Monday, December 31, 2012

Looking back on the sports of 2012

It's that time of year again. Ha! No, I'm totally kidding. I will not start out a blog entry with that overused phrase. I do, however, want to take a look back on 2012 sports-wise.

Local sports
With my first full calendar year spent in Austin, Minn., I really took a liking to some of the local sports. Last winter and then again this fall, I attended many Austin Bruins games at Riverside Arena. I mean, it's not like I have much of a drive to get there; it's just across the street from me.

Anyway, it's been really fun to follow the Bruins as they made a deep playoff run last spring. I also had a great time with some friends for the annual Paint the Rink Pink game back in February. For the 2012-13 season, I really should have invested in season tickets for the number of games I've been going to. The Bruins lost some key players from last season, but they've started with a bang and have piled up the points and the winning streaks.

I also got to my first Austin Greyhounds amateur baseball games this summer. There's nothing like watching an outdoor baseball game at Target Field, but the Greyhounds seemed to have a better winning percentage than the Twins this year. I enjoyed being able to go to a game on a nice summer evening that was close by.

Racing to a new track
On the IndyCar side of things, I checked another race track off my list this year: The Iowa Speedway. My dad and I attended the Iowa Corn Indy 250 back in June. Some stormy weather gave us a bit of a delay for the night race (luckily we're night owls), but once it got going it was a pretty exciting race. We saw eventual 2012 IndyCar Champion Ryan Hunter-Reay cross the line first for the win.

Bad days for pro sports
It wasn't exactly a stellar year for the Twins. They're looking at some rebuilding years, I think, and they had a bit of a coaching shake-up at the end of the season. All we can really hope for in 2013 is some improvement. In recent news, they also traded away outfielders Denard Span and Ben Revere.

The Minnesota Wild went from a huge high - signing two of the biggest free agents in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in July - to a huge low with the NHL lockout. So far, the lockout has wiped out the games that should have already been played this season. It's not looking good for the remaining games either.

Here's to 2013. Cheers!

Monday, December 17, 2012

More wins, more points for the Austin Bruins

The Austin Bruins just keep rolling.

Their record of 19-5-4 has put them comfortably in first place in the central division of the North American Hockey League. With 42 points, they're 10 ahead of second-place Bismarck. A couple months into the season, and the Bruins are doing what they need to do.

I went to a game last weekend with my mom and dad. They hadn't been to a Bruins game before, so I thought it would be fun. With the NHL in the middle of its lockout, we've been going through some hockey withdrawals.

A Blizzard came to town
The Bruins played the Brookings Blizzard, a team that the Bruins seem to have matched up well with this season. This particular game was no exception. It ended up being a 3-2 shootout win for the Bruins, though it took a bit for the scoring to get started, and it was a scrambling regulation finish.

The play was fast with action up-and-down the ice. But it was scoreless after the first period. In fact, the first goal didn't come until nearly two periods were in the books. "What's this going to be, a 0-0 tie?" my mom said, just seconds before Jay Dickman scored the power-play goal (with an assist from AJ Reid) with 1:29 left in the second.

We have some history as a family for 0-0 ties. The very first Minnesota Wild game we attended in their inaugural season was just that. We weren't treated to a goal until our next game. It was a little disappointing. Of course, now the game has changed with shootouts in the mix.

The Bruins went up 2-0 with 7:29 left in the third period when the puck, shot by Chris Fischer, trickled over the goal line. It took a minute to call it a goal: Ref on the ice said no goal; goal judge flipped on the goal light. No video replay here, so the goal judge stepped out of his post to confirm the goal.

Then things got interesting.

Crazy two minutes
The Bruins tried to hang on to their 2-0 until the final horn, but the Blizzard had other ideas. With 2:14 remaining, the visitors took their timeout and then pulled their goalie for the extra skater. It paid off. They cut the lead in half with 2:01 left in regulation.

Another chance for the Blizzard came when the Bruins sent a player to the penalty box with 1:18 left. They tied the game with 2.7 ticks remaining, on the power play and with their goalie pulled again. There were plenty of bodies in front of the net on that last one.

To overtime we went. Then it was time for a shootout.

Getting it done in the shootout
I'm not sure how many rounds of shots were fired, but the Bruins eventually came out on top. Brandon Wahlin and Drew Anderson netted their chances. Nate Mondry, Anderson and goalie Nick Lehr were named the stars of the game.

In another close contest, the Bruins lost 5-4 in overtime this past Friday night in Brookings. The two teams matched up again Saturday at Riverside in Austin. From what I heard on the radio, the first two periods didn't go so well for the boys in black and gold. They were down 2-1 after two, but came back with four goals in the final frame to win 5-2.

The Bruins are in Aberdeen this weekend before coming home to ring in the New Year with three games.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Turkey of the Year

One of the many traditions I've come to love surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday is reading the annual Turkey of the Year column in the Star Tribune written by Patrick Reusse. The eventual turkey isn't even the best part sometimes, it's reading about the other sports-related figures who've been invited to the table that year.

A couple years ago, I came up with a list of my turkeys, so I thought I'd try it again. Yes, I know I'm a little late because Thanksgiving was a few days ago. Oh well. Better late than never.

The winners are...
I'm really keeping it simple with a narrow focus for the turkey honors from this year: It's NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, the National Hockey League Players' Association Executive Director Donald Fehr and all the players and owners for this ridiculous lockout that has halted the 2012-13 season at least through Dec. 14.

A new collective bargaining agreement between the NHLPA and the league owners is what's on the table, and both sides can't seem to agree. Negotiations often seem like they're going in the right direction, then the next thing I hear, the two sides are even farther apart than before.

Perhaps the leader of this turkey feast is Commish Bettman. When you're at the top you get all the credit, and blame, for what goes down. This is the third lockout since he's been in this lead role, one during the 1994-95 season and another that wiped out the 2004-05 season. That doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

Killing it - and not in a good way
The bottom line for me in all this lockout business is that it's killing the NHL. Just killing it.

I don't care if you're an owner or a player, you're part of the problem. It's as bad as gridlocked politicians not being able to get anything accomplished because they don't want to give an inch for compromise. That's what ending this lockout is going to take. Compromise. Quit arguing over your millions of dollars and get a deal done.

It's not like hockey is a top sport in this country. You've got football, baseball, basketball and NASCAR most definitely above it in popularity. This lockout is only going to make the sport tumble down even more.

It's the fans who are losing out. And will all of them come back? No. It all depends on the market, of course. I think the state of hockey here in Minnesota will rebound alright. Detroit loves its Red Wings, Boston has the beloved Bruins and the Canadian teams still flock to hockey as well. But what about teams in Florida? Phoenix? Other markets with struggling teams? They might have a harder time bouncing back whenever it is that another NHL game gets played.

Too many problems
I've also heard that only short-term deals are being discussed between the two sides. Meaning, we'll probably be back in the same boat in a few years with another lockout on our hands. That's not a good idea either. Putting a bandage on the collective bargaining agreement every few years isn't the best solution.

The problem as the lockout drags out is who still cares to pay attention to the negotiations. I see bits and pieces through Twitter and news sources to keep up, but it's really kind of depressing. There's also nothing I can do about it, so I'm hoping they get a deal done, but I'm also at the point where I just want to know when the lockout's over.

I've heard and seen people, fans and sports writers indicate they don't care anymore about what's going on with the lockout. It seems people are losing interest in what's become a ridiculous soap opera of sports greed. I'm worried about the permanent damage this lockout will cause the league and the sport of hockey.

So, enjoy your prestigious turkey award Mr. Bettman, Mr. Fehr, owners and players. May the recognition knock some sense into you all, in hopes of reaching an agreement.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

It's back to winning ways for Austin Bruins

The Austin Bruins (15-3-2) got back to their winning ways this weekend with a home-series sweep of the Brookings Blizzard. They are the two teams battling at the top of the Central Division in the North American Hockey League. The Bruins are now six points up on the Blizzard (13-6-0).

It was a 4-1 victory Friday night for Austin, and the offense really exploded Saturday for a 7-5 win by the home team once again. It was a better scoreboard showing than last weekend, with a 5-4 shootout loss and a 5-1 loss.

I was at Riverside Arena Friday night to take in another night of hockey. I spent most of it along the boards near the south goal again. That really is a neat perspective to watch a game, a spot I haven't really taken advantage of before.

It makes it a little more exciting when a lot of the action plays out right in front of you. In fact, the Bruins celebrated their first goal about four minutes into the game Friday along the glass right in front of where I was standing. Not bad in terms of excitement.

Get the scoring started
The first period had its share of penalties, with some combinations of four-on-four hockey and power-play time for each side. By the end of the first, the Bruins held their 1-0 lead.

Brookings tied it up early in the second, but Riley Colvard answered right back a few minutes later to give the Bruins the lead for good. In the third, a nice play from Brandon Wahlin to John Simonson made it 3-1 with 7:38 left, and Jay Dickman tossed in the empty-netter with 7.8 seconds remaining to wrap up the win.

Austin took control in the final two periods and could have had more than the four pucks that went in the back of the net. They had a couple of loud clanks off the iron for close-but-no-cigar moments; Cody Dixon in the first, AJ Reid in the third.

Fight? Not this time
Nothing really too notable in the fight department. A couple guys dropped the gloves right from a face-off, but the referees stepped in as the two were still skating around waiting for the first move. The fight-that-wasn't netted each player a two-minute delay of game penalty along with a 10-minute misconduct. The fans, who can get more excited about fights than the actual game, let out a few boos and seemed upset they didn't get to see a the rough stuff.

The Bruins face off against Brookings again this Wednesday for a little pre-Thanksgiving play, this time it will be on the Blizzard's home ice. Austin then travels to Aberdeen for a two-game series Thursday and Friday. It'll be interesting to see if the Bruins can increase their points lead, or if Brookings can narrow the margin a bit.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Austin Bruins are back in town

To help me get a hockey fix, since the NHL lockout continues, the Austin Bruins returned to town this weekend after a few games on the road. I went to the games at Riverside Arena on both Friday and Saturday, which unfortunately ended in back-to-back losses.

The Bruins have had a great start to the season and rose to become a first-place team in the Central Division in the NAHL with a 12-2-1 record before coming home this weekend. At 12-3-2, the Bruins are now tied with Brookings for first place.

I've kept up with some of the games through in-game updates via Facebook. It seems like the Bruins have had some nice comeback wins already this year. That's good and bad - good your team can make the comeback, bad it didn't have the lead to hold on to.

Shootout and a proposal
Friday, the Bruins lost 5-4 in a shootout to the Minot Minotaurs. It was a back-and-forth scoring battle throughout the game. A 4-4 tie at the end of regulation means a lot of offense, obviously. I can't remember seeing a shootout game at Riverside before, so that was kind of exciting, and reminded me of some of the shootout games I've been to for the Minnesota Wild.

One of the more exciting things that happened Friday was during the first intermission at center ice. It was the first marriage proposal at a Bruins game and in the history of the arena. I had the chance to meet Dan Swanson, who popped the question to Hillary Tapp, the day before the game and write a story about the proposal for the Austin Post-Bulletin.

I talked to the couple as they came off the ice, where they shared tears of joy and hugs with their parents. They were very willing to talk and share their moment with the media. During my interview, I asked Tapp what she loved about Swanson, and it took her a minute because she started crying again. It was so sweet. Swanson also teared up as I asked him to repeat what he told Tapp on the ice just before he asked her to marry him.

It was just a cool story to do, mostly because I hadn't done one like that before, and it was the first proposal at a Bruins game.

Effort falls flat Saturday
Still not getting my complete hockey fix, I went back for Saturday's game against the Bismarck Bobcats. For the first period, I got a different perspective on the game and stood along the glass on the south side of the rink. There were some hard checks right in front of me, which was cool.

Too bad the Bruins lost the game 5-1. It's tough to come back from a 3-0 deficit after the first period, with some quick goals close together. The Bobcats added a couple more in the third period after the Bruins scored in the second. If I'm not mistaken, all the goals in the game were scored on the north end of the arena, just for a little game tidbit.

The crowds have been coming out to support the Bruins once again this season. It's the third year the Bruins have been in town. Friday's crowd was 1,064 and 1,387 came out on Saturday. The community likes the hockey, and probably the fights, too.

I'll definitely be attending more Bruins games this season. They're a fun bunch to watch, and hey, it's hockey. What else do you need?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Baseball ends, no hockey to turn to

The 2012 baseball season is over. The postseason ended with a bit of a boring thud as the San Francisco Giants swept the Detroit Tigers for a World Series victory.

The biggest bats for the Tigers really didn't come through as the team struggled to score runs during the series. Ace Justin Verlander also got his team off to a bad start in game one. They hit a slump at just the worst moment of the season, while the Giants battled back from series deficits all postseason long and peaked at the right times.

Oh, and maybe the biggest head-scratcher? Former Twins bullpen guy Jose Mijares is now with the Giants, so he's going to be getting a ring. Crazy.

The end and no beginning
Anyway, the end of baseball has meant two things for me. First, the end of baseball until next year, obviously. Secondly, it's been a harsh reminder that I now don't have hockey to turn to. I'm the most devoted sports fan to these two sports, which works out well because then I have sports year-round with just a little overlap.

Not this time.

The National Hockey League usually starts up its regular season in October, but nothing has been happening since the players are locked out. Games were canceled through the end of October, and more recently, through the end of November.

Not too long ago, there seemed to be some optimism that an agreement would happen between the owners and the NHL Players' Association, only to find out that it pretty much went from bad to worse. I thought we could at least count on the league starting up again by the first of the year for the annual, outdoor Winter Classic. It's an event which could be a big money maker lost.

Get it done
I just want hockey back. I can tend to shy away from the business side of sports. It can just make me crazy as a fan if I were to think about all the money involved. Plus, I'm not all that good with numbers, words are more my style. Bottom line? Get a deal done so the NHL can stop this tailspin it's in. On a national level, the NHL is arguably not in the top six for major sports interest.

The last NHL lockout was in 2004-05 and it wiped out the entire season. I fear that might be what we're in for again. It's disappointing and frustrating for the niche of hockey fans out there. And it certainly kills the NHL's reputation, one locked-out day at a time.

So much promise this season
What's particularly frustrating this time around for fans in Minnesota, is that this could have been the season where the Wild make a strong run for the playoffs. The team made a blockbluster deal July 4 when they signed not one, but two, superstar players in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. It was awesome. It got people talking about hockey and the Wild - in the summer - in a state where the Vikings and Twins are usually the focus.

Now, all that momentum is gone. Who knows when (if?) fans will get to see those two in Wild sweaters this season, along with the rest of the team.

I'm no business gal, but the two sides better get a deal worked out. This girl needs her hockey fix.

Opening day for baseball isn't until April.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Twins fill coaching vacancies

The Minnesota Twins have added some coaches to its staff, after the shake-up at the end of the regular season. They are sticking with familiar faces from within the organization, which isn't that big of a surprise.

Former Twins catcher Terry Steinbach will take over in the dugout as the new bench coach, Tom Brunansky will have the task of being the team's hitting coach and Bobby Cuellar is the new bullpen coach.

Steinbach will also be the catching instructor, which of course makes sense because he was a catcher in the big leagues for more than a decade. A Minnesota native, he finished up his career with the Twins. I'm sure he's thrilled with the opportunity. It's also nice to not only keep things within the organization but also within the state.

Brunansky played with the Twins in the 1980s and was part of the 1987 World Championship team. More recently, he's been a hitting coach within the Twins organization before now being promoted to the big leagues. I hope the hitting coach experience carries over from the minors. The Twins really need a spark to get those bats going.

Cuellar is also getting a promotion from his job in the organization as the pitching coach for the Rochester Red Wings. I'll be honest that I don't know much about him, but apparently he was an expected choice for the vacancy. Let's hope the change delivers.

Can coaching changes fix everything?
As far as Twins coaches who didn't get booted, Joe Vavra will take over as third base coach, with Scott Ullger coaching at first base. Vavra has also already been reassigned to infield instruction, Ullger to the outfield.

Again, I hope these changes work out for the Twins. It's a team that is in need of something to happen after two terrible losing seasons. They quickly went from the top to the bottom in the standings and need to improve, even slightly, next year.

The coaches can't perform miracles either. I realize that it's the players out on the field. No matter what the coaches tell them, they're still the ones who are out there making decisions. Just because a base coach tells you to hold up, you still have to look his way and decide to stop. Just because the Twins have a new hitting coach, a new bullpen coach, doesn't mean homers will start flying out of the park and relief pitchers will start getting an abundance of strikeouts.

We'll just have to wait and see what happens when next season rolls around.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Twins clean house, part ways with coaches

It was an interesting day in the Minnesota sports world. The baseball season ended Wednesday for the Minnesota Twins. So Thursday, the organization cleaned house with their coaches. The two that survived the day still standing with the Twins were manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson.

It's funny because my parents and I were just talking about what the Twins might do after the season. If we knew anything, we figured the Twins definitely would not part with long-time bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek, who just finished his 32nd year with the club. It seemed like one of those, "he's been around forever" deals, so he'd be safe.

I guess we were wrong.

So long, coaches
Stelmaszek was let go Thursday. Joining him was third base coach Steve Liddle, first base coach Jerry White and head trainer Rick McWane. In addition, the Twins reassigned hitting coach Joe Vavra to infield instruction and bench coach Scott Ullger to the outfield.

Twitter was buzzing throughout the day as reporters got word of each move as it was made. The Twins aren't really known as a team to make drastic moves with its coaches, but I guess that's what a couple of last-place finishes in the division will get you.

When the news release by the Twins finally made it out later in the day, there were Tweets wondering about Gardy's job security. A few others joined me in asking why pitching coach Andy was still around when pitching is one of the major concerns with this ball club. Reporters were quick to point out that Gardy will be in the final year of his contract next season, so it will essentially be a make-or-break year for him.

Time for some new blood
So, that's pretty much the #twinsshakeup, as it was being referred to on Twitter. I'm glad that they are making some changes. After two pretty bad years on the field, it's apparent that something needs to change. My hunch was never that Gardy would be done after this year, but I wouldn't have been surprised either. A lot of times when things don't go well, you start at the top with ousting people.

I'm not exactly sure what reassigning Vavra and Ullger will do for the team. There were plenty of times I thought Vavra should have been let go, usually when the Twins hitting was pretty much non-existent, of course. I think getting rid of Stelmaszek was maybe the biggest statement, since he'd been around for the highest form of baseball success, average baseball and then some pretty bad days as well.

Now the question is: Who will the replacements be at the vacant positions? We'll wait and see. I saw former Twin Paul Molitor's name mentioned. That'd be cool. It will also be interesting to see how Gardy and Andy move on with a new set of coaches, too. That can't be an easy position for either of them.

Anyway, October does mean playoffs in Major League Baseball. Unfortunately, it will be without the Twins again this year. There's always some good playoff magic, however, so here's to another fun playoff run for all the teams lucky enough to make it.

No more Twins, no hockey, either
In other, more depressing news for the day: The locked-out NHL officially canceled the first two weeks of its season. On a local level, that means the Minnesota Wild miss out on five games, three at home and one in Dallas against the rival Stars. Here's hoping the lockout ends sooner rather than later.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Ending the month with a few sports notes

Let's get to a few odds and ends before the month of September disappears.

Football season is in full swing, which has me paying attention to the St. Thomas Tommies and, locally, the Austin Packers. It was homecoming week for the Packers, who were hoping to continue the momentum of their victory from the week before which snapped a 22-game losing streak (the longest streak in the state). Unfortunately, the Pack was back in the loss column with a 42-14 loss to Rochester Mayo on Friday.

The Tommies are 4-0 with an impressive 43-21 victory a couple weeks ago at the rival St. John's. We'll see if I can get to a game in St. Paul this season to watch what has become a powerhouse football team in the MIAC.

Twins finish off the year
As for the boys of summer, the Minnesota Twins are three games away from the end of another disappointing season in which the honeymoon is definitely over at Target Field. They finished up at home today with the series finale against Detroit. The 31-50 home record for the Twins is the worst in Major League Baseball. That's pretty sad, considering the Twins have typically had success on their home turf.

With three games left in Toronto, the Twins are fighting with the Cleveland Indians to see who will finish in the A.L. Central Division's basement for the season. I suppose some good news is the Twins won't lose 100 games this year, even though they will come close, just like last year.

For some other good news, Joe Mauer is hitting well enough to compete for the American League batting title. So there's that. Tsuyoshi Nishioka did the team a favor this week. The Japanese infielder was released by the Twins (finally!) and he even turned down the remaining $3.25 million on his contract. What a guy. I'll be glad I don't have to see him in a Twins uniform anymore.

Another lockout for the NHL
Now with the Twins winding down, I would normally turn my focus to the Minnesota Wild as they gear up for their season with new superstar-players Ryan Suter and Zach Parise along for the ride. Unfortunately, the NHL is locked out. The preseason is already down the drain, and I'm sitting here with my fingers crossed hoping that this doesn't turn into an entire season loss, like just a few years back in 2004-05.

I really hope they can get a deal done as soon as possible. It just figures that the Wild would generate some excitement with summer signings and then a lockout would happen.

In the meantime, the Austin Bruins just got their season started here in town, winning their home opener. They had some playoff success last year and always seem to draw big crowds. We'll see how they do with the loss of some key players, like local favorite John Kirby.

Enjoy the fall, sports fans.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Andy Roddick announces his retirement

At the ripe old age of 30 (barely), American tennis player Andy Roddick announced he will retire from the sport after this year's U.S. Open, the Grand Slam going on now in Flushing Meadows.

The announcement surprised me Thursday, and I'm guessing I wasn't alone. Roddick made the move on his 30th birthday, which I thought was a nice touch. If your birthday falls during your home country's grand slam tennis tournament, you might as well leave your mark to make it memorable somehow.

From what I gathered, it sounded like it was just the right time for Roddick to retire. He said he can't put everything into it like he has before, both physically and emotionally. Some athletes retire and then come back to the sport because they can't stay away or want to give it one more shot. I don't know if I see that happening with Roddick.

Success that didn't happen
Roddick won his only Slam in 2003 at the U.S. Open. His career appeared to be on the upswing with lots of wins and other Slam titles to follow. Unfortunately, no such luck.

Like many other elite men's tennis players, Roddick had the unfortunate reality of playing in the same era as the greatest tennis player ever: Roger Federer. This was all too clear in the 2009 Wimbledon final when the two played an amazing match as Federer won his record-setting 15th Grand Slam. It was a heartbreaker for Roddick.

There's also been the Federer, Rafa Nadal rivalry, plus the rise of Novak Djokovic. I'm certainly not saying these are entirely the reasons why Roddick didn't have more success. He had his own problems, too. Plenty of times he would have early exits and get upset by opponents. He would choke, essentially.

Tough times for American tennis
Coming on the heels of American tennis greats like Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, it's really too bad that Roddick couldn't continue that trend for men's tennis. The U.S. men's tennis drought, as some have called it, has been well documented. It's something worth nothing, but I'm not all about the country. I want to watch good tennis players, and they come from all over the world. Good enough.

Roddick is a fine player, and no one knows better when it's time to set the racquet down for retirement than the player himself. If Roddick feels this is his time, I'm fine with that. I'd much rather see players stop before they reach that point where it's obvious they need to stop and often don't know when to hang it up.

Happy birthday, Andy. Here's to a memorable final U.S. Open before a happy retirement.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Sports broadcasting has to be a tough one

Sports broadcasting is an interesting job, at least I would like to think so. You get the chance to watch and talk about a sport that you most likely love. What could be better than that?

As good as the job might seem to the average person, I'm sure it comes with its share of hardships. You would probably need to have a pretty thick skin sometimes. There's probably no shortage of criticism on what you say, what you don't say, your catch phrases or where you rank on, let's call it the "homer-meter."

For every person that thinks play-by-play guy X is the best in the business, there are a couple others who think that person is the worst. It's just the way it is. Some are boring, some are high-energy and some sound like they're on the verge of cardiac arrest.

I'm always curious to know what others think about broadcasters. So feel free to comment and give your thoughts.

'We' and 'us'
One point with broadcasters got me thinking recently. Is it OK for them to say "we" and "us" when they're talking about one of the teams? Is it different if they're the hometown broadcasters for the home team? What about during national broadcasts?

Maybe it's just the reporter in me, but I feel there should be a little more objectivity than that. Using "we" and "us" tells me that you're a part of that team. You play with them. If you don't, then don't talk like you do. It just strikes me as odd. It lessens the separation between the athletes and the broadcasters up in the booth.

I think it's much better to talk about the team using its name (Wild) and location (Minnesota). But that's just me and why I'm not in charge of sports broadcasters out there. There will always be things to pick on and mull over when it comes to what broadcasters say (or don't), but I'd really like it if "we" and "us" could be taken off the vocabulary lists.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

A good story from the bingo hall

Alright, so I'm going a little off topic with this entry. I'm going to write about bingo. While bingo is most definitely a game, I'm not going to try and make the case that it's a sport.

If I haven't already lost you by revealing my topic, which can be thrilling to some and mind-numbing to others, let me just add that I've played bingo a few times here in Austin with my co-workers. It really is quite fun, but maybe that's mostly because of the people I'm with, or because we've got adult beverages next to our bingo cards.

Anyway, a story unfolded this past Thursday night at bingo that I wanted to share. I didn't have evening plans, so my friend Kay suggested I ask our friend Kevin to go play bingo. We didn't have the trio at bingo this time since Kay had other plans, a decision she may have regretted later.

Lots of different ways to bingo
If memory serves, the night consists of 17 games of bingo. Some games the objectives are the postage stamp, the six-pack, the letter "F" or the letter "E." It was the game making the letter "O" of getting the numbers all the way around the border of the bingo card that got me and Kev in trouble this time around.

We were having a good time bingo-ing, chatting in between games and number daubs, when Kev was close to winning the "O" game. In fact, every number on his card had been called, except "O-61" in the upper right-hand corner. We both got nervous as we waited for that last number to be called so Kev could yell "bingo!" and win 50 bucks.

So close to a win... really close
Well, someone else got bingo first and that was that. Until the guy at our table asked what number Kev needed to win, then the gentleman pointed to the lit-up bingo board and told Kev he "had it." Yes, "0-61" had already been called who knows how many numbers ago during the game, Kev missed it and was therefore out of some easy money, and the pride that comes with winning a game of bingo.

After the shock and noisy sobs of disappointment stopped from the both of us (just kidding), we went right along with the next bingo game. From then on though, I made sure to double-check Kev's cards for the numbers being called, which wasn't the easiest since we were sitting across the table from each other so his numbers were upside down to me.

Kev was still pretty upbeat and was content with getting out of the evening with a good story to tell. I had a fun night just hanging out with him, and our friend LeAnn afterward as well. Of course, we had to text our chum Kay because we knew she'd want to hear about the near-win. She only yelled at us a little for our bingo incompetence. Again, just kidding.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My thoughts on Olympic spoilers

The 2012 London Olympics are in full swing this week, with some of my favorite events: swimming and gymnastics. I'll probably go back to actually getting some things accomplished during week two when track and field gets going, instead of being addicted to the Olympic coverage like I have been so far.

Ever since I watched a bunch of my brother's high school swim meets, I've really enjoyed watching swimming, and diving as well. So many great stories in the pool for this Olympics. Rising teenage star Missy Franklin, Ryan Lochte getting some attention over American rival Michael Phelps, who's showing that he might just be human after all.

Gymnastics is one of those must-watch events every four years during the Olympics. I remember watching Team USA in women's gymnastics win team gold in 1996 at the Atlanta games. Kerri Strug's vault? I mean, c'mon. That was pretty awesome.

Olympic spoilers
I do have a gripe so far with these Olympic games: I've been spoiled. And I know I'm not the only one.

It's just a couple days into competition, and I have been spoiled on results of some of the marquee events. In the age of constant and in-your-face social media, it makes sense that results and updates are available as they happen online. But there's this little issue of the six-hour time difference from the central time zone to London.

I'll use Twitter as an example because, let's face it, I love Twitter. If you listen to my co-worker Kay, I need a Twitter-vention. I also love the combination of Twitter and sports. I would love to send Olympic Tweets, if they weren't seemingly meaningless because everyone already knows the results hours before the Olympic coverage airs on NBC.

I've been spoiled on both the men's and women's gymnastics team final results for the United States, races for Phelps, other various swimming events and the devastation of Jordyn Wieber not making it into the all-around final (That's a topic for another blog.). Most of the time, I saw Tweets with the results. It even caused me to close my Tweet Deck today, but I was still spoiled by looking at Facebook and hearing about results from other people.

So much excitement is taken out of watching the Olympics if you already know what's going to happen at the end. I've still been watching, but it isn't the same.

New online Olympic etiquette, please
I have a proposal for how results might be better handled on social media sites like Twitter or Facebook, at least for news outlets, blogs or publications. It's fine to post about the Olympics before they've aired, just don't include spoilers in the initial post. Make reference to Olympic spoilers, then provide a link to another web page so users can choose to look at what happened.

In a perfect world, I'd prefer everyone to keep quiet until everything airs. I know that's not going to happen, but it would be nice if people could try and be a little respectful of  others who still want to be surprised.

Prime example? I had the epic battle in 1998 between figure skaters Tara Lipinski and Michelle Kwan spoiled for me. My fifth-grade teacher asked the class if anyone had heard who won gold. A classmate answered. Then class went on. It was all pretty casual. I guess, clearly, it bothered me because I still remember that today.

Please, don't be a spoiler.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Greyhounds chip away for a 6-3 win

It was another lovely night for baseball Friday evening. So I thought it might be good to catch another Austin Greyhounds game down by the river at Marcusen Park.

Not the same large crowd that was at the game I went to in June, so we had a good pick of seats. Some friends decided to join the party as the sun started to set. Those would be the always-unwanted guests known as mosquitoes. Sitting in the bleachers behind home plate though, what more could you ask for on a warm night?

It was a quick first inning for both the visiting team from Savage and the Hounds. The Savage Outlaws got the scoring started in the second inning with a two-out, two-run double for an early 2-0 lead. Austin chipped away at the lead with a run each in the second and third innings.

In the fourth, the Hounds had the bases juiced trailing 3-2. A wild pitch brought the tying run safely home to get the game knotted at three runs apiece. Savage didn't see the lead again for the rest of the night.

Some heads-up running on the bases gave the Hounds the winning run in the sixth. Austin's Alan May reached base on a walk, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and then trotted home when the Savage catcher threw the ball away at third base. The result was a 4-3 lead for the home team.

Austin got some insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth, as Savage's pitching became unglued. Matt Raso, who had a three-hit night, smacked a two-run double to give the Hounds a 6-3 cushion, which ended up being the final score.

Savage got a couple hits in the ninth, and one taken away. Austin center fielder May made a spectacular diving catch in right-center for one of the final three outs. It was highlight-reel worthy and got a few cheers from the dugout and those watching in the stands.

Another great game from the Hounds. Once again, I'm glad I was there to watch.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Twins are not doing well

The Minnesota Twins limped into the All-Star Break. Never fear, they came out of it with three losses at home to the Oakland Athletics. At least they're consistent.

One of the only bright spots of the weekend was pitcher Francisco Liriano's performance on the mound Friday night. He fanned 15 batters over eight innings, and the Twins still couldn't get a win. Of course, the grand slam he gave up in the fourth inning certainly didn't help matters. The 15 strikeouts was good because if nothing else, it upped his trade value.

If the A's proved one thing this weekend, it was that hitting a bunch of home runs at Target Field is nowhere near impossible. I know they hit at least four on Saturday at the game I went to. The game was so out of reach that I stopped counting after that. In fact, it was 4-0 after the first inning. Nothing like digging a big hole, Cole DeVries.

Not enough in the clutch
The Twins did get one the board with a couple homers as well in the 9-3 loss Saturday. Unlikely source Brian Dozier hit one out in left field, and Josh Willingham (shockingly enough) banged one off the big wall in center. It was a follow-up performance from his two-blast night on Friday. He has the team lead with 22 home runs this year. Trevor Plouffe needs to catch up again because I just love watching these two slug it out for the team lead.

It wasn't that the Twins weren't hitting Saturday (they had 14 of them.). It was that the all-important clutch hitting was absent. That was clear by the nine guys left on base as potential rallies were washed out quickly with inning-ending dribblers to the infielders, or some other anti-climatic way to halt any scoring in its tracks.

Of course, you'll have trouble winning a game if your starter doesn't have it and the runs just keep coming for the other team. Everything comes back to pitching, that and defense, which saw a couple bad moments as well.

In the 'where did that come from?' category
Monday with the Baltimore Orioles in town, the Twins finally got back in the win column, in a big way. They won 19-7. Former Twin and veteran slugger Jim Thome wasn't in the lineup for the O's, but I don't think even he would have been able to have the birds overcome the early deficit they faced.

I didn't get to watch the game, but I guess Joe Mauer hit one out. That's a big deal right there. I'm sure the Twins will get bumped back to reality in the rest of the series and have trouble hitting the ball again, though.

You have to start trading 'em
The end of July is looming, meaning the trade deadline is near. It's pretty obvious that the Twins need to clean house and start thinking about future years. Anyone in Twins Territory thinking about the playoffs this year much be rooting for another team.

Liriano is likely to be traded, and Denard Span's name has been thrown out there as well. I'd be OK with dealing them both. Moves need to be made, so if the Twins can pull off some good ones, even better. Something has to be done. This team that went from first to worst is in need of an overhaul.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Minnesota Wild Road Tour comes to Austin

Some days, my job at the Austin Post-Bulletin is really just the best thing ever. The Wells Fargo Minnesota Wild Road Tour stopped in Austin, Minn. for a visit a couple weeks ago, and I was the lucky journalist who got to report on it. Anytime I get to overlap some sports into my workday, it's a good thing.

The tour had a couple different sets of players and Wild representatives traveling in parts of Minnesota. The guys that stopped in Austin were Charlie Coyle, Matt Kassian, Wild alum Antti Laaksonen and Wild television color analyst Mike Greenlay. I had the chance to interview all of them.

I got to the parking lot where the big tent was set up for the tour's arrival. I saw a few fans already lined up (so I got some interviews out of the way early), and then about 70 kids with matching t-shirts from the local Kids Korner group. They were pretty amused when the Austin Bruins mascot Bruiser showed up to entertain them while they waited. It was like they didn't even need to see anyone from the Wild to have their days made.

Players arrive, Spam and all
The Wild contingent arrived, Kassian with a can of Spam in hand. I knew from following him and Greenlay on Twitter that they had already made a stop at the Spam Museum earlier that morning. Like the patient journalist that I am, I mostly hung back in the tent and watched as the line of fans snaked around to get to the tables of players waiting with their autographed photos.

Kassian was definitely the most personable of the group, not that the others weren't, but he made sure to talk with each fan as he or she came by. It wasn't just a signature-and-go kind of style for him. He was so talkative that sometimes he held up the line, as Laaksonen sat at the other end waiting for the next fan.

Time for the interviews
Greenlay was a good multitasker, as one of the Wild media relations gals pointed out to me, so I chatted with him over his shoulder as he continued to greet fans and sign autographs. His hockey photos to give away were of him in goalie gear for the Edmonton Oilers. A picture that he said was taken before Coyle, who's 20, was born.

I grabbed Laaksonen after that, for some more multitasking. Maybe some didn't remember him from the Wild's early days, but I certainly did. I was also surprised to learn that he likes to fly fish and he travels down to the Rochester area for this hobby.

Coyle was a nice guy, too. Kassian shook my hand, and did sort of a fist-bump handshake. I asked about the Spam Museum, the potential for a lockout to start the season and about what it's like to get out on the tours like this and see the fans. A car horn started sounding during our interview, but he kept his cool and actually worked that in to his answers in a good way to poke fun at what was going on.

I got back to the office and was really excited to share my day with my co-workers. They couldn't believe I didn't get autographs from the players. Well, I like to think I'm an ethical journalist, so that was out of the question. And besides, I got to interview all of them. How cool is that?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Second longest match in Wimbledon history

This is me on Court 1 during a tour of Wimbledon in 2008.
Most of what I know of Wimbledon 2012 before today had been what I've seen on Twitter. That's pretty typical of me; Twitter and sports go together like peanut butter and jelly for me, and I'm sure I'm not alone. (Even though a certain co-worker of mine thinks I need a Twitter-intervention.)

Other than a few minutes of the Championships over breakfast throughout this first week of play, I didn't get to watch much until this afternoon. I flipped it on to see the American Sam Querrey in a fifth set with No. 16 Marin Cilic. I had planned to do a few errands, but I figured I might as well watch the rest of the match.

Talk about long matches
Well, about an hour later, it was finally over. The fifth set (with no tiebreaker for the deciding set, remember) went to a score of 17-15, in favor of Cilic who will move on to the fourth round after defeating Querrey 7-6, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 17-15. The longer it went on, the more historical the match became. It ended up being a five-hour, 31-minute match, the second longest in Wimbledon history.

Querrey wouldn't quit. He came back from two sets down just to force the fifth set. He also had the chance to serve for the match many times in the fifth, but he just couldn't get it done. It was a bunch of games where the server did his job - he held serve. Breaks looked possible many times; Querrey got a couple points away from the match with a 30-love lead on Cilic's serve. And Cilic had the same kind of opportunities to break.

Finally, Cilic got the break and then served out the match that next game for the 17-15 fifth set and match win. A good example of a couple of guys who know how to hold their serves, that's for sure. Remember John Isner beating Nicolas Mahut 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68 back in 2010 for the longest match?

Murray misses curfew
The other match going on was sentimental favorite No. 4 Andy Murray and Marcos Baghdatis. They were on Centre Court and played under the roof for part of the match. What got interesting was the Wimbledon curfew, which is 11 p.m.

As the time drew closer, Murray was up two sets to one in the fourth. He dominated the set, and when 11 o'clock came, he was up 5-1. Instead of calling the match for the day and having them come back to finish, they were able to squeeze in the final game to give Murray the 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 win.

I would have loved to have read some of the stories and comments on that one had they decided to suspend play when Murray was that close to the finish line. I'm pulling for Murray to finally get that Grand Slam title. I can often pull for the underdog, mostly because I get sick of the same people or teams winning all the time. So I hope he can get it done.

Upset city
Murray might be just a tiny bit closer because this week in the upset category, No. 2 Rafeal Nadal lost in five sets in the second round to Lukas Rosol, ranked No. 100. That was certainly all over Twitter when it happened. I couldn't believe it. Then, Roger Federer had to pull off some magic in five sets just to survive the third round.
That's one thing that is so great about sports, the threat of the upset is always there, which turns brackets and draws upside down. A couple of years ago, Wimbledon had its fair share of upsets as well. I guess we'll see who else might fall in the second week of this year's Wimbledon.

My first Austin Greyhounds game

I'm almost embarrassed to admit this, but Friday night was the first time I attended a baseball game at Marcusen Park in Austin, for an amateur baseball game featuring the Austin Greyhounds. I rode my bike down to the stadium once last summer, but that was just for a looksie, not for a game.

Anyway, as I sat in the bleachers on a beautiful summer evening, I couldn't believe I hadn't been to a game before. Part of it, or at least the easy excuse, is that I work a lot and often into the evening. Weekends are usually busy or I just want to relax at home and do nothing after a long week.

Despite how often I do (or do not) get to the ballpark, I ended up choosing a good game. The Hounds won with a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 11th inning over Fairmont. It was Steve Serratore who hit the bomb over the right-center fence to give his team the 8-7 win. I was one of the few who stuck around until the very end (though I debated leaving early, I'll admit.)

To pull a line usually reserved for the Minnesota Twins, the Hounds accomplished the little things Friday night to bring some runs across early. An RBI-single and a couple of sacrifice flies put them up 3-1, and they added another 3-spot in the fifth inning for a 6-1 lead. They remained in control until the last three innings.

Fairmont slowly chipped away at the lead with a run in the seventh, two in the eighth and bringing three across in the top of the ninth to tie the game at 7 apiece. The Hounds had a couple chances to end it, and Fairmont had another look, too.

Heading to the bottom of the 11th, it looked like the game could go on for awhile. Both teams had their chances but couldn't get that big hit to bring the winning run in. That was until Serratore stepped to the plate and crushed the ball. He was 2-for-5 with 2 RBI. The win put the Hounds over .500 at an 11-10 record on the season.

After such a dramatic finish, not to mention good baseball game in nice conditions, I hope to get back to Marcusen for a game very soon.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Iowa Corn Indy 250

While any IZOD IndyCar Series race is a blast, I've always favored the road and street courses over the ovals. But hey, being there to watch those speed machines fly around any track is awesome. This weekend, my dad and I checked a new track off our list of ones we've visited: Iowa Speedway.

Since I'm living a couple hours closer to Iowa now, I figured we might as well go check out the IndyCar race. So off we went to see the Iowa Corn Indy 250 Saturday night at the 7/8-mile speedway in Newton, Iowa. It was a pretty cool sight, and as my dad put it, "like being in a constant beehive."

The race had already been pushed back to a 9 p.m. start time due to television schedules. It actually didn't start until after 9:30 p.m. because of some heavy rain and thunderstorms that popped up and didn't want to leave the area in the early evening. Always the prepared race fans, we were armed with our ponchos, though we didn't need them, thanks to the haven of standing underneath the bleachers.

Iowa Speedway, when it was still soaked with rain.
Once the rain stopped, the jet dryer got to work drying the banked speedway surface. The support series Firestone Indy Lights was supposed to run prior to the IndyCars, but they switched places. This meant that there were Indy Lights cars zooming around the track early into Sunday morning.

Action began even before the pace laps were complete for the IndyCar race. Pole sitter Dario Franchitti's car slowed and started smoking along the backstretch. His race was over even before it began. It took a couple laps under the caution flag and then a couple more before the cars were in a good enough formation to get the drop of the green flag. Showtime.

With 250 laps, these cars were obviously turning laps rather quickly. It was about 18 seconds to get around, according to my dad's trusty stopwatch. Fans in the stands - which were packed, by the way - got a great view of all the action on the track. It's a completely different scenario than watching a race at my favorite track, Road America in Wisconsin, which is a four-mile road course.

The IndyCar field heads into the first turn.
The Corn Indy 250 was a good one, that's for sure. It was a great night for the Andretti Autosport cars, as they ran up front all night. Ryan Hunter-Reay made it two wins in a row and he was joined on the podium with teammate Marco Andretti as the runner-up and also last year's winner at Iowa. Former Andretti Autosport driver and fan favorite Tony Kanaan made a late pass on Scott Dixon to finish third.

A lot of action was going on as cars filled every part of the track throughout the 250 laps. I focused in with the leaders though, because there were quite a few battles for the lead. Helio Castroneves, who started second but took the lead after Franchitti's troubles, led early on. Dixon had a bit of pit strategy on his side as he held the lead as well until he faded toward the end.

Andretti's James Hinchcliffe also had a great car during the race. I really thought he had a shot at the win, but he lost it in a corner and hit the wall just before lap 200. There weren't too many cautions, which was nice. Will Power and E.J. Viso got tangled up, as did Ryan Briscoe and Josef Newgarden. Katherine Legge hit the wall with just a couple laps to go, so the race finished under yellow, giving Hunter-Reay the win.

It was a great race that was very fun to watch, especially under the lights (and dry skies). It was also my first time seeing the new 2012 race cars in person. They flew by so fast, that I really didn't notice much of a difference. I'm glad my dad and I went to the race, and I hope to get back to Iowa for more IndyCar action.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Golf's 'get in the hole!' is now 'mashed potato!'

One of my first blog posts back in 2009 was about golf. I must admit that I don't write about golf too often, probably because I also don't watch or play golf with any real frequency either.

Anyway, one of the things that I find most annoying now when I do turn on a major golf tournament is the spectators and their "get in the hole!" screams - constantly. Even surrounding a green it's enough to make me sigh, but at least if a player's putting, he or she has a chance to literally get the ball in the hole.

What I have a problem with is those morons screaming the phrase at the top of their lungs off the tee box, especially those long and difficult par 5s. Seriously? Just stop it. It happens so much that it's not even remotely funny.

Taking it to a whole other level
A moment during this year's U.S. Open had my family laughing hysterically, however, and the loudmouth on the golf course did *not* yell the standard "get in the hole!" No, this phrase was completely different, out of place and had nothing to do with golf. I'm sure he did it on a bet with his buddies or to get some big reaction or viral video out of it. OK, I'll bite.

One of the leaders at the time, Jim Furyk, teed off during Sunday's final round at... one of the 18 holes, it doesn't really matter which one. He smashes the ball off the tee and everyone hears: "MASHED POTATO!"

It was so unexpected and so hilarious that my dad grabbed the remote to back it up so we could watch it again and again (Thank goodness for digital cable and DVRs.). As one of my Facebook friends said: "That never gets old."

So, the question is, what will be the next phrase someone yells on a golf course? And will it be as funny? Give it your best shot average-joe comedians.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Indy 500 filled with excitement, lots of leaders

It's time for a few highlights from this year's Indianapolis 500. Penske driver Ryan Briscoe had the pole, and the top two drivers for Chip Ganassi - Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti - started in the middle of the pack. That didn't stop them from charging to a one-two finish, however, with Franchitti taking the win.

With the new car designs this year, it's still a little hard to get used to watching these cars that look significantly different than in the past few years. I got over it though when the cars started turning laps and trading for the lead right away.

Leaders of the pack
The 96th Indy 500 had a lot of lead changes. In fact, it was record setting. Thirty lead changes set the new record at Indy, and there were 35 of them between 10 of the 33 drivers before the 500 miles were up on Sunday. (I know, too many numbers.) That in itself is pretty exciting.

A small victory was the field getting through turn one on the first lap. That can always be a problem. I was also a little concerned because Marco Andretti was starting near the front, and in 2009 he got a little impatient and collided with Mario Moraes to take them both out before their races really began.

Right away Briscoe and James Hinchcliffe (who does a much better job in the GoDaddy car than Danica Patrick ever did, in my opinion) traded the lead early. On the restart after the first caution of the day, cars were scattered three and four wide. It was Andretti that grabbed the lead - and he stayed there for quite awhile during those first 100 laps.

Andretti Curse is alive and well
Before the race, I picked Tony Kanaan, and then Andretti, to win the race. I knew Andretti had a strong car, but one can never count out the Andretti curse that has plagued the entire family ever since grandfather Mario won his only 500 in 1969. I was feeling good about Marco's chances early on, but I also knew the key word: early.

Pit strategy was part of the equation for him, along with a vibration in the car. What finally did him in was a crash with 13 laps to go. He had fallen back from the leaders at this point, but at least he was still running. It's always something with the Andretti cars, unfortunately.

A nail biter
The final few laps had me on the edge of my seat. Despite starting so far back, and even getting punted in the pits by E.J. Viso, Franchitti was running comfortably up front. Takuma Sato was there, too. He was even the first Japanese driver to lead laps at Indy since that joke of a racer Tora Takagi ticked off a couple in 2003.

Kanaan is always the mover as well. He got in position and took the lead from his pal Franchitti near the end - to the very audible cheers of the crowd, and me at home. But then Marco had his crash, bringing out the yellow flag. I just had a bad feeling that it was bad luck for Kanaan.

As predicted, he was a sitting duck on the restart, and the Target teamsters got by. On the final lap, Sato was in position to be part of a podium finish. Keep in mind, he was already antsy during the race. The broadcast cut in to a radio conversation his team owner and 1986 Indy 500 champ Bobby Rahal had with him, telling him to basically cool his jets.

It comes down to the final lap
Going into turn one with the white flag flying, Sato tried one more time to make a pass on Franchitti. I held my breath and could tell this wasn't going to end well. My hope was that Sato would take out both of them, so that at least Franchitti wouldn't get the win. (Team Target Chip Ganassi is starting to get like the New York Yankees for me in terms of hatred. They always seem to get the breaks.)

The racing gods smiled on Franchitti, and somehow he was spared as he touched wheels with Sato who went flying into the wall. Franchitti finished the race first for the third time in his career, and for the third time under caution.

It was a good race. Despite my bitterness for the team that just can seem to do no wrong. I'll continue to watch what I can of the IndyCar season, and I'll look forward to another great Indy 500 in 2013.

Tributes and tradition at Indy 500

The greatest race in the world is over and done with for another year. The 96th running of the Indianapolis 500 was Sunday, and Dario Franchitti became a three-time winner of the greatest spectacle in racing. One piece was sorely missed this year though: Defending race champion Dan Wheldon was absent from the race field, though he was on the minds of the racing teams and thousands of fans.

It's hard to believe that a year ago, Wheldon drove to the checkered flags and past JR Hildebrand who hit the wall in turn four on the last lap of the 2011 race. It was the second Indy 500 win for Wheldon, and sadly, it also became his final career win. He died in the IndyCar season finale in Las Vegas last October.

This race day was filled with tributes to Wheldon. Franchitti also invited Dan's wife Susie to ride in the convertible for the parade lap after his victory. Credit where credit is due, Mr. Franchitti.

Tributes aside, this was still the Indianapolis 500. It has so much history and so much tradition that any race fan can't help but get a little excited in anticipation. I was pretty curious to see what the day would hold, being that it's 2012 and that the races 10, 20 and 30 years ago all were pretty memorable.

10 years ago
In 2002, veteran driver and a CART/Champ Car favorite Paul Tracy was robbed. Yes, Helio Castroneves won the race, one of the three he has under his belt at Indy. But the win didn't come without controversy. Tracy passed Castroneves around the same time as a crash which caused a caution flag to fly with just a few laps to go.

Tracy thought the pass stuck, which would make him the winner since the race would finish under caution. That didn't end up being the case, however. The powers that be declared the pass came after the caution. I was really pulling for Tracy on this one.

20 years ago
Twenty years ago was the closest finish in Indy 500 history, though others have come close. I was just a little kid at this point, but the story of this epic finish isn't lost on a race fan. My dad attended this race and was there to witness the history. Al Unser Jr. and Scott Goodyear battled until the end. Goodyear tried to make a move near the line, but he didn't have enough.

30 years ago
Another memorable race was in 1982. It started and ended with a bang. A crash before the race even started brought out the red flag to stop the race. Kevin Cogan's car suddenly went sideways in the middle of row one, causing a chain reaction. It got IndyCar legends Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt pretty upset, that's for sure.

The race ended with a great battle during the last few laps between Rick Mears and Gordon Johncock. Mears tried a pass at the line, but it was Johncock who won. You can't feel too bad for Mears though; he's in the elite class of four-time Indy 500 winners.

So, with all the great racing Indy has seen, I was expecting another gem for 2012. I wasn't wrong, even if the result wasn't my first choice for the winner.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Stanley Cup Finals brings on Wild nostalgia

It's nearly June, but that doesn't mean winter sports are over and done with. Sports fans know that the NHL and NBA drag out their postseasons for a couple of months in the spring and early summer. I'd like to see it shortened a bit, though that's a topic for another time.

Wednesday marked game one of the Stanley Cup Finals where the No. 8 Los Angeles Kings representing the Western Conference faced off against the New Jersey Devils on the East coast. I must admit I've been out of the loop to some extent the past couple of NHL postseasons, largely due to the fact that I don't get the channel that carries most of the games. But since NBC has most of the finals, I tuned in for the first game.

I don't really have a team that I'm favoring either way in this series. I guess I'll root for the Kings. My reasons? Because they're from the West (where the Minnesota Wild play) and New Jersey has already had lots of Cup success. Lame reasons, I know. I told you I'm not that invested.

As I was lounging around my apartment watching the game, while multi-tasking by going through my endless stack of newspapers, I couldn't help but be a little sad that it's been too long since the Wild were in the playoffs. They've also never been in a Cup Final in their relatively short history as a team.

What a great run for the Wild
I started to get nostalgic and remember the great run the Wild had in 2003. Man, that was a magical ride. They overcame the odds to come back from 3-1 series deficits against division rivals Colorado and Vancouver before hitting the wall against the hot goalie - Jean Sebastien Giguere - of the Anaheim Ducks.

I'll never forget watching all those games on television as a sophomore in high school. With some overtime and late start times, I remember putting aside the thought of getting to bed at a decent time just so I could watch the game until the end on a school night. My memory of walking like a tired zombie into my first-hour choir class on a morning after a game is also something that sticks in my mind.

The Wild made the playoffs again since then, and even won a division championship, but they failed to move on or come close to creating some great memories like they did in 2003. They've fallen on some pretty tough times. Gone through a couple of coaches and seen the affects of some bad moves made by a general manager who's no longer with the organization.

I really hope they can turn things around within the next couple of years.

Back to the Devils and Kings, it was tied at 1 at the end of regulation. The Kings won it in overtime with a nice backhand pass and breakaway to beat veteran goalie Martin Brodeur. Playoff hockey at its best.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

My first 2012 game at Target Field

Check it off. I've now been to a Twins game at Target Field during the 2012 season. Not that this season has been much to write home about, as they say, but I was fortunate enough to go see one of the good games. It was a 5-0 victory May 8 against the Angels.

My friend Ashley sent me a text last weekend, asking if I wanted to go to a game with her because her parents scored some free tickets behind the Twins dugout. I thought about what I might have to do work-wise on a Tuesday evening. But I figured I could make it work for a Twins game with pretty good seats.

Come prepared to Target Field
The night was a bit chilly, but I came prepared. A sweatshirt was under my pinstriped Twins jersey, I opted for my boots instead of tennis shoes in case my feet got cold (I think I made a wise choice.) and I had a poncho in my pack in case it rained (which it did not).

We had some great seats 19 rows up behind the Twins dugout. I looked around Target Field, taking in the atmosphere of the outdoor ballpark. One thing I noticed right away was how empty the place looked. Empty, compared to the sell-out crowds that have graced the ballpark for the first two seasons. It wasn't surprising because the Twins had hardly won any games at home this season, but it was still a little sad to see that the honeymoon was definitely over.

I grabbed a hot dog (dad would be proud) and sat back to enjoy some baseball, hoping the Twins wouldn't disappoint too much. Turns out, I witnessed a great game.

Call-up is player of the game
Twins pitcher Scott Diamond was definitely the story that night. Since the rotation hadn't exactly been lighting it up, the team shifted some lineup pieces around, calling up Diamond for his first start of the year. I hope the rest of the hurlers in the Twins dugout were watching him.

The final line for Diamond was downright amazing compared to his teammates. First of all, he managed a quality start. He tossed seven shutout innings, gave up four hits and one walk on 101 pitches. Oh, and let's not forget the six strikeouts, two of which were former Twin Torii Hunter (who also struck out to end the game). I believe it was the first time all season that a Twins pitcher has pitched six (or seven, as it turned out) shutout innings.

Strong offensive showing for Twins
Diamond also got some run support, and he got it early. Josh Willingham smacked an RBI-double right away in the bottom of the first to get the boys on the board. In the same inning, Ryan Doumit hit a two-run shot to right-center to give the Twins a nice 3-0 after the first. It was good to see some power, and it prompted me to Tweet: Who are these guys?

The Twins had some more chances as well. Angels pitcher Dan Haren struggled and walked the bases loaded. But poor Danny Valencia hit a weak one back to the pitcher for an out-at-home, out-at-first double play to end the inning. That got him some boos and mock cheers. He's since been demoted to the minors for a plummeting average. I'm rooting for him to get back to form soon.

Another couple runs were knocked in during the bottom of the fourth. After Jamey Carroll dropped a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners (doing the little things), Erik Komatsu came through with a sac-fly and Brian Dozier hit an RBI-single to make it 5-0. That's when Haren got the hook for the Angels.

Way to finish it off
The bullpen for the Twins got the job done for the last couple innings, not allowing a hit. The Twins won 5-0 in a great ball game. However, I was pretty disappointed with all the fans that did the usual mass exit before the top of the ninth. Really? You don't want to stay and see a Twins victory when they've been so rare this year? That's OK, I'll stay and watch them.

Amid a season that is quickly going further down the toilet for the Twins, it seems, Ashley and I got to see one of the better games this young 2012 had to offer. So much of good baseball hinges on good pitching, which was evident with Diamond. We were also treated to a homer and some decent offense.

Good seats. Good baseball. Good night.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Season two complete for Austin Bruins

The 2011-12 season for the Austin Bruins came to a close Saturday night at the hands of the Bismarck Bobcats. It was a 4-1 loss at home in game four in the best-of-five North American Hockey League Central Division Championship Series that ended the second spectacular season for the Bruins. Bismarck advanced to the national championship in Texas.

Games one and two in Bismarck were spilt by the teams as they headed to Riverside Arena for games three and four. After a too-little-too-late 3-2 loss for the Bruins Friday night, it was do-or-die Saturday. I have been to a fair share of games this season, including the clinching win of the first playoff series and even the growingly-popular "Paint the Rink Pink" night.

Boys came to play
The first period between the Bruins and Bobcats was about everything you could ask for in a good hockey game. It was clear the boys on both sides were ready to play - and hit. Players were flying on their skates, bodies were being thrown hard into the boards and the crowd of 1,778 came to Riverside with tons of energy.

It was the Bruins who struck first, with a power-play goal by No. 9 Chris Fischer at 8:14 of the first period. Little did they know it would be the last goal of the season. Bismarck tied it up on the power play with just under five minutes remaining in the first period.

Bruins just didn't have the magic
Neither the second or third periods were as energy-filled and evenly-paced as the first. The Bobcats nabbed the momentum early in period two with a goal just about a minute in for a 2-1 lead they wouldn't look back from. It came from a nice rush into the zone, beating Austin goalie Tyler Bruggeman.

As the second wore on, I just had a feeling the Bruins were not going to get it done. Bismarck was a strong team and their pressure on the Bruins when they tried to set up offensively was pretty darn good. The back-breaker for the Bruins came with about 10 minutes left in the game when the Bobcats made it 3-1. The fourth tally was an empty-netter.

Clever visiting goalie in a good atmosphere
Not a bad hockey game. Although, I could have done without the macho-type goaltender for Bismarck. He seemed to have quite the temper on him. Right from the first whistle, he took issue with players getting anywhere near his crease. He was a little too quick to get upset that early in the game, in my opinion. There were a couple times where I thought he also knocked the goal off its pegs when there was some scrambling pressure in front of him. Not cool, dude.

Going back to the atmosphere, it wasn't just the Bruins fans that were cheering. Bismarck had a good contingency of fans in the arena as well, maybe the biggest visiting crowd I've noticed at Riverside. Good for them for making the drive to support their boys. I also liked the Bobcat jerseys; black and "Andover Huskies" gold, as opposed to the Bruins and their black and yellow-gold.

Season two in the books
Even though the Bruins season ended with a tough loss, I'd say it was a pretty successful second year for the hockey club. As I've learned from my stories as work, their attendance at Riverside doubled this year, and they continue to be out helping the community. I just wrote a story last week about some Bruins players helping to move books for the Austin Public Library's spring book sale.

I look forward to going to more games next year. The Austin Bruins have gotten this community excited about hockey, even if they sometimes do get a little more excited to see the fights than the end-to-end play. Good luck next year, Bruins.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Twins need to win, stop the skid

The Minnesota Twins were rained out for their Saturday game at home versus the Kansas City Royals. Maybe that's for the best. Look at it this way: If the Twins don't play a game, they can't lose a game either.

That may not be a very optimistic attitude, but at the moment, the Twins haven't given fans many reasons for optimism in this still young 2012 season. They are 5-15 and are riding a six-game losing streak. They were swept at home by the Boston Red Sox, who are having problems of their own.

The Twins showed some signs of life in the final game of the Red Sox series, but it wasn't enough and they lost by a run. Trevor Plouffe (who could use a haircut, by the way) drove a ball deep to left-center that looked like it would be a walk-off homer, but it didn't quite get far enough.

Starting pitching is everything
Offense has been a little better lately, but one of the real problems has been starting pitching. Can we get a quality start, please? Anyone? This key struggle right now goes back to the basics of winning a baseball game. Without pitching (and defense), it doesn't matter how many runs you score, you'll be in trouble.

Francisco Liriano is pitching so poorly right now that the Twins decided to skip his next start. You have to try something, but I'm not sure how much it will really help him. From the very first inning in the game Tuesday it was clear Nick Blackburn didn't have his stuff either. In Friday's one-run loss to the Royals, veteran Carl Pavano gave up a couple runs even before an out was recorded.

The Twins were also tied with the Red Sox late in the game, before Matt Capps gave up a home run to seal their fate. After the game, he apparently still thought it was a good pitch that he threw. Maybe, but if the batter hit it out, let's agree that it wasn't the right pitch.

Bats coming alive, Mauer needs to as well
As for the Twins and their bats, it's not terrible at the moment. Danny Valencia got ahold of a pitch and put it in the bullpen, and he just missed another one Friday night. Justin Morneau is playing right now, which is good news on its own.

Joe Mauer has already taken some heat this season for his performance, and I think he should expect that throughout the season since he's the multi-million-dollar man and all. He was already booed at Target Field this year.

He has also been healthy enough to play, which is great, but he needs to really dig in this year and start smacking the ball around. Not just those 1-for-3 or 2-for-4 days where he hits some singles. I'm talking about driving in runs with doubles and hitting for power with some home runs. I don't think it's too unreasonable to put to pressure on him this season to step up and lead this team offensively.

Back in the win column
What the Twins need to focus on right now is winning baseball games. Make the pitches, get the clutch hits and come away with the win. Easier said than done, I know. But you really can't look at anything else, like standings or records, until you start getting back into a good winning rhythm.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

2012 for the Twins: It's early

The 2012 Minnesota Twins season has commenced. The boys didn't have quite the same disastrous start to the season as they did in 2011 in Toronto (remember the errors in that first game?), but they still went out to Baltimore and couldn't win a game. In fact, they could barely score a run.

I haven't been able to watch as much of the Twins as I would have liked to so far, thanks to all the day games and my schedule. Thank goodness for Twitter, though, to keep me updated as if I'm watching the game.

I did manage to see the last couple of innings of the team's first win this week, which came at home versus the Angels. (I'm simply calling them the "Angels" because it's easier than trying to keep track of which location they're identified with.) I was just in time to see the Twins get a lead, and to see a ball hit down the right-field line give former Twin Torii Hunter trouble as he crashed hard into the wall. Matt Capps even came in and didn't give up a lead, so there's that as well.

The team doesn't look the same as last year, with a few new guys on the everyday roster. I'm liking the power Josh Willingham apparently has. He seemed to be the only one who could hit a home run, until Thursday. He also had a couple of errors in a game out in left field, but at this point I'd rather have the hitting power. It's also still early in the season (let's put that as a disclaimer on the entire blog entry, sound good?)

As I followed Thursday's game on Twitter, it was pretty interesting how it went from a disaster where Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau got booed by the impatient home fans, to a 10-9 win with the M & M boys each crushing the ball out of the park in the process. Don't like getting booed? I'd say that's a perfect way to respond.

I'm not sure the Twins have what it takes to get back to their Central Division winning ways like we've seen over the past decade. Last year and even the few games so far this year have made me realize how lucky I've been since I started seriously following the Twins in 2000.

My biggest hope for this season is that the Twins can stay healthier than last year. With a 162-game season, every team goes through injury battles, but last year seemed like it was just one thing after the other with the Twins. They've already had a couple issues on their pitching staff this year, but Mauer and Morneau are healthy right now (please, go bang on some wood).

If nothing else, Target Field is still a beautiful ball park to watch baseball, especially if the weather is on your side. I hope to get there again this year, and this time I need to plan an outing with my friends from work so they can experience it, too.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Minnesota Wild are spoilers lately

It was a bit of a slow news week in Austin, Minn. Maybe that wasn't such a bad thing for me because it gave me a chance to ease my way back into the daily routine because I was on vacation the week before.

Anyway, I had a chance to watch the last couple of Minnesota Wild games, Thursday and Saturday. Since they've been officially eliminated from playoff contention, the boys have now turned into spoilers for their opponents who are still clinging to life in the postseason race.

Comeback kids
The Florida Panthers came to the Xcel Energy Center Thursday. If you happened to miss pretty much all of the game until just before the end of regulation, you were in good shape because most of the game wasn't all that exciting. The Wild were down by a goal but tied it up with just 30 ticks left in the third. The empty-net strategy worked for once.

You were probably one sorry customer if you're one of those people that leaves before the end of a game to beat traffic. And I hope you didn't blink as they started overtime either, because you would have missed captain Mikko Koivu's great move to beat the goalie for the game-winning goal just 15 seconds into the extra session.

Two (meaningless) points were then given to the Wild. It was a nice comeback, last-minute thriller.

Excitement with the Kings
Former Wild player Willie Mitchell and his Los Angeles Kings were in Minnesota this weekend. This game was exciting from the start. The Wild got on the board just 40 seconds into the game during the four-goal first period when the teams headed to the locker room with two goals apiece.

The energy was high, hits were flying and the crowd seemed to be into it as well. The Kings were up 3-2 when the Wild got a four-minute power-play thanks to a high-sticking double minor. It was a perfect opportunity for the Wild to tie it up, but they were too busy skating around in their own zone, passing behind the net and not generating chances to get the equalizer.

That would've been a key period in the game had the Wild not come back to tie it. Newbie Jason Zucker is quite impressive so far.

With just over a minute left in overtime, Devin Setoguchi turned on the jets and was dragged down in the middle of a breakaway. I had a hunch it would result in a penalty shot. He made a nice move, shot the puck and then everyone could hear that dreaded clanging sound of the puck bouncing off the iron post.

Shootout machine Erik Christensen for the Wild scored first, Koivu put in one as well and goalie Niklas Backstrom actually stopped both shots he faced in the shootout for the Wild's 4-3 win. The Wild have now won four of their last five home games. Even though they don't have anything to play for (like a postseason trip), it's still fun to watch some decent hockey.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Post-Bulletin loses a great journalist, mentor

My one-year anniversary with the Austin Post-Bulletin came and went last week. In many ways, it's hard to believe I've been here a whole year already. I've learned so much and developed a lot of good relationships with people through my work during that time.

One of those relatively newer relationships was with Post-Bulletin columnist and editorial page editor Greg Sellnow, a veteran journalist who spent 26 years with the company. Sadly, Greg died unexpectedly over the weekend when he apparently had a medical emergency while driving home from the state high school hockey tournament.

I received a call from my editor Sunday morning with the sad news. It's still pretty hard to believe and accept. Actually, the high school hockey tournament was one of the last things Greg and I talked about the last time he was down at our Austin office, March 1.

He told me how he and his son had made a tradition of going to a couple of the semifinal games. Getting tickets was sometimes a challenge, but they always knew they'd get to see some good hockey, he said.

Greg had been mentoring me as a writing coach, something that we had just started in February. It seemed to be a great fit so far - a journalist with years of experience under his belt giving pointers to a young reporter. We had met a few times to discuss my stories, how to report on meetings in particular, and I enjoyed the conversations we had.

One of the last meeting stories I emailed to him for his critique was a tough story about the Austin city council. A heated exchange during the meeting had me struggling to find the right way to tell the story. I spent a lot of time - maybe even too much - on the story and finally submitted it to Greg just after 11 p.m. that evening.

His response was helpful, respectful and encouraging. I look back at his emails now and already miss him, even though we'd only been in a touch for a short time. I'll also miss reading his columns, which I already made sure to read when I'd go through my stack of papers.

On a selfish note, I will miss Greg as my mentor because I will always wonder about what could have been. I'll write some more meeting stories and then probably wonder what he would have to say about them. How's my lead? Did I arrange the information appropriately? Did I make good use of the quotes?

I'll also miss being able to talk about hockey, the Minnesota Twins or church with him. He was a kind man and a good guy.

My thoughts and prayers are with Greg's family and his friends at the Post-Bulletin. Greg, you'll be missed.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap day: Wild make trades; Daytona's a wreck

Leap Day! The thought occurred to me late this evening to put up a blog, mostly so then I could have a blog archived on leap day. Why not, right?

As far as sports, the Minnesota Wild are still chugging along. They've played well and they've played horribly with their past few games. Shutting out the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins 2-0 at home and for a nationally televised game was one of their better efforts. Niklas Backstrom even had a career-high 49 saves.

But the game on Tuesday sounded like a disaster against the Los Angeles Kings - a 4-0 loss at home. The boo birds were out yet again at the Xcel Energy Center, allegedly.

Bye-bye Zid
The bright spot was on the trading block for the Wild. Last week, they were finally able to unload defenseman Marek Zidlicky. He had been complaining about the style and made his feelings known to the media and the hockey community that he didn't want to be on the Wild anymore. So Chuck Fletcher pawned him off on the New Jersey Devils.

Don't let the puck hit you on the way out.

The best news was what the Wild got in return though, especially when many didn't think they'd get much back for the mouthy Zidlicky. Former Wild players Kurtis Foster and Stephane Veilleux came back "home," and they also got winger Nick Palmieri and some draft picks. Not a bad deal.

Dayto - er - "Danica" 500
Nascar kicked off its lengthy racing season Sunday (and actually Monday and Tuesday) with the Daytona 500. The race was rained out for the first time ever Sunday, pushing the start eventually to Monday evening. It didn't finally get done until very early Tuesday morning.

Because it's racing, and a marquee race, I tuned in to bits and pieces of the race coverage. Twitter told me that early on, the new series diva, Danica Patrick, had been involved in a wreck and was many laps down. Kind of nice to get her out of the way at the start, I guess.

The race was filled with caution flags and even a lengthy red flag - due to a you-don't-see-this-everyday explosion involving a jet drier and Juan Pablo Montoya's car. He was trying to catch up to the field during a yellow flag when something on his car broke, sailing him into the jet drier truck and causing a fireball.

After that, the race should've been put out its misery. Sometimes in racing if you push your luck too much, it may just run out. I was afraid of a serious crash happening, but maybe my mind is still reeling from the IndyCar season finale in Las Vegas that took the life of driver Dan Wheldon.

Too much focus on Danica
This is Patrick's first year in Nascar full time, away from her open-wheel roots. And boy, did the good ol' boys eat it up. I'm not a fan of hers - she's nothing too extraordinary and she has an attitude with a dash of entitlement.

She crashed prior to the race, a pretty good smack, and the lame in-car camera caught her taking her hands off the steering wheel. This is standard procedure in IndyCar (to protect your hands from injury), and it has been for a long time, so I didn't think much of it. But it was a huge deal for Nascar fellas. So when Jimmie Johnson did it during the big race, Patrick got the credit.

Just one more thing that Nascar will probably try to claim. Just like they did with SAFER barriers and the HANS device. We all know where it started.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

With loss to Columbus, Wild's season sinking fast

I had a long and busy week at work, so I was looking forward to going to the Minnesota Wild game with my parents Saturday. Too bad the boys couldn't find the back of the net more than once as they lost 3-1 to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Like me, this week wasn't a good one for the Wild either. They lost in a shootout in Dallas a week ago Saturday, then lost 3-1 in Columbus (the worst team in the league, by the way), then followed that up with a 5-2 home loss to rival Vancouver. That prompted some harsh words from head coach Mike Yeo about how the team "stinks."

Last night's game may have been one of the nails in the coffin for the Wild's season and playoff hopes. Too soon for a statement like that? Could be. As sports will teach you, it's not over until it's over. But right now, I'm thinking it would be a smart move for the Wild to quit focusing so much on getting into the playoffs, and management should think more about draft picks.

I haven't really looked at the standings since the Wild went on their winning streak and were the best in the league earlier this season - really, it wasn't that long ago. Now, they've been somewhere around the playoff bubble. It's a moot point if the Wild can't start playing better hockey, however.

Failing to light the lamp
The Wild had 35 shots on goal Saturday. Unfortunately, only one of those shots went in. While Columbus goalie Steve Mason did his job in between the pipes, he doesn't deserve all the credit. His glove was sharp, except where Devin Setoguchi beat him in the first period, but he didn't exactly have to turn cartwheels to make some amazing saves either.

I found out later from my mom that Mason was the second goalie for Columbus, who used all new equipment. He also hadn't won a game since Dec. 29, 2011. Just some food for thought.

Old habits
It seems as though the Wild players have gone back to that old mentality of breaking into a zone only to look up and search for a teammate to pass the puck to, instead of thinking about shooting or scoring a goal. Mikko Koivu seemed to be one of the worst offenders of this Saturday.

Although it wasn't frequent, I also spotted the Wild with three players behind the goal line in the offensive zone at times - not exactly the key place to score a goal. But, old habits die hard. The Wild need to worry more about having a stronger presence in front of the net rather than behind it. Maybe if that was the case against the Blue Jackets, a few of those shots would have made it past Mason - as he was being screened.

Niklas Backstrom didn't have that bad of a game. He gave up a goal in the last minute of the first and second periods, but that was a result of Columbus putting on the pressure late. The third goal was an empty-netter that sailed down the length of the ice.

More boo birds
After the final horn, the Wild quickly skated off the ice and into the locker room. They were whisked away to the sounds of boo birds filling the Xcel Energy Center. It wasn't the first time that's happened this season, and it probably won't be the last.

Also? Can we please get rid of the mascot Nordy? He's really cramping my style.