the Minnesota Twins would be if their front office actually acquired talent instead of trading away key players. Despite waving a white flag and becoming sellers in late July, the Twins have won seven of eight and are a half game behind the LA Angels for the AL’s final wild card spot…

•Rebound Season: Minnesota’s turnaround is one of the most remarkable MLB stories this season. In 2016 the Twins were 59-103, but this year they have bounced back in a big way. It’s mid-August and Minnesota has a legitimate chance to play post-season baseball. Paul Molitor is definitely in the running for AL manager of the year…

•Gold Rush I: Minnesota Twins CF Byron Buxton is a highlight waiting to happen. Buxton makes spectacular catches on a routine basis and covers more ground than a tarp. Buxton has already become one of MLB’s top defensive outfielders and has a chance to win his first gold glove…

•Gold Rush II: Twins 1B Joe Mauer could get a gold glove too. Mauer has been excellent in the field this season…

•Hall Call: OF Michael Cuddyer and GM Andy MacPhail will be inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame this weekend against Arizona. Cuddyer and MacPhail will become the 29th and 30th members of the team’s HOF. Cuddyer goes in on Saturday and MacPhail on Sunday…

•Intimate Gathering: Seattle and the LA Chargers played the first NFL game at the StubHub Center in Carson, CA Sunday night before a smallish crowd of 21,054. StubHub is the league’s smallest venue with a capacity of 27,000…

•Bad Sign: Granted it’s just the pre-season, but if the Chargers can’t fill up a boutique soccer stadium, then it means they are truly off the grid in So Cal. It’s not too late for the franchise to pack their bags, hop on I-5 and return to San Diego where they belong…

•Buyer’s Market: According to Vivid Seats, tickets for some NFL pre-season games are going for bargain basement prices. This week’s deals include, Baltimore at Miami ($3), Indianapolis at Dallas ($3), NY Giants at Cleveland ($3), Atlanta at Pittsburgh ($7) and Kansas City at Cincinnati ($8)…

•Wising Up: This is proof that NFL Nation actually gets it. Anyone who pays full freight for a meaningless exhibition game is throwing their money away…

•Sports Trifecta: There will be plenty of Minnesota-Seattle match ups in the next few days. On Wednesday the Lynx and Storm play a WNBA game at KeyArena in Seattle. On Friday it’s the Vikings and Seahawks in NFL pre-season action at CenturyLink Field. Then on Sunday, it’s Minnesota United against the Seattle Sounders in an MLS match at CenturyLink…

•On the Go: According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Golden State superstar Steph Curry has had a hectic off-season. Curry has gone to Hawaii, Los Angeles, North Carolina, Turks and Caicos, golfed at a celebrity tournament in Lake Tahoe and this week is hosting a tech summit in San Francisco…

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After 52 Years in Mankato, that’s all, folks!

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By Larry Fitzgerald
August 10, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

MANKATO — August 8, 2017 marks the official end of an era when, after 52 years, the NFL Minnesota Vikings left Mankato State University and the city of Mankato for the very last time. After all these years, the Vikings will move to their new permanent office and training headquarters in Eagan, Minnesota in March of 2018.

All 32 NFL teams are in their second weeks of training camp, the rosters loaded with 90 players each fighting to make dreams come true. Last week I was in Canton, Ohio for the NFL’s Hall of Fame game. Dallas edged Arizona 20-18.

Last year’s HOF game was canceled because of poor field conditions. Many changes have been made to Tom Benson Stadium just off highway 77 in Canton. This year’s 2017 HOF Class featured Morten Anderson, Terrell Davis, Kenny Easley, Jerry Jones, Jason Taylor, LaDainian Tomlinson and Kurt Warner.

The Vikings pre-season starts Thursday night in Buffalo vs. the Bills. After carefully watching the Vikings working hard in Mankato, I am reminded how time just keeps moving on. When I started covering sports in the Twin Cities 39 years ago, little did I know I was the first Black sportswriter to cover the Vikings full time.

The Vikings had a private ceremony Monday thanking the city of Mankato and Mankato State University. Vikings ownership was there, team President Mark Wilf with team COO Kevin Warren as master of ceremonies, as well as the president of Mankato State and the city’s mayor.

The University’s president thanked the Vikings for helping Mankato State become the second-largest university in the state. He had the gathered group laughing when he said Mankato State might open an Eagan Campus.

HOF coach Bud Grant was there and shocked me by coming up from behind and emotionally hugging me. I remember covering coach Grant’s Vikings and how serious and stoic he was. I was so determined back then to not be denied. Coach Grant was always good to me — that’s why after all these years the Vikings are like family to me.

There have been hundreds of ball boys and staff employees over these 52 years at Mankato. Only a couple, however, have gone on to star in the National Football League. The late Dennis Green made that a reality for me; he gave my two sons Marcus and Larry, Jr. their first jobs. I hosted and produced the “Dennis Green Radio Show” for eight years.

I will never forget the hot August day that my son Marcus called me at 4 am to tell me Korey Stringer had died of heat exhaustion. I was in shock literally and jumped in my car and drove to Mankato. I never thought to check my fuel gage. I was just emotionally lost.

My car ran out of gas on highway 169 near St. Peter. Former Vikings star Joe Sensor stopped and helped me get gas after being stranded on the road. That would ultimately be the last season for coach Green. In 2001 the team could not overcome the death of Stringer.

The 2017 Vikings look good to me with Super Bowl 52 coming up in February of 2018. I believe this team is ready for the challenge in this final season of Vikings football in Mankato and the chance to win Super Bowl 52 at home in U.S. Bank Stadium.

Do you believe it’s finally time for the Vikings?


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: Washington state is an outdoor playground

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By Eric Nelson
August 9, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD
@Ericinminny44

 

SEATTLE – Sports Nuggets from the Evergreen State...

•Washington wonders: When it comes to outside options Washington state is a hot spot. I found that out recently on a trip to the Pacific Northwest where I was able to see and do some very cool stuff. The combination of mountains, ocean and a cosmo setting make the Seattle metro area an outdoor playground…

•Bainbridge biking: After arriving at SeaTac International Airport, I took the Link (light rail) to downtown Seattle. From there I hopped on a ferry and floated across Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island where I rented a bike and began exploring…

Pike Place Market - Seattle, Washington

Seattle Great Wheel

•Pedal power: Bainbridge is just a 30 minute ferry ride from Seattle – but is light years away from the hassle factor of the Emerald City. I biked Bainbridge for almost 4 1/2 hours and it was not easy. The combination of elevation gains, scorching 90 degree heat and smoky skies from British Columbia wildfires made for a strenuous ride. Fortunately I found a couple of remote beaches and cooled off in the Sound…

•Postcard-like: From the ferry, there are spectacular views of the Emerald City as the skyline, Space Needle and Seattle Wheel are visible…

•Remarkable Ranier: Another trip highlight was going to Mt. Ranier National Park. Located 73 miles southeast of Tacoma, MRNP is a spectacular site. Rising 14,410 feet above sea level, the mountain is the highest peak in the Cascade Range and is an active volcano…

•Photogenic: Mt. Ranier is a photographers fantasy. There are Kodak moments every where you look. My friend Dave Treloar and I hiked a small part of the Wonderland Trail – a 93 mile loop that circles the mountain through forests and subalpine meadows. After a grueling 45 minute up-hill incline through a picturesque forest, we finally reached a ridge where the breeze was cooling and the sight of snow-capped Mt. Ranier was stunning…

Mt. Ranier's snow-capped peak

Scenic Mt. Ranier – Washington, USA

•Icy peak: Despite the heat, Mt. Ranier still has plenty of snow. There are also 25 glaciers on the mountain which is a true Washington jewel…

•Mountain climb: According to the park newspaper, approximately 10,000 people try to climb Mt. Ranier every year – but only half get to the summit…

•Twins connection I: Because Mt. Ranier is close to the Seattle-Tacoma metro area, we were able to see the Memphis Redbirds play the Tacoma Raniers in Triple-A action a couple hours after we got off the mountain. At the game I discovered that Tom Kelly – who managed the Minnesota Twins to World Series titles in 1987 and 1991 – is in the Tacoma baseball Hall of Fame thanks to minor league success he had in that city…

•Twins connection II: Former Twins IF Denny Hocking is Tacoma’s third base coach…

•Love affair: Another takeaway from the visit is that the Seattle Seahawks continue to be incredibly popular in the Pacific Northwest. The Seahawks logo is visible all over the region and Seattle’s fan base – known as the 12’s – even have their own banners and flags…

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Negro Leagues Baseball Conference – Harrisburg, PA

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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.

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Scott Taylor

Twins Call it a Season at the Trade Deadline

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Scott Taylor

By Scott Taylor

Kintzler is dealt as team…once again, looks to the future

It not so much that the Minnesota Twins gave up their last hope in this 2017 American League season at last week’s trade deadline. It’s just that they didn’t bother to do anything to challenge.

We wrote in a column here, back on July 4, that if the Twins could hang in the race until the middle of August, they might surprise some people in September. Today, they are three games below .500 (51-54), six games out in the AL Central and four games out in the Wild Card. They aren’t really in a race, but if they could string some wins together, they certainly wouldn’t be laying dead on the road either.

Still, Twins management decided to tell the fans at the non-waiver trade deadline last week that there was no real need to get too excited about the 2017 season.

They acquired Jaime Garcia from Atlanta, told people he was moving into the starting rotation and then dealt him to the Yankees six days later for two prospects. Oh, and the Twins will pay Garcia’s salary (OK, so they bought two prospects for $4 million).

Then, they traded soon-to-be-free-agent closer Brandon Kintzler to the Washington Nationals in exchange for pitcher Tyler Watson and $500,000 in international bonus pool money (and, one supposes, six batting-practice baseballs and a broken Bryce Harper autographed bat).

Kintzler was 2-2 with a 2.78 ERA and 28 saves when he was dealt. He was an American League all-star and the most consistent thing in an inconsistent Minnesota bullpen.

He’s also 32 and was going to test the free-agent market this winter. He’s been a Major Leaguer for eight seasons and he’s never hit the salary jackpot. Sure, he’s making $2.925 million on his one-year deal this season, but with an all-star game on his resume and very likely 40-plus saves, he could pick up some legitimate dough this winter. Washington is much more likely to pay him what he’s worth than the Twins so he was as good as gone at a time when Minnesota could still get something in return.

Still, it’s not so much what the Twins gave up at the deadline as what they didn’t get. They didn’t get a veteran slugger or clutch hitter like, say Melky Cabrera (Kansas City) and they didn’t get a middle/top of the rotation starter like, perhaps, Sonny Gray or Yu Darvish. They didn’t get better.

For another July, the Twins were sellers. They didn’t make any drastic moves – fans barely knew Garcia had even arrived in Minneapolis while Kintzler was going to be gone this winter anyway – but they didn’t try to get better in the short-term either.

Sure, to be fair, they picked up some interesting prospects, but manager Paul Molitor has been told to ride out this year’s roster – without his closer – until the end of September.

So a team that is 3-7 in its last 10 and has fallen below .500 for the first time in a while, is now a team that isn’t as good as it was a week ago, but isn’t a whole lot worse, either.

Tuesday, they got a great complete-game pitching performance from Ervin Santana (12-7, 3.28 ERA) in a 5-2 win at San Diego (Santana himself had a hit and drove in two runs) and looked pretty good in the process.

But as we get deep into August, this is a Twins team that has two hitters (Joe Mauer and Eddie Rosario) batting higher than .280, three hitters (Byron Buxton, Jorge Polanco and Jason Castro) at the bottom of the order hitting below .230 and two power hitters (Manuel Sano, .269 with 25 homers, and Brian Dozier, .244 with 17 homers) who, on occasion, hit the ball high and deep, but only, it seems, on occasion.

This could be a good team, but somehow it’s just not quite.

And I guess that’s why the people who run the organization decided to, once again, look to the future. It was probably the right strategy, but, you have to admit, for people buying tickets, the strategy is getting a little old.

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: Minnesota United fans bring passion to the pitch

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By Eric Nelson
August 2, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD
@Ericinminny44

 

MINNEAPOLIS -Sports Nuggets from the Land of Loons...

•Soccer Fanatics: I spent part of last week’s DC United-Minnesota United match sitting near the Dark Clouds at TCF Bank Stadium. The Clouds are a vocal group of fans who sit in the east end of TCFBS. They are constantly chanting, cheering, waving flags and twirling towels. They bring passion to the pitch…

•Euro-Centric: The Clouds are involved from start to finish and other fans feed off their energy. They provide a European feel to MLS games in Minnesota. Occasionally they even light flares or set off smoke bombs…

•Slump Buster: Minn U snapped a five-game winless streak with a 4-0 win over DC United before 20,146 at TCFBS. Christian Ramirez put an end to the Loons 358 minute scoreless drought with a goal seven minutes into the first half. Ramirez has 11 goals this season, tied for fifth most in MLS. Minn U hosts Seattle this Saturday, capping off a five-game home stand. The Sounders are the reigning MLS champs…

•Pitch Palace: Construction of Minnesota’ United’s new soccer specific stadium is in high gear. Allianz Field will cost $200 million and be located in St. Paul next to I-94 and the light rail green line. The open air, natural grass facility will be the new signature of the Midway and should become a hot spot…

•Arena Comparisons: The Minnesota Timberwolves will have a much better Target Center to play in this season, thanks to an extensive renovation. The price tag is $150 million which sounds like a lot, but pales in comparison to the $564 million Seattle is pumping into the renovation of Key Arena, and the $500 million cost of the Milwaukee Bucks new venue which opens in 2018…

•Cool Look I: One renovated venue that looks spectacular is Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium. After a $500 million upgrade, the futuristic, open-air facility is cutting edge with a canopy that protects fans from Miami monsoons and scorching South Florida heat…

•Cool Look II: The more I see Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, the more I like it. The stadium (capacity 33,422) looks like a mini-CenturyLink Field in Seattle. IGF is the home stadium of the CFL Blue Bombers…

•Quitting Time: Good to see that the Minnesota Twins have given up on the season with two months to play. Trading All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler to the Washington Nationals for Single A pitcher Tyler Watson sends the wrong message to your fan base and players in the clubhouse…

•Twins Trademark: Of course, trading proven talent for prospects is the Minnesota way. Yes, the Twins (51-54) are slumping and 6 games behind Cleveland in the AL Central, and 4 out of the final wild card spot. But, that doesn’t mean it’s time to quit. Hard to blame Twins fans for being skeptical about the organization’s commitment to winning…

•Penny Wise-Dollar Foolish: Don’t the Twins realize that if they ever acquired someone like Yu Darvish or Sonny Gray, fans would sprint to Target Field to buy tickets..?

•Buyer’s Market: On the bright side, tickets for Twins games in August and September should be very cheap…

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Should Timberwolves acquire Kyrie Erving?

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By Larry Fitzgerald
August 2, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

Nobody has done more to improve their roster than the Minnesota Timberwolves since Golden State captured their second NBA title in June over Cleveland. After the team finished 31-51, missing the playoffs for the 13th consecutive season, Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden took their time, rolled up their sleeves, and worked the system. Suddenly the Timberwolves look like a playoff contender.

Trading veteran Ricky Rubio to Utah for a 2018 first-round pick, releasing forward Nickalo Pekovic, making the blockbuster deal with Chicago for All-Star Jimmy Butler in exchange for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and Minnesota’s number-seven overall pick has set the tone for change.

That deal sent shock waves through the NBA community. It got players talking about Minnesota as the place to play.
All-Star guard Jeff Teague was signed as well as forward Taj Gibson; and the foundation for the future, Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony Towns, 21 and 22 years old respectively, is already in place. What Thibodeau has done is infused the organization because he has credibility as a coach around the league. Players know he’s about winning and want to play where they can see progress in the making.

Suddenly two weeks ago, after all the moves the Timberwolves have made, even signing veteran reserve guard Jamaal Crawford, All-Star Kyrie Erving, one of the NBA’s top point guards, wants out of Cleveland. After three straight years in the NBA Finals and helping Cleveland win their first championship of any kind in 54 years, he says he wants to go elsewhere. And he tells his agent and Cleveland he wants to go to Minnesota.

Does he have issues with LeBron James? Is he upset that Cleveland just fired their general manager, the guy who drafted him number-one overall out of Duke? Remember, he came into the league after a serious injury his last year at Duke. Whatever his reasons are now for wanting out of Cleveland, if I were the Timberwolves I would not make that deal.

Erving’s body has taken a beating going deep in the playoffs three straight years in a row and logging deep minutes. Cleveland would want Wiggins in exchange, who the Wolves acquired in the Kevin Love deal three years ago.

As talented as Erving is having won a title already, Wiggins I feel has not yet hit his growth ceiling. He is still evolving as a player. I like his game and his mental approach to the game. I hope the Timberwolves are patient and pass on dealing for Erving and allow this current group they have now to grow together.

Erving has a history of getting hurt. It’s part of the game, but he plays with the ball a lot in creating contact in the lane. I want to see Towns, Wiggins, Butler and Teague together. I think the Timberwolves, with Butler’s leadership and Teague’s ability to push the tempo, are ready to go.


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

These Losses Hurt

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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.

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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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