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.