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Thomas U. Tuttle

Flags of Our Fathers…

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

 

For a while now, the NFL has been the Titan of Sport, at least in this country, surpassing our National Pastime of baseball in terms of fan intensity, TV money, fantasy leagues, and of course various troubles.

As if finding out that some 90 percent of former players have brain injury from concussions related to playing the game wasn’t enough, lately it has been under real threat from a national anthem controversy that has escalated into a political football of considerable proportion.

While quarterback Colin Kaepernick initiated things last year by deciding not to stand for the anthem (in fact taking a knee) the situation has been escalated by president Donald Trump’s decision to involve himself in the controversy and make some political hay with his core supporters.

This, of course, does not sit well (no pun intended) with many players in the league, particularly African Americans, and has given the controversy distinctly racial  overtones.

Various demonstrations of kneeling, sitting, crossing arms, etc…are now taking place on a weekly basis in various NFL cities, with the rallying cry among black and minority players being a unified protest of various social ills in America, and police brutality in particular. Sunday afternoons have become a platform for protest of perceived American inequities.

Before Trump opened his mouth the controversy was centered on Kaepernick and whether he was a victim of collusion between the owners to keep him out of the NFL. There are those, including associates of GDG, who have thrown around the word “blackball” to describe the QB’s predicament.

On that score, it seems to me there are two sides; Kaepernick is a one-time Super Bowl QB for San Francisco, whose exceptional performance against Green Bay in the NFL championship game stands out in my mind. Of course, that was five years ago, a long time past in football years. And, SF went 1-15 last year, before jettisoning CK and his $14 million dollar contract after the season. Despite a decent QB rating (90+) during that horrific season, no one has picked him up for 2017.

(…and now it is likely that no one will, given that he has hired celebrity attorney Mark Gerragos, who usually does criminal work but apparently couldn’t pass this one up. He has helped accused pedophile Michael Jackson, shoplifter Winona Ryder, woman wacker Chris Brown and murderer Scott Peterson – well, the latter not so much…)

Probably the last straw for Kaepernick was when the Tennessee Titans signed QB Brandon Weeden on October 3rd, a player who CK no doubt feels is inferior to him. So he decided that it was time to pull the trigger on a private effort to seek recompense for his perception of being ostracized.

That is his belief, not mine. I do not think that the owners have colluded to keep him out of football, and the onus is on him to prove it. That is because the collective bargaining agreement dictates there must be clear evidence of nefarious action and I’ll be darned  if anyone, Geragos included, is going to prove that accusation.

Of course, the situation has grown much larger than one man. The owners are meeting in New York this week to try and find a way to move past a controversy that Commish Roger Goodell believes is alienating many fans from the NFL game. This situation has grown into a big deal and is threatening to cost the most financially successful league on the planet giant money. Time for serious meeting, indeed!

And whichever side you are on, it is causing a divide. My friend in Michigan is a serious Detroit Lions fan, but also a veteran who has strong words for the wealthy protesters on the sidelines.

John says, “do you think that the men who died for this country would take a knee to protest the few renegade cops who commit a hate crime? If you want to show your contempt for Trump or bad cops, continue to demand justice, start petitions, and mobilize voters. How can you shun the flag that gave birth to rights and freedoms people around the world can only dream about?”

He continued: “In spite of their disrespect, they can continue to receive their big salaries for playing a game on Sunday, while in many other countries, like North Korea, all they would receive is a bullet. What makes the difference is the American flag that flies over their stadiums.”

I can’t help but have empathy with a black community that has known suffering throughout American history. I’m not blind.

But I also know the pride my World War Two veteran father had for his flag. I’m glad that we decided on cremation years ago, because he would be spinning in his grave.

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Molitor To Return

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

 

The Minnesota Twins held a press conference the other day to announce that manager Paul Molitor had agreed to terms on a three year deal worth about four million dollars, or roughly one-sixth of what Joe Mauer makes in one year.

And while Mauer had a good year and earned his money (???) it was Molitor who held things together, forged trust and confidence among his diverse band of players, survived the use of 36 – yes, 36! – pitchers over the course of the season, won 26 more games than the previous year – and ultimately made the American League playoffs.

Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey followed Molitor to the podium and made it clear that he and GM Thad Levine were ultimately convinced that, via the long path of 162 games, the current manager of the ballclub was the right leader to take the Twins into the future.

“Over the course​ of the year, it felt like we were building a relationship,” Falvey said early is his remarks. And he followed that important comment with another revealing statement: “I’m not surprised by the class shown by Paul, given who he is as a person, that he handled things so well” – words spoken in recognition of the difficult position Molitor was in, essentially all year, working the final year of his contract.

And knowing, without much doubt, that expectations were that the new, post Terry Ryan braintrust would bring in their own brand-new outside guy to manage the club.

But Falvey and Molitor, as a pleased owner Jim Pohlad said Tuesday, “built a relationship over time (and) I had heard over the course of the year that was how it was going.” Indeed, growing mutual respect between the 61-year-old field general and the 34-year-old CBO was the theme of the day. “I understand that he (Falvey) is looking to build a long term, sustained, championship type program – and I’m all in with that!”

Paul Molitor and Sid Hartman in the Minnesota Twins clubhouse.

October 10, 2017 – Paul Molitor is interviewed by legendary Minnesota journalist Sid Hartman after signing a three year contract extension to manage the Twins.

Some press conferences don’t tell you much, but this one did. Paul was fairly relaxed and reflective, on a season recently ended and a future that could be bright. These guys can work together; Falvey was credited by Molitor with never really commenting, let alone interfering, in a game situation. And at the same time, the young chief respects Mollie enough to expect his observations and potential insights on player decisions, including additions and subtractions from the squad.

Thirty six pitchers is not necessarily a good thing, of course, although Molitor noted that it did give him a chance to evaluate “a lot of arms.” Indeed. The Twins put a stable team on the field, with ten players getting 400-plus at-bats – the most in all of baseball. But – and it’s a big but – the pitching MUST improve significantly or great hitting, like exceptional managing, won’t be able to overcome weak starters and a very modest bullpen.

It was interesting for me to watch Hall-of-Famer Molitor coach against my fellow Northwestern Wildcat baseball alum Joe Girardi. Paul was the greatest shortstop of his time while at Minnesota (and arguably the best ever in the Big Ten) while Girardi earned All American honors as well, behind the plate, about a decade later. He has won rings with the Yankees as a player and manager.

Paul was a big part of my book STATE OF THE GAME which came out in 2000. In it, I devoted a chapter to his special nature as a player and leader – but more than that, as a baseball man. My projection was that he would eventually manage, and manage well. Not that difficult a prognostication, I guess, although it took almost 15 years longer than I thought it would for him to take the helm. (He was offered the Toronto job years ago, but the timing wasn’t right.)

Girardi was much the same, and to watch them square off in a one-game playoff contest was a treat for me. I almost flew out to New York, but I’m glad I didn’t. Mr Confidence, Ervin Santana, laid an egg after being given a three run first inning lead. Walked the leadoff man, gave up a three-run homer minutes later, and deflated his team like a bench-clearing gasser.

Girardi heads to the AL championship behind excellent starters and a powerful bullpen. I’d sure like to see a 5-game or 7-game matchup between the two Big Ten all-star managers, maybe next year. But you have to get batters out at critical times, and the Twins are going to need to vastly improve in that critical department.

I’ll let you in on a little something; In July, I caught up with youthful (43) Chicago Cubs World Series winning General Manager Jed Hoyer. It was at the Society For American Baseball Research (SABR) conference in NYC this summer. His words to me, when I asked about Minnesota’s new hire Derek Falvey, were these: “He will be a great fit, and he really knows how to build pitching.”

Let’s hope so. It would be good for Molitor to be able to get the number of pitchers used per-season below 36…

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Twins Have a Shot

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

 

The Minnesota Twins concluded their 2017 season with a 5-1 victory over Detroit and a 85-77 record for the full campaign.

Not too bad when you consider that in 2016 they posted the worst record in the majors at 59-103. The increase of 26 victories is among the greatest improvements from 100 losses in baseball annals.

The team stayed competitive through July and into August, then went 20-10 during an exceptional run that has culminated in the final Wild Card spot and a chance to play the New York Yankees in a single, winner-take-all Tuesday night contest.

This is no best-of-three or best-of-five – – the type of series where the Yankees might be expected to use depth, talent and playoff savvy to knock out the “comeback kids.”
After all, over the last few years the Bronx Bombers have won roughly three games to every one they have lost to Minnesota.

But here’s the beauty of the situation for Twins fans: this youthful ballclub with a couple of key veterans gets to rally behind tough Ervin Santana and throw offensive caution to the winds.

Get him some run support, play solid defense, let the pressure (which is surely on New York) mount – and win just ONE GAME to advance to a best-of-five versus Cleveland – a team that has occasional difficulty with Minnesota.

This is doable! Head out to NYC and simply steal one night game on October 3rd, take the luxury motor coach back to JFK and fly home to get ready for the Indians.

New York was occasionally brilliant this year and nearly caught the Boston Red Sox to avoid this challenge – but they did not. One-and-done is the reality facing a team that no doubt feels they deserve better than what they are facing.

Oh well… Super Slugger Aaron Judge and company better bring their A-game, or things could end quickly. The Twins have emerged from the depths to grab a spot at the dance, pulling off a couple near-miracles enroute.

Why not one more? This one is there for the taking – GET AFTER IT BOYS!

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Vikings Show Upside

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

 

Wasn’t that a pleasant surprise we experienced last Monday night in Purple Land?

While I was boarding an airplane bound for Minneapolis that evening, a friend noted that we would arrive at half-time of the Minnesota Vikings season opener, with time to catch the second half at the airport Ike’s, a great spot for the beef sandwich and occasional ballgame.

I declined. I’ve been watching the Twins make their unexpected move toward the playoffs and the Vikes, with a sorry preseason that featured not much of ANYTHING, hardly seemed worth the delay in getting to my front door after the Nephews Wedding Road Trip.

We all know that the preseason doesn’t mean much, and practice game records don’t amount to a hill of beans (remember Detroit’s 2008 4-0 preseason turning into a winless Lions, 0-16 regular season?…  and some of their meaningless wins were impressive, just ask former head coach Rod Marinelli).

But you would like to show SOMETHING in August, besides injuries, unlikely rookies, and washed up offensive lineman. “We’re still evaluating some of these young guys,” coach Mike Zimmer said a few weeks ago, before the Seattle Seahawks and a second tune-up contest.

Yes, that was apparent. And the second year quarterback, short-arm and shorty-pass slingin’ Sammy Bradford, threw a total of seven balls in that game – completing five for his usual small yardage. “We didn’t have nearly as many negative yardage plays…” said Zimmer after Seattle. And that’s the good news? Fewer moves backward?

With the entire defense still trying to find itself (particularly the secondary), the offensive line (hugely problematic in 2016) still a work in progress, things looked pretty questionable for the Purple faithful… and then, POW!, right to the New Orleans Saints chops!

It was a solid win, a great triumph on the Monday Night Football stage and something to build on. And it was, of course, a revealing breakthrough for Sam Bradford. The inaugural NFC Offensive Player of the Week shredded the Saints like jerk chicken, going 27-32 passing for 346 yards with 3 TDs, no interceptions and a unprecedented (for Sam) 143.0 passer rating.

And, of course more importantly, his contributions led to a convincing 29-19 win. Playing behind five new starters on the offensive line and rookie starters at center and running back, Bradford led the Vikings to 470 yards of total offense while converting 9 of 14 3rd-down conversions without a turnover.

Yes, it was “just” New Orleans and no one can be certain how good they are or exactly how much of a test this was. But it is a huge win at home coming out of the gate, critical for this young team. And Slingin’ Sammy stretched the field with his passing while exuding veteran leadership enroute to the victory.

Forget the preseason, the Vikes are now underway with a “W.” Now, about those Twins…

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Thomas U. Tuttle

A Few Thoughts on the Twins

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

Just when you think they are finished, wrapped up, cooked well-done and ready for slicing and dicing – here come the Minnesota Twins to surprise everyone but themselves! It’s been that way all year and has continued into the home stretch.

So here are a couple of thoughts on the 2017 season through late August:

* The fact that this Club is so resilient and determined makes it all the more difficult to accept the teams acquiring, and then jettisoning, a solid playoff run asset like Jaime Garcia – just the kind of accountable and tested starting pitcher a serious team acquires late in a contending season.

* It was also disheartening that new Twins management felt inclined to move closer Brandon Kintzler at the same time. The first time All-Star was having a solid year and seemed primed for a playoff push. His confident presence was also a big asset in the locker room/bullpen given Minnesota’s shaky reliever coterie.

* All of this has been hashed  over the past  few weeks, but the Boy Wonders (Derrick Falvey and Thad Levine) at the helm of the ballclub felt compelled to make moves that they believe will be beneficial to the future of the franchise. NOT the current squad. And that is a disconnect, according to one Twin, that speaks to disrespect.

* It’s the wait-till-next year attitude that has been around baseball for time immemorial. To essentially quit on a young team that has been entertaining – as well as competitive – for 100-plus games, well, that’s frustrated players, media, casual fans and season ticket holders alike.

* There is a powerful philosophy in baseball today that emphasizes Sabermetrics and cost-benefit analysis at the expense of baseball “feel,” if you will. It’s the old “Moneyball” philosophy first expounded by Bill James, executed (once) by Oakland’s Billy Beane, and accepted as Gospel by this new generation of baseball leadership.

* The Theo Epstein’s and Jed Hoyer’s of the world have dictated strategy to fellow leaders like Falvey/Levine, with the youth contingent coming out of  a mold that views baseball metrics as essentially infallible. One of the great moments at the 2017 SABR analytics conference was HOF lefty Randy Johnson shrugging at the onslaught of information and saying, “I just threw my best heat and let them try to hit it. Did pretty good, too, for a country boy.” Classic…

* The Twins do have the potential for one of the best outfields in baseball for years to come. Max Kepler is underrated and Byron Buxton is figuring things out and Eddie Rosario could really be a powerful star if he hits up to his capabilities. You have to appreciate some of the other guys, too, like Zack Granite who tore up AAA Syracuse en route to the Bigs.

* Miguel Sano needs to watch himself as he emerges into the star Miggy already believes that he is. While his batting practice boomers are reminiscent of David Ortiz, so too are the youthful weight challenges overcome by Big Papi in Boston. Ortiz was not a great player until he pushed himself to become a complete athlete and fulfilled his great promise.

* The Twins essential Latin American guys, along with the Clubhouse in general, have respect for manager Paul Molitor and appreciate his style, among other things. Mollie goes easy on players – up to a point. He demands accountability but doesn’t hound the player who is working hard and playing solid baseball despite adversity and occasional youthful mistakes.

* This team is Molitor’s and the Twins skipper was not done any favors by the braintrust that eliminated a couple of his weapons. It wasn’t intended as a slap in the face, but probably felt like one to a gentleman who has to wonder how he’s ultimately going to fit in with these new management guys, fellows who could be his kids. Suffice it to say that the first ballot hall-of-famer has youthful superiors who are still figuring things out.

* It’s been a great run, considering the starting pitching has been shaky all year and the bullpen generally worse. This team believes in itself despite everything and keeps playing entertaining baseball. Kudos to the squad for having that never-say-die attitude in the face of daunting challenges and roadblocks placed by the front office. It ain’t over until it’s over, though the fat lady will likely be singing soon.

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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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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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Thomas U. Tuttle

On the Road to Yosemite

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

waterfall at Yosemite National Park

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

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

 

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

 

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

Breathtaking and Majestic, no two ways about it.

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Twins at the Break…

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Story Of The Lightning Bolt

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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…

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