Monday, December 30, 2013

Wild need to start fresh in the New Year

The Wild have been slumping lately. That's no secret. They lost all four games on a recent road trip, have had trouble putting pucks in the net and seem to have defensive problems when Josh Harding isn't in between the pipes.

A few people have asked me why, or what is making it so difficult for the Wild, especially when they have two of the league's top players in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. They just don't seem to have a knack for scoring. They'd rather pass the puck around 10 times before taking a shot, or send it behind the goal, or look for that perfect play to create a highlight-reel goal.
A lot of the goals scored, garbage goals, are because the Wild switch it up and just throw pucks at the net. You do that enough, good things will come. But taking 90 seconds of a power play to set up a so-called perfect shot, only to have it sail wide or get blocked by a defender, doesn't get the job done.
It seems they're more focused on their system and puck cycling than thinking about the net. Playing your game like this is fine sometimes, but they shouldn't be afraid to take chances either. Crash the net, because you never know what juicy rebounds will be waiting. Throw some pucks upstairs. See what happens.

Trouble between the pipes
The goaltender situation doesn't inspire the best confidence either. Don't get me wrong, Josh Harding has been excellent in what has turned out to be a No. 1-goalie role. He's made some outstanding saves and often gives his team a chance to win. The drawback is his Multiple Sclerosis which could keep him out of the lineup. He missed the last road trip because he needed to make an adjustment to his treatment.
I'm not picking on him and his MS. I think it's amazing he's still playing at such a high level. Kudos. But he may not be reliable because of it, and that's just reality.

Then there's Niklas Backstrom, who's turned into the backup goalie. Some may say he's slumping along with the team, or that he's not playing well when he gets the call because he isn't starting as much as he used to. I honestly think he's past his prime. I don't think he has what it takes to lead the Wild into a deep playoff run.
Who goes where?
Another concern for this team is all the lineup shuffling and minor league call-ups. Head coach Mike Yeo seems to like moving guys around between the different lines. Obviously, it has to do with injuries as well, but a little consistency might not hurt. Let some guys develop a good system together so their play becomes second nature and can result in more offense.

Parise has been out for a couple games already, and might be out for quite awhile, as he continues to heal after he blocked a shot with his foot awhile back. He was supposed to be out for weeks, but surprised everyone when the injury didn't keep him down. He's still paying for it now. I just hope he doesn't return until he's fully ready. Oh, and it'd be nice to have him on the Olympic team, too.
It will be interesting to see how the Wild respond from the slump. Points are extremely important and the Wild can't afford to slip further down in the standings. They need to figure out the scoring problems and find ways to win. They need to get back to whatever they were doing in November when it seemed they couldn't lose.

Here's a big one: They need to start winning on the road. They also need to find ways to compete with some of the powerhouse teams like the Ducks, Blackhawks and Sharks.
Let's hope the Wild can shift play in the right direction in 2014. And fast.

Goodbye to the Dome

Sunday marked the final game in the Metrodome. The Minnesota Vikings managed to pull out a 14-13 win in a season they'd, I'm sure, like to forget. But more important than the meaningless game pitting two non-playoff teams against each other was all the nostalgia surrounding the Dome.
Since I'm not much of a Vikings fan, I pretty much said my goodbyes to the Dome when the Twins had their final season there in 2009. I spent the most time going to Twins games in the stadium that shoehorned baseball inside, after all. My final time in the Dome was actually in 2011, to take in some high school football action in the form of the Prep Bowl.

Nothing but Twins memories

I think the two most exciting memories for a lot of people when it comes to the Dome were in 1987 and 1991 when the Twins took home World Series Championships. Those remain the two biggest bright spots in professional Minnesota sports history anyway.
Unfortunately, while I was walking the planet for both of those historic runs, I don't have the memories of them. I was too young. But I'm told my parents bundled me up in the stroller so we could all wait in line downtown for World Series apparel.
One of my fondest memories at the Dome was the pre-game ceremony for Kirby Puckett's retirement. I just remember that when he came out onto the field and was announced to the crowd, it was the longest I had ever stood to applaud anyone or anything in my young life. I was old enough to know that such an ovation meant something special.
Put me on the scoreboard
I celebrated a couple birthdays there, and my parents put my name in the scoreboard with happy birthday wishes. I attended the game in which Doug Mientkiewicz was traded to the Boston Red Sox that day, which happened to be the visiting team. I participated in the nice ovation fans gave the Gold-Glove first baseman who was part of the Twins American League Central Championship teams.
I attended games with family, friends and even walked on the field. I watched concession prices jump on my favorite snacks, like malt cups, and consumed many hot dogs and pizza slices. I sat in the outfield, second-deck seats, a few rows up behind the plate and down the third baseline where the fact that the Dome was built for football becomes very apparent. I also made my one and only visit to Twins Fest, and then developed a boycott of the event.
I even attended a Vikings game a few years back.
A 30-plus year run for a major stadium isn't bad, but now it's time for it to go. If nothing else, the roof collapse a few years ago was a pretty good sign that this facility is way past its prime.
We'll take the memories, but let's finally put the Dome to rest.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Wild need to beef up scoring in tough road stretch

The Minnesota Wild are in the midst of a stretch of games where they'll lace up for seven of eight on the road. That's not good for a team that clearly plays much better in front of its home fans than in an opposing arena.

The road trip, against some tough opponents, started with back-to-back games out west this week. The Wild lost 2-1 to the Ducks, who lead the Pacific Division and have yet to lose in regulation on home ice. Then it was on to San Jose Thursday where the Wild lost 3-1. Both games, the Wild were down 2-0, had trouble scoring and didn't get on the board until the third period.

It won't get much easier coming up as the Wild will face the Avalanche, just ahead of the Wild in the standings, the Canucks and Metro Division-leading Pittsburgh. The Wild has already slipped in the standings slightly, in a Western Conference where you just can't afford to make too many mistakes. They're winless in their past five road games, going 0-4-1.

Get it together
I can see some bad trends developing here. The Wild may have some good chances, they may outshoot a team, they may have great goaltending from Josh Harding or Niklas Backstrom. But it all comes back to a problem they've known all too well: Scoring.

They just can't seem to punch in the goals when they need to, especially these past couple games when they've been down. Don't be careless with the puck, but don't sit there and wait for that perfect goal either. When you're playing from behind, you should be working extra hard to not only generate chances on the forecheck, but to get shots on net.

Garbage goals still count on the scoreboard. Unless it's against the rules like a puck that's kicked in or batted out of the air with a high stick, it doesn't matter how pretty a goal looks or doesn't look. I think the Wild must get too caught up with trying too hard or something. Even slight hesitations on shots often result in a defender blocking the attempt.

Sorry if this sounds like a broken record. But these scoring issues have spun like a broken record.

Surrounded by strong teams
As I already noted, the Western Conference is a tough one. For instance, the Jets and Predators are tied with 33 points in the Central's basement right now. That point tally would be good enough for third in the Metro Division in the East.

The West is stacked with good teams and talent, from the Blackhawks to the Ducks, Sharks, Avalanche and even the St. Louis Blues are impressive this year. With so much at stake, it's both cliche and very true that each point is important throughout the season. You never know what it will come down to at the end of the season.

I've heard that some have not taken the Wild seriously so far this season, because of a so-called easy schedule. Well, this is the portion of the schedule where you can see what a team is made of.

I hope it's made of some deeper scoring.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Injuries force Dario Franchitti to retire from racing

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum
Four IndyCar Championships (second on the all-time list). Three Indianapolis 500 wins (10th driver to do so). More than 260 starts, 31 wins, 32 poles and more than 100 top-five and top-10 finishes in a race car.

That's a summary of Scotland native Dario Franchitti's Indy racing career, which started in 1997. Thursday, he announced his retirement from the great sport of auto racing. The injuries Franchitti, 40, sustained in a spectacular crash Oct. 6 near the end of the Houston Grand Prix are proving to be too great for him to continue.

He broke his back, an ankle and got a concussion. He was told by doctors that he could no longer race.

When I saw the news come across on social media, my jaw literally dropped open. Really. I guess I just figured he would have the offseason to heal and would return to the driver's seat in 2014.

Don't get me wrong, the crash in Houston in which he went airborne and connected with the catch fence, sending flying debris into the stands, was a pretty scary scene. I think everyone in the racing community was just happy to hear that he was alright. Recent tragedies like that of Dan Wheldon make us all a little more cautious when those more serious crashes occur, I think.

News all over Twitter
As hard as it may be for Franchitti to enter into a forced retirement due to injuries, at least he's still here. The outpouring on Twitter just this afternoon was impressive. I particularly liked this one, from @JaseKM:
"As a friend of Greg Moore & Dan Wheldon, Im sure Dario knows all too well that walking away on your own terms is the greatest victory of all"
Franchitti Tweeted a statement along with a post-Indy 500 victory photo, explaining the situation and expressing thank-yous to many. Over the photo, he added the phrase: "As my buddy Greg Moore would say, 'See you up front.'" Moore was killed in a crash at the Fontana track in 1999.

Franchitti said he hopes to continue with IndyCar in some off-track capacity. I'd welcome that. He's become a notable name, even to those not in tune with the racing world (even if it was because he was married to Ashley Judd). I hope he can continue to promote the sport, join a broadcast team or maybe follow in the footsteps of his fellow drivers Jimmy Vasser and Michael Andretti and own a team.

Plenty of success, just not this year
Franchitti had a bit of a down year in 2013. A dominant racer on one of the elite teams, Team Target Chip Ganassi, he failed to win a race and wasn't in championship contention. The last race he won was the 2012 Indy 500, marking his third victory at the brickyard.

Franchitti not only won the Indy 500 in 2010, he also won at Mid-Ohio that year. It was a race I attended with my dad, and the first (and only, so far) time I've been to that beautiful track.

I will always have a little soft spot for those drivers who were in the CART (and later, ChampCar) series, following the IndyCar split in the mid-90s. Franchitti is one of those guys. I'll overlook 2008 when he went over to the dark side (NASCAR). He raced with the character Paul Tracy for Team KOOL Green. He's also one of the drivers who loves the four-mile road course Road America in Wisconsin. Gotta love that.

Whatever Franchitti decides to do next, after he is fully recovered, I hope he stays in racing somehow. Sure, he kind of annoyed me because he would win all the time (I like underdogs and some variety.), but I hope he can be around to increase the publicity for the sport.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Wild finally break through in the shootout

Brace yourselves. The Minnesota Wild did something the other night that it hasn't accomplished in this young season: Score a shootout goal. And get the SO win.

Before Saturday night's road game against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Wild hadn't won in a shootout. Not only that, it was 0-for-7 in SO scoring opportunities. The game before in Washington also went to a shootout, and that was the first time the Wild netminders stopped a shootout shot this season.

Not only did the Wild score in the shootout, it scored on all three tries from Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville. It gave the team a 3-2 win against the eastern conference team.

Calm down
It was too early to panic about the Wild's lack of any success in shootouts, of course, but it was still painful to watch. If the Wild got into an overtime situation, you just hoped that it would end sometime within that five minutes. Because you knew if it got to a shootout, things didn't look good.

The Wild victory over the Canes was a huge boost.

All that being said, the Wild are in a pretty good situation right now. The shootout loss against the Capitals ended a four-game winning streak. Goaltender Josh Harding has the hot glove right now and has played well, giving his team a chance each game.

The Wild are 10-4-4 and are tied with three other teams in the Western Conference with 24 points. With the West being a stronger conference, the Wild are behind the streaking Colorado Avalanche (13-2-0, 26 points), Chicago Blackhawks (11-2-4, 26) and St. Louis Blues (11-2-2, 24) in a very strong Central Division.

Keep up the solid play
It's a tight race already, and the Wild are in the middle of it. Too early to be standings-watching, maybe, but it's still a lot better than where clubs like Edmonton, Florida, Buffalo or Philly are. All have five wins or less.

Let's hope the Wild can continue to do well. Every point counts. Even in shootout losses.

The Wild just got Charlie Coyle back, and he scored his first goal, after being sidelined with an injury for a few weeks. Mikael Granlund is doing well and has put up points. Rookie Justin Fontaine has found the back of the net all too often so far in the first month; he already has six goals, third-most on the team. Pommer leads the team in goals with 11, Parise is the points leader with 15.

Stick up for your teammates, don't bully them

I don't write a lot about the National Football League, and I rarely write about football. It's not something I follow closely. I'm more likely to keep up with preps or college games, actually.

But with the recent stories in the NFL taking center stage, I wanted to weigh in on the situation involving the Miami Dolphins, Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. There's now an investigation into allegations that Incognito bullied his teammate Martin. Incognito has been suspended and Martin has left the team. Incognito allegedly left a voicemail for Martin where, in part, he said, "I'll kill you."

Oh, and by the way, other NFL players are defending this kind of behavior.

What happens in the locker room
I've heard that players are sticking up for the locker room culture, whatever that is. I've heard players criticize Martin for not being tough enough or not being able to be a man and stand up for himself. I've also read about how teams have all kinds of hazing that goes on. What is this, high school?

Now, there are probably lots of inside jokes or team initiations that can be qualified as pretty harmless. It's about bonding and building that team chemistry camaraderie within locker rooms across professional sports. For example, I know the Minnesota Twins bullpen has, or used to have, a Barbie backpack that rookies would carry out to the pen.

But bullying of teammates shouldn't be tolerated, like in the case of Incognito and Martin. Just saying "that's how locker rooms are" is no different than saying "kids will be kids" when talking about bullying in schools. An NFL teammate who uses the N word and threatens to kill you in a voicemail is crossing the line. There's no need for that.

Tough guys versus cavemen
I know NFL players want to come off as these major-league tough guys - just look at how they pound their chests like cavemen after making a big play during a game. However, being a tough guy isn't the same thing as being a bully.

There needs to be respect between teammates, whether you like them as people off the field or not. At least treat them with respect. Bullying someone, defending those actions and telling the victim to "be a man" are not examples of respect.

This one incident probably won't have a profound affect on the NFL as a whole. I don't think much will change. I guess I'd hope that if there are other bullying instances happening, it would be great to read stories about players stepping up to change that part of the culture for the better, or stick up for a teammate.

I've heard experts talk about how it might be tough for Martin to continue to play in the NFL, because players will view him differently or as being a guy who isn't strong enough to stand up for himself. I don't doubt that this is true, unfortunately, but I hope this doesn't turn out to be the case.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Outshooting, outchancing finally leads to a solid Wild win

With its best game of the young season, the Minnesota Wild beat division-rival (that has a nice ring to it) Dallas Stars 5-1 Saturday night in front of a good crowd at the Xcel Energy Center. It was a game of excitement and firsts for a few Wild players. It also gave the Wild win No. 2 for a 2-1-2 record after starting off with a couple tough overtime and shootout losses.

I didn't make it to a game last season, which was shortened by the lockout. But I returned to the X Saturday with my parents and brother, wearing my red Wild jersey and hockey-puck beads. We had a view in one of the corners on the Wild end.

Being seasoned sports fans, we were in our seats ready for the opening faceoff. Actually, I was pretty jazzed (Do people still say that?) just to see the opening videos they play on the scoreboard before the game, when they turn out all the lights and pump up the crowd before the teams come to the ice. I was very excited to be back.

Fastest goal ever, ever
Anyway, what I was getting at is for those folks who for whatever reason weren't in their seats for the start of the game, they missed out on the Wild's first goal. It came just 12 seconds into the contest, on a pretty feed from Matt Cooke to Justin Fontaine for his first career goal in the NHL. That marked the fastest goal to start a game on home ice for the Wild in franchise history.

About halfway through the period, Cooke grabbed his second point of the night with an unassisted goal. He snuck it past the Dallas goalie so quickly I wasn't even sure what happened. My favorite thing about it? The fact that "C is for Cookie" played in the arena afterward. Yes, Cookie Monster's song from Sesame Street.

I'm still quite cautious about Cooke, the veteran who's new to the Wild this season. He's got a long list of dirty penalties and suspensions to his name. So far though, his name is showing up on the score sheet for goals and assists, not trips to the box. As I've already noted though, the season is young. I'm not on the bandwagon yet.

The excitement wasn't over yet in the first period. The Wild were shorthanded, but that didn't stop both Kyle Brodziak and Cooke from getting breakaway opportunities. Neither scored, but they were still electric plays that brought fans to their feet.

Dumba is no dummy
As the Wild continued to dominate play in the second, another first was on the horizon. Matt Dumba scored on the power play on a nice cross-ice pass from the struggling Dany Heatley to make it a 3-0 game. With that, Dumba became part of the club to score a goal in the NHL.

Still in the second, the Wild went up 4-0 after what looked like Zach Parise jammed away at the puck in the crease and put it past the goalie. There was no goal light or signal from a referee on the ice that I could see, but Wild players celebrated the goal anyway. I'm not sure what the review process was, but the ref quickly signaled a good goal after some conversation. Scorers later gave the goal to Nino Niederreiter, for his first goal in a Wild sweater.

The Wild gave up a shorthanded goal to Dallas in the second, but it was all it would allow.

If you're broken up Parise didn't get that goal, don't be. He notched a power-play tally with 5:30 left in the game to put the Wild up 5-1. And that's how it ended up.

Good consistency finally pays off
Yet again, the Wild outchanced and outshot its opponent, with 36 shots versus 19 for the Stars. It's something the team's been doing consistently already this year; it just hasn't always paid off yet. The Wild were playing well, getting chances, peppering goalies with shots. The results were a shootout loss, an overtime loss which was just a couple seconds away from a shootout and a one-goal loss in Nashville.

Head coach Mike Yeo kept saying that if you do the right things, keep outplaying opponents, the wins will come. Agreed. Although while the Wild was still winless and already occupying the division basement (Yes, I know how early it is to look at that.), it was frustrating to keep hearing that. The Wild still needs to work hard to make sure it's finishing plays, hitting the net with shots and basically just getting the goals.

I liked what I saw Saturday (though I wouldn't mind some more physical play from the Wild at times either), and I just hope the Wild can keep the momentum going.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Wild return for season No. 13

Hockey season has arrived. I love following both baseball and hockey, because when one ends, the other begins. This time, it timed out better than most years. The Twins finished their regular season last Sunday, then just four days later the Wild opened its season at home against the Los Angeles Kings. The NHL is starting earlier this season because of the Olympic break this winter.

After the Wild's dramatic regular-season finish to return to the playoffs at the end of the lockout-shortened season last spring, followed by the early postseason exit at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks, I was excited for the opener the other night.

Comings and goings
The Wild came into this season with some of its veterans and fan favorites. Pierre Marc-Bouchard, Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Cullen and Devon Setoguchi aren't with the club anymore. The Wild didn't make an offer to Minnesotan Cullen, who was on his way to free agency, and instead it signed another Minnesota boy in Keith Ballard for two years.

The feisty hitter and fan-favorite Clutterbuck was traded to the New York Islanders in June for Nino Niederreiter. I was sad to see him go, since he was a big key to Minnesota's hitting, but I'm excited to see what Niederreiter can bring to the table. Bouchard was signed by the Islanders as a free agent.

One of the more interesting acquisitions for the Wild was getting veteran bad boy Matt Cooke, a player with a long list of dirty hits and suspensions on his resume who's trying to convince fans he's changed his ways. I haven't jumped on his bandwagon yet. Let's give it time.

The other big news Thursday, other than opening day, was the Wild signing Jason Pominville to a five-year deal. The Wild picked him up near the end of last season from the Buffalo Sabres.

Line matchups
The Wild still have star power on the top line, with Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Pominville will join Koivu and Parise on the offensive side of the line. The team will also need to rely on some youngsters, too. Everything I hear about Charlie Coyle is positive. I'm hoping he can really have a breakout year and become a leader in the locker room.

The opening-night second line was made up of Coyle, Niederreiter and Dany Heatley. That should be a good mix, although I'd like to see Heatley step up his game a little more this season.

The netminders are back
The goalie situation could be a key factor this year as well. The Wild signed veteran Niklas Backstrom for three more years. He's been great for the Wild, but he's also 35 years old. He didn't see a minute of playoff action, as he suffered an injury during game one warmups in Chicago. It'll be interesting to see how he returns this season.

Backing him up will be the hard-working Josh Harding, who struggled last year off the ice with his medications for multiple sclerosis. Backstrom played a lot last season, and I guess the concern would be what happens if another injury plagues the netminder, or either one starts struggling. We'll see.

NHL realignment
The divisions in the league look different this year as well. Instead of three divisions in two conferences, teams are split into two larger divisions in the Eastern and Western conferences. The changes grouped teams together with a proximity and time zone focus. I think it will be a good thing.

The Wild are in the Central Division in the west. Finally. It makes sense that they're here, since Minnesota is in the middle of the country. They can keep the division rivalry with the Colorado Avalanche, but they join others in the same time zone, rather than a bunch of teams out west like they had before.

With the Wild and Aves are the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Winnipeg Jets, Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars. The Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets made the switch from the Western Conference over to the East.

High expectations
The pressure is on the Wild this year to not only get back to the playoffs, but to win a playoff series. Mike Yeo is in the final year of his contract, and he'll be expected to deliver a playoff-caliber team. Some of the roster moves the past couple years have brought in some good talent. Now they just need to figure out a way to close out games and use that talent to the best of their ability.

It's not just the Wild that have struggled in the postseason. All Minnesota teams have had trouble the past few years actually winning in the playoffs. Just getting there isn't always enough. The fans of the state of hockey are hungry for some playoff wins.

Rolling into the bowling routine

I joined a bowling league in Fergus Falls. I've always enjoyed the sport. It was something I did as an after-school activity in middle school, and I was part of a junior league for a couple years during high school. It's nice to get back in the routine again.

Now, I am by no means a fantastic bowler. My all-time high game was a 200 (actually, a dutch 200 where I alternated strikes and spares every other frame), but that was really some kind of fluke. Rolling anything over 150 is probably a fluke, too.

My average in high school was in the 125-130 range. I throw a 12-pound ball, but I don't generate a lot of speed, and therefore, don't get a lot of pin action. In theory, I should be more focused on accuracy to pick up spares since the strikes don't fall as often. That doesn't always happen though. I've struggled lately with consistency in how I throw the ball.

So far, not so good
Three weeks into the season, and my average sits at a 108. Not exactly where I'd like to be. Of course, I've had a few games in the 90s. Yes, that would be under 100 pins. What's weird is I've gotten a few more strikes than I've expected, but then there are times when I can't seem to pick up a spare.

I also seem to screw up the frames around the few marks I do get. Knocking down anything less than five pins on the first ball after a spare isn't good for making the mark count. Plus, I've thrown some gutters and only managed a couple pins after a strike. Those things don't help the pin count.

My high game so far is 145, which ended week No. 2 where I improved each game. I have slow starts, apparently, because I haven't cracked 100 in my first games yet.

A nice routine for having fun
Even though I may be hard on myself sometimes, because I really just want to improve and be more consistent, I still enjoy being part of the league. It's a nice routine to have, and it's a good chance to meet some new people. I bowl on a women's league with four other teams, five women to a team. It's a nice mix of ages, too.

Well, here's hoping I can figure out how to at the very least break 100 each game from here on out.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Twins keep Gardy around as team's problems run deeper

Sunday was my birthday. It was also the end of another losing, and at times downright pathetic, season for the Minnesota Twins. The team finished the year with a four-game series loss at home to the Cleveland Indians. Within a week, the Twins watched the Oakland Athletics, Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians celebrate their playoff spots.

And at 66-96, the Twins still didn't even manage a 100-loss season. I mean, come on. Might as well hit the century mark and do it up right.

The question of whether Twins manager Ron Gardenhire would be fired at season's end has been in play for a few months, since the ship sailed on any hopes for a successful year. So the speculation grew louder once the final out was recorded, and the Twins announced a Monday news conference.

I even joked that in Gardy's postgame presser Sunday, one of the reporters should ask him, "So, how does it feel to have managed your last Twins game?"

You're not fired
Many other teams would have announced they were firing their manager. Not Minnesota. That's not the Twins way. Gardy will be in the dugout, or in the clubhouse after he kicks some dirt at an umpire, for games the next two years with the Twins. The team gave him a two-year contract extension. They also didn't touch the rest of the coaching staff, unlike the shuffling around they tried before.

I'm really alright with that. I haven't had a "fire Gardy" mentality. I don't think the problem lies with him. I don't see that he's done anything too drastically different than he did when he was winning division titles not long ago (though it seems like ages ago, really). He's the same manager who gets fired up and can argue a call with the best of them.

We've got bigger problems
The problem is with the players and the front office. I'm looking at Terry Ryan. A general manager who probably wishes he wouldn't have come back to this ballclub. But it's not Gardy's fault that the Twins have collapsed the past three years. It's a combination of things, like lack of talent and some head-scratching decisions.

The biggest one that comes to mind for me is trading away outfielder Ben Revere... after they just traded outfielder Denard Span. That one didn't make sense to me. With the feisty Revere coming up and showing he could compete, the writing seemed to be on the wall that Span would be dealt to make room for this young guy to take over center field.

I guess I was wrong. Because the next thing I knew, Revere was gone, too. Now, this is just one example, and certainly not the sole reason for the Twins problems, but it's a move that makes me question the decision makers.

I won't start to dive into all the Twins issues right now, but again, I don't think it would solve anything to get rid of Gardy. Look at the Minnesota Wild. They fired Todd Richards and hired Mike Yeo. Now it looks like Yeo could be on the verge of a make-or-break year if he doesn't start producing some deep playoff runs.

Firing coaches or managers might be an easy decision to try and shake things up, but it isn't always the answer. Sometimes, the problems are deeper than that.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Serena is a good player with a bad attitude

Serena Williams won the women's U.S. Open title Sunday, in a three-set thriller over No. 2-ranked Victoria Azarenka. Williams came back from losing a second-set tiebreaker to win the match 7-5, 6-7, 6-1.

First off, let me be clear about something: I wasn't rooting for either player. In a time when "screaming/shrieking" is a major problem in women's tennis, in my opinion, Azarenka is one of the worst offenders. It's constant, prolonged noise with her on seemingly every point of the match. Serena has her own issues which I'll get to later. While both of these ladies definitely have athletic talent, it's the sportsmanship I have trouble with.

With the win in the nearly three-hour match, Williams won her 17th Grand Slam title, as she chases the greats Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, who each have 18 Slams. Sunday's title match was also the longest women's championship since 1980 when they started keeping track of such things.

Competitive match
No. 1 Williams may have pulled off the win, but she was far from perfect and it showed. After a close first set, she struggled in the second to close out the match. She served for the match at 5-4 and 6-5 in the second set. Azarenka ended up coming back from two breaks down to win the set in a tiebreaker. It was the first set Williams dropped in this year's tournament.

And she was mad. Williams threw her racquet at her tennis bag during the changeover following the second set. Of course, I'm sure she was frustrated, like any player would be. The difference is when things aren't going her way, she makes it very obvious. She's so used to cruising right along and steamrolling opponents that I think she just doesn't know how to handle it when either her opponent steps up her game or she starts making errors.

Williams also had two foot faults called on her by the same line judge. That brought up memories from the 2009 semifinal between her and Kim Clijsters when Williams told a line judge: "If I could, I would take this [expletive] ball and shove it down your [expletive] throat." The remark cost her the match, and she didn't immediately seem apologetic for her words.

A little breezy
The conditions on the court were quite windy during the match, especially at first. Williams seemed to get quite annoyed with the wind a lot. I knew that if she lost the match, she'd have an easy excuse in the wind as to why she wasn't at her best. That's really been my problem with Williams for awhile; when she does lose, she usually comments that it's because of her poor play rather than exceptional play from her opponent.

I don't like playing tennis in windy conditions either. But you just have to adjust and know that your opponent is facing the same battle. It might not make it easier, but that's just the way it is.

Williams had a bunch of momentum in the second set. She was up 4-1 and it looked like the match would end in straight sets. When it's working for her, she gives off a calm, yet dominant demeanor on the court. She almost looks angry sometimes. Nothing wrong with that.

Liking flipping a switch
I just have a problem with her sportsmanship because of how she acts the minute the tide starts to turn. She looks up to her box in frustration, throws her arms in the air, tosses her racquet. Not that she's the only player to do some of these things, but I've just seen how consistent she is with this behavior.

It makes me really wonder what she'll be like the next few years when, like Roger Federer, her dominance will start to fade. How will she react when she starts getting ousted in the early rounds of Slams? I can only expect it will be a continuation of what we already see when she's down in a match.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Morneau trade a reminder sports is a business

It's pretty rare in this day and age that a professional athlete would spend his entire career with the same team. It's the business side of things.

Slugger Justin Morneau is the latest Major League Baseball player to make the move from being a one-team man. The Minnesota Twins traded the former MVP to the Pittsburgh Pirates Labor Day weekend. The move didn't come as some huge shock to the Minnesota sports world. The Twins are struggling for yet another season, and the talented Morneau is a free agent after this season. In fact, Morneau's name came up before the July trade deadline. So in theory, fans had a chance to prepare for him to be dealt.

Like a few professional athletes, Morneau struggled with concussion issues. He suffered the pesky injury in 2010 and arguably hasn't been the same player since then. It's really too bad. Morneau has lots of home run power.

Morneau replaced Dougie
To be honest, I wasn't all that broken up about the trade. Maybe it's because I long ago accepted the reality of sports as a business, and therefore don't like to have lots of favorite players on my hometown team. Or maybe it's because Morneau replaced first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz (who was a player I was fond of).

The Gold Glove Mientkiewicz was traded from the Twins to the Boston Red Sox July 31, 2004. The Twins happened to be hosting the Sox at the Metrodome when the trade took place. My family and I had tickets to the game. It was odd to see Mientkiewicz in a different uniform, but I had no problem being part of the ovation during his first at-bat with his new team. Mientkiewicz went on to catch the final out in the World Series that season.

From then on, when he was healthy, Morneau was the fixture at first base for the Twins. It was nice to have a guy with a powerful home run swing.

A shot at the postseason with the Pirates
It has to be nice for him right now since he was traded to a playoff contender, while the Twins limp through the month of September. Pittsburgh has been a basement-dwelling team for many years, so it's refreshing to see them doing well.

Morneau made it clear, even before the trade, that he loves playing for Minnesota and would like to stay a Twin. Since he is a free agent after the season ends, many fans are saying (hoping?) he'll sign with the Twins. If he does, he'll earn major points in my book, because I'm sure he could get more money elsewhere. If he doesn't, I won't be surprised.

I think one of the biggest factors might be how well the Pirates do this season. If he gets a taste of a World Series, why come back to a Minnesota team that's a mess? It'll be interesting to see what happens. Best of luck Morneau.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Toweling off is mostly a habit for tennis players

The end of summer has a few indicators, some more scientific than others. There's the coffee shops that start peddling their pumpkin-flavored brews, the Minnesota State Fair starting more than a week prior to Labor Day (known as the unofficial end of summer to Minnesotans) and here's the sports one: Players hit the tennis courts in Flushing Meadows for the U.S. Open. The tournament begins Monday.

The U.S. Open is one of the fun grand slams to watch, partly because of the convenience of matches being held in a near-by time zone. In anticipation of the major tournament, ESPN Classic showed classic U.S. Open matches last week.

So far, I've come across a women's final in 1981, where the racquets most certainly looked different than today; a rival match between Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe from 1984, still before my time and a display of men's short-shorts; and a 2004 quarterfinal between Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati.

Time capsules
It's always fun to watch old sporting events. It's a fun little time capsule. The '04 match had some controversial line calls, which resulted in an outburst from Serena and had the commentators begging for video replays. Their wish was granted two years later.

The main thing I noticed however, was how quickly players went from one point to the next. And the absence of toweling off after each point. It was great.

Time to knock the habit
Maybe I've said it before, but I grow annoyed with the habit players have these days of using a beach towel to wipe their face, arms and racquet after points. I say habit because that's what it is. Force of habit.

If you watch your opponent double fault, do you really need to towel off? Or after the first point of the match? Or a short rally?

I'm not saying it isn't necessary sometimes, but the habit doesn't even seem to be about the need anymore. I also don't think players are abusing the privilege by taking too much time in between points. (I'm sure there are some kind of rules in place.) But I wouldn't be surprised if matches were shortened up a bit, time-wise, if players didn't gesture for a linesperson to hand them a towel after each point.

Bring back sweatbands
Whatever happened to wearing sweat bands on your wrists? One of the players in the '81 match rubbed her face on those a number of times. Maybe that's just not cool anymore, much like the shorts McEnroe and Connors once fashioned.

I'm really not trying to pick on tennis too much here as far as the speed of play goes. After all, they have time rules in place for things like changeovers and medical timeouts. I just wouldn't mind seeing it taken a step further and keep towel use at a minimum.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

MLB looks to expand instant replay with challenges

As I scanned some headlines today, I saw the Major League Baseball plans to expand the instant replay feature in 2014.  It's an effort to help with the number of blown calls by umpires.

Baseball owners will vote on the move in November, needing 75 percent approval, and the players' association and umpires would also need to approve any changes. The replay expansion would give managers one challenge over the first six innings of play, and then two from the seventh inning through the remainder of the game.

If a manager sees a call he thinks is incorrect, he can challenge the call with the home plate umpire or crew chief. A MLB crew headquartered in New York will replay the challenge and have the final say. If a play is non-reviewable, and therefore can't be challenged, managers can still argue the call. So, if you like seeing Twins manager Ron Gardenhire get red in the face and throw his hat around, you might still be in luck.

Don't slow it down
A concern throughout baseball, for some, is the pace of the game and how much slower it's gotten over the years. Doing anything to slow down baseball games probably wouldn't be a good idea. But these new replay changes will reportedly have a ruling back within 1 minute and 15 seconds. Current replays for home runs (which will be grandfathered into the new rules) take a little more than three minutes.

So that makes it seem alright. However, managers who win a challenge get to keep it (or lose it if you lose the challenge or don't use it at all). That creates a potential to have multiple challenges per game if both managers use them and win one or two. Then again, there really shouldn't be the need for that many challenges because there shouldn't be that many bad calls during one game.

If you're keeping track, MLB is the last of the four major sports to use a video replay system. It started back in August 2008.

Let's give it a try
I'd welcome the new instant replay rules for baseball. While I don't want to see the games slowed down, to me it's more important to have correct calls than whether a game can get done in under three hours. Being a sport without a clock, baseball games have lots of variables where they can range from two hours to four hours. That's just the way it goes.

This actually made me think of a project in my journalism ethics class from nearly five years ago when we had to present an Ethics Issue of the Day. I, of course, chose something sports related: Instant replay. I still even had my notes on my computer, because I can be an electronic pack rat.

Ethics Issue of the Day
I talked about what sports have instant replay or challenges: The National Football League, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, MLB and United States Tennis Association, but mostly I focused on baseball.

Every sport is different, but I really like the replays in tennis, which started in 2006. All a player has to do is indicate if he or she wants to challenge the last call, and then there's an immediate graphic on the video board, displaying where the ball landed. Sometimes it's just a hair on the line, but it still counts as in. The replay takes just a few seconds and then play resumes.

I also went over the defensible and indefensible ethical issues with instant replay. Things like video replay not fitting with the "spirit" of the sport and even with video review there may not be enough evidence to reverse the call.

Video replay can be a slippery slope because you can always expand it. Then it becomes a question of, where do we stop? I think it's reasonable right now for baseball to try the challenge and review process to try and eliminate some of those bad calls out there.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A little of this and that. Baseball, golf, racing.

A longer, more in-depth blog just isn't coming to me lately. So, I figured I'd touch on a few things. I've got baseball, golf and racing. No hockey, but I'm sure players all over are doing just fine swinging the golf clubs.

2014 All-Star Game at Target Field
The Minnesota Twins unveiled their 2014 All-Star game logo this week. It has the design of the stadium's overhang above the top decks, along with the downtown Minneapolis skyline incorporated into it.

Twins homeboy Joe Mauer is a six-time All-Star. I sincerely hope he's chosen again next year, so he can enjoy the experience on his home turf. Of course, the pessimist in me worries he'll have an injury-plagued season or have an off year at the plate. That'd be about right.

Basically, I hope the Twins have a bigger representation than the standard one required player as part of the American League team.

Nothing to note at trade deadline
Tuesday night, the Twins returned to action at Target Field, in what ended up being a 7-2 loss to the hands of the streaking Kansas City Royals. One bright spot? Joe Mauer, who was out of the lineup for a week after the birth of his twin girls, swung at the first pitch he saw (yes, the first one) and came up with an RBI single. That's why he's an All-Star.

During the game, former Twins manager Tom Kelly joined Dick Bremer in the broadcast booth to offer his always-fun color commentary. I think I remember him saying that the Twins wouldn't have an eventful trade deadline. He was right.

The Twins traded backup catcher, who's been in Mauer's shadow, to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a player to be named later. While first baseman Justin Morneau's name was thrown about for the trading block, he remained safe for now. But there's still the waivers route, and he is a free agent at the end of the season.

3M Championship week
The 3M Championship golf tournament is this week in Blaine, Minn. Senior PGA players venture to the north metro area and play at a course the legendary Arnold Palmer designed. He also shows up to play some exhibition rounds, too.

Golf isn't a top sport for me. I usually catch a little of the major tournaments on TV, and I used to play a bit more as a kid. But the 3M Championship has a special place in my sports reporter heart. I covered it three years in a row as an intern while I developed some journalistic chops. I learned a few new things about golf, got a chance to do some writing and simply had a good experience covering an event.

It was also where I met some of the sports journalists I look up to, like Patrick Reusse, Jim Souhan and Brian Stensaas from the Minneapolis Star Tribune. A couple years later when I landed a part-time gig in the Strib's sports department, they were my colleagues, and I particularly got know Brian (aka @stensation) a little better. Now we're Facebook friends and keep up with each other via the good ol' Twitter machine.

IndyCar heads to Mid-Ohio this weekend
I might have had a pretty good blog post... if I would be on my way to Mid-Ohio for the IndyCar race this weekend (like my parents). My dad and I went to Mid-Ohio in 2010 for the first time, and I really enjoyed the track. It reminded me a lot of the Road America track in Wisconsin (where IndyCar desperately needs to make a triumphant return).

Driver Scott Dixon finally found his stride this year and is riding a three-race win streak into the beautiful road course in the middle of Ohio. It also happens to be a track where he's done well in the past. We'll have to see if he can keep it going for win No. 4, or if someone else will be able to take the checkereds first.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

What's new in IndyCar: Pocono, Toronto and Team Target's good fortune

As an IndyCar fan, you understand that it's most definitely not a top-tier sport. You understand that most people still don't even know what it is, until you mention the Indianapolis 500 (and maybe not even then). You also get used to some of the television coverage issues that pop up, like cutting it short because it's over time.

This isn't too much of an issue as it was many 10 or 20 years ago, but I think my most recent example takes the cake. The IndyCar Series was at Pocono for the first time since 1989 a couple weeks ago. My dad told me the day before that TV coverage was from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

So imagine my surprise when I came back from church to find a local church service (yes, that's right) on the Fargo ABC affiliate from 11 a.m. to noon. They joined the race in progress, about 57 laps in. I missed the start of the race, which my dad told me was different than usual and was three-wide, and I basically missed about one-third of the race.

Not cool.

Return to Pocono
Anyway, now that I have that off my chest, let's talk about some racing. Marco Andretti started from the pole (or so I read) and he had high hopes for a win at what he considers a home track. Though he's had a long winless streak, he's raced well this season and has contended for the championship points lead.

He led a lot of laps at Pocono, but I think it was some fuel strategy that did him in. It's been no secret that the powerhouse teams of Penske and Target have struggled this year. The Target boys hadn't won a race at all, which seems just unheard of.

They turned it around in a big way at Pocono, with a Target sweep of the podium. It was Scott Dixon with the win, followed by teammates Dario Franchitti and Charlie Kimball. With such an entertaining season, I guess it was OK to give Target one day in the sun.

Bumper cars on pit lane
One of the funniest moments of the race happened on pit lane. Well, maybe it wasn't really funny. I suppose you could say it was a head-shaker. Ryan Hunter-Reay, still in the hunt for the championship, was headed down pit lane. The next thing he knew, Takuma Sato came flying into the scene and hit Hunter-Reay's car. Seriously.

By the way, there is a speed limit for drivers when they're on pit lane.

I personally loved the cut to Hunter-Reay's radio with his team owner Michael Andretti, who said he "saw it with his own two eyes." (Inside joke with my dad.) Hunter-Reay was able to get his car on the track again, but he was a few laps down and took a hit in the points.

I'll tell you what I did like though. It was the interview with Sato where he took full responsibility for the collision. He said it was his fault, he made a mistake and he just came into the pits too fast (obviously). I really liked that. So often drivers tend to blame others for racing incidents, rather than take responsibility or use the appropriate phrase: "that's racing." So, kudos to Mr. Sato.

Team Target. It's like the New York Yankees
It's no secret that Team Penske and Team Target are IndyCar's top teams. At least, it's been that way for years. But they've struggled this season, which is unlike them. Underdog teams and first-time winners have found the spotlight, and Andretti Autosport has really started hitting victory lane hard.

I finally realized however, that Team Target, with its owner Chip Ganassi, is just like the New York Yankees ball club. See, the Yankees often have some early season struggles where they tumble in the standings. Everyone seems to get all hot and bothered and worried they won't make the postseason. So what happens? October baseball in New York.

With Team Target, not only did it fail to win races earlier this year, it just plain struggled. Then Dixon wins the last three races in a row, including the two in Toronto. He moved into seventh place on the all-time win list behind the legendary A.J. Foyt and guys with the last names of Unser and Andretti. Basically, Dixon has become a game-changer and is making a charge for the championship.

Dario's luck
His teammate Franchitti also has lady luck on his side. Take the 2012 Indianapolis 500, where he and Sato touched wheels in turn one on the final lap. I thought for sure it would send them both into the wall. Nope. Just Sato and Franchitti went on to the checkered flag.

Then in Toronto, he and rival Penske driver Will Power made contact. Power was knocked out of the race, but Franchitti finished on the podium. Race officials later decided to penalize Franchitti 10 spots, but that was later overturned. (Get it together, IndyCar.)

Anyway, it just seems like Team Target can really make a comeback. Just as easily as the Bronx Bombers.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Minnesota Wild sign dirty player Matt Cooke for 3 years

The Fourth of July in 2012 was marked with the usual summer traditions of parades, good food and great friends. But there was one other thing that made it a stand-out day in the state of hockey: The signings of top free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to the Minnesota Wild.

That was some pretty exciting news for hockey fans in the land of 10,000 lakes. Fast forward to the National Hockey League's free agent season this year, and it's a different story for the Wild.

Adding the wrong Cooke to the kitchen
Player Matt Cooke, 34, made the biggest headline splash. The Wild signed him to a three-year, $7.5 million deal, and let's just say the Minnesota fans aren't too happy with the move. If you know the difference between an enforcer and a goon in the NHL, I would classify Cooke as a goon.

I know the Wild hasn't been known as a tough team. They don't have the physicality of others out there. But I don't want them to do it this way. I don't want to win because we have a goon on the team who specializes in taking runs at players and injuring them.

Wild fans got a good taste of Cooke when he was with the Vancouver Canucks a few years back. His reputation is a cheap-shot artist on skates. That's the difference between being an enforcer. He's not a clean player, though from what I've read he's allegedly changed his ways and is more focused on scoring.

He needs to prove that to Wild fans.

Just a dirty player
Cooke played with the Pittsburgh Penguins and won a Stanley Cup with that team in 2009. But I don't think that's what people remember about him. He's a notoriously dirty player. That's where the focus lies.

Search for "Matt Cooke" on and here's what you get: Checking from behind, player injured by Cooke's skate, Cooke's "cheapshotting history," taunting, hipchecking, chirping, knocking out Marc Savard and elbowing. And that's only the first page of results.

You don't see a bunch of highlight-reel goals or overtime winners for Cooke. It's not scientific or anything, but it's a pretty good indicator of the type of player he's been. He will have a very tough time escaping his reputation, if he has in fact changed his ways.

Bad reactions
My brother texted me about the Cooke acquisition by the Wild. It would've been great to have Twitter right in front of me to see the reactions of hockey fans. I did scan back later though, and right away Star Tribune Wild beat writer Michael Russo noted how Minnesota fans were not happy. That was my gut reaction as well.

Here are a few related Tweets regarding the Cooke deal:

@_Happy_Gilmore: Minnesota Wild have signed Matt Cooke to a 3 yr deal with $75,000 in incentives if he takes his skate off and tries to stab someone.

@jclong: The #MnWild signing Matt Cooke is kinda like finding out your sister is now dating a guy that beat you up when you were younger.

@vlamb24: Really, Matt Cooke?? I guess it will be like learning to cheer for Bertuzzi.

Other Wild roster changes
In other moves, the Wild traded fan-favorite and heavy hitter Cal Clutterbuck. I'm sorry, but I'd rather have the scrappy Cal than the dirty Cooke. The team also told Minnesota native and veteran player Matt Cullen that he wouldn't be asked back with the Wild, so he signed with Nashville for a two-year deal. Pierre-Marc Bouchard inked a one-year deal with the New York Islanders.

Just before the Cooke move lit things up Friday, the Wild dealt Devin Setoguchi to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for a second-round pick in 2014. Not everyone is leaving, however. The Wild signed Baudette, Minn. native and former Minnesota Golden Gopher Keith Ballard to a two-year deal and re-signed defenseman Jared Spurgeon for three years.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Multiple firsts at Target Field, for Kyle Gibson and my friends

If you showed up late - after the first inning - to Target Field Saturday for the afternoon matchup between the Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals, you missed most of the game's excitement.

The Twins beat the Royals 6-2 on a beautiful afternoon, and they scored five runs in the first inning. Kansas City pitcher Wade Davis had a lot of trouble finding the strike zone, which was evident by a number of walks. When he did find the zone, the Twins pounded the pitches for hits. It took 53 pitches to get through the first inning.

The key hits for the Twins came from Justin Morneau, with a two-run double, and Trevor Plouffe, with a two-run homer to left field. That got the crowd of 36,000-plus to its feet. It's not often the Twins put up a five spot in the first inning.

Davis struggled in the second as well and didn't even record an out before the Royals turned to their bullpen. The Twins offense was pretty well tamed after that. Davis threw 69 pitches and only recorded three outs, which apparently is a record for the highest number of pitches to get three outs.

The Kansas City Royals loaded the bases in the eighth inning Saturday, but
Twins pitcher Casey Fien was able to get out of the it with two strikeouts.
The baseball is in the white circle. Photo credit: Kevin Hanson.
First start 'at the major league level'
One of the most exciting things about the game however, was the major league debut of Twins starting pitcher Kyle Gibson, a 25-year-old righthander who was a first-round draft pick. He got the win Saturday, becoming the first, first-round pick to win his first start in the majors in Twins history. That's a lot of "firsts," but you get the idea.

Righthander Kyle Gibson pitched
six strong innings Saturday.
The first pitch Gibson threw was hit pretty well to the left field corner by Alex Gordon. From where our seats were, in section 329 in left field, I couldn't see where the ball was. Luckily it was caught for the first out of the inning. I was nervous that the ball was headed for the bleachers, and that Gibson could be in for a long day.

But Gibson had a strong outing. He got into a little trouble in the third inning when he gave up the two runs, but he got out of the jam and went on to pitch six innings for a quality start. He gave up eight hits and the two earned runs but didn't walk a batter and notched five strikeouts.

I think maybe some people thought he'd be back out for the seventh, so he didn't get as much of an ovation as he deserved after he walked to the dugout following the sixth inning and his 91 total pitches.

Reading the game recap from the Star Tribune, I guess Gibson wanted to go back out for the seventh as well. He told pitching coach Rick Anderson to leave him in until a runner reached base. Anderson didn't go for the idea from the rookie pitcher, which is probably just as well.

Gibson looks promising as a strong part of the Twins rotation that can have its share of off days. The Indiana native had a setback with Tommy John surgery in 2011, but I'm hoping to see him on the mound for awhile.

Reunion and birthday celebration at the ball park
The game Saturday was exciting for reasons other than the play on the field. I attended with four of my friends and former co-workers from the Austin Post-Bulletin. We started the day with food and drinks at Hubert's, and then got to Target Field just in time for the game.

For my friends - Kay, Kevin, LeAnn and Rose - it was their inaugural visit to Target Field. On such a warm, sunny summer day, I'm pretty sure they all enjoyed it. It helps when there's a good game being played as well.

Saturday, June 29, was also Kay's birthday. And boy, do we know how to celebrate birthdays. Did you also know that June 29 was the late Twins Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew's birthday, too? If you didn't, Kay will tell you. She's so proud to have that Harmon-birthday connection, and I don't blame her.

So to sum up Saturday's outing, it was a day filled with good weather, good baseball and good friends. One of those days that gives meaning to the saying, "time flies when you're having fun."

Happy birthday, Kay!
Kevin, Heather, Kay, Rose, LeAnn. Photo credit: Target Field usher.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Blackhawks win the Cup with two late goals

The Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup this week, defeating the Boston Bruins in six games. It's the second Cup for the Hawks in four years.

Usually I can find one team to root for over the other in a playoff series, based on a variety of reasons. But I really didn't care who won this time. I just wanted to see some good hockey. I was hoping for game seven, which looked pretty likely with a couple minutes left at the end of game six in Boston.

Then things got crazy for a 17-second period of time.

With Chicago leading the series 3-2, Boston took a 1-0 lead and looked good in the first period. The game was knotted at one goal apiece for much of the second and third periods. It just had the feel of a game where the next goal would win it, for a 2-1 final score.

Chicago took advantage of what may have been Boston sitting on its heels late in the game. Bryan Bickell (who scored the overtime goal in game one against the Minnesota Wild in the opening round, just saying) scored with 1:16 left. Tie game.

Overtime? Aww, not again.
Now, I was in my pjs on the couch waiting for the game to finish so I could go to bed after a long day. My first thought was: "I don't want to stay up and watch overtime." Which I would have, because it's the Cup. Maybe not the best sports-fan thing to say when a do-or-die game gets tied up, but whatever.

So, as play resumed, I watched Chicago grab the puck again and then watched in almost disbelief as Dave Bolland scored what turned out to be the Stanley Cup-winning goal. The tying and winning goals were 17 seconds a part.

It went from Boston looking like it'd force a game seven back in Chicago, to the Blackhawks forging ahead and finishing off the series right there. In 17 seconds. That's why they play all 60 minutes. All 60 of them.

I'm reminded of a line from D3: The Mighty Ducks, from Coach Orion: "How long does it take to score a goal? (throws a puck at the bulletin board with angry force) Less than a second! That means no lead is safe if you can't play defense."

He makes a good point.

Season's over
So with the hoisting of the Stanley Cup, and the booing of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman who presented the trophy, the lockout-shortened 2013 NHL season is in the books. The lockout was another embarrassing blow to the less-than-popular sport.

At least the Wild made the playoffs, even if they did carry on the growing Minnesota tradition of exiting in the first round. I hope the team can build on that for next season. I want them back in the playoffs, and I want them to win a series.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tony Kanaan swigs the Indy 500 milk on his 12th try

To tell you the truth, I had every intention of writing a post-Indy 500 blog about Brazilian driver Tony Kanaan. I just had no idea I'd be writing it after he became an Indianapolis 500 champion.

Kanaan won the 97th running of the Indy 500 Sunday, on his 12th attempt at the greatest spectacle in racing. He finished first during a record-setting race. Kanaan's average speed of 187.433 mph broke Arie Luyendyk's record from 1990, 68 lead changes doubled the record set just last year of 34 and 14 of the field of 33 drivers led a lap at some point.

Sunday's race went down as an instant classic in my book. It was exciting from start to finish and was mostly full of green-flag racing. Cautions were at a minimum, and there weren't any real multi-car crashes that often plague races. Unfortunately, the race ended under caution after last year's winner Dario Franchitti, who struggled all month at Indy, hit the wall.

Who's gonna win?
With a jumbled field, it was tough to make a pick for the winner, but I went with 2012 IndyCar Champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, and my dad picked 2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon. Many people picked Marco Andretti, who started third and ended up fourth. I think he and Kanaan were both sentimental favorites.

It's always a small victory when the field makes it through the first corner and first lap of green-flag racing. JR Hildebrand, who was one corner away from winning in 2011, was the first to meet the wall when his car got loose. Luckily, that wasn't a regular occurrence throughout the race.

The battles for the lead were constant between the front runners of Kanaan, Ed Carpenter and Marco Andretti. It was just an all-around good race, really. If you missed it, you missed out.

TK was a CART guy
Kanaan, also known as TK, is called a fan favorite. He earns extra points with me because he was a CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) driver in the years of the IndyCar split. He's won some races and has been a pretty average driver. Who knows how many races he would have won if he'd been a part of the powerhouse teams of Penske or Target Chip Ganassi.

After the grid was set for this year's Indy 500, my dad and I mulled over the jumbled field. Indiana native Ed Carpenter nabbed the pole, rookie Carlos Munoz started second (and drove a helluva race) and Penske and Target drivers weren't actually up near the front.

I asked dad about Kanaan, and he said he might end up being one of the great drivers to never win at the storied speedway of Indianapolis. I agreed with him. I figured Kanaan would join the ranks of drivers like Michael Andretti, who dominated races and led many laps, but never won at Indy thanks to the well-known "Andretti Curse."

Kanaan had his share of bad luck at Indy as well. He crashed as a rookie in 2002, he finished in the top 10 the next four years, he set a record by leading at least a lap in each of his first seven Indy starts (but he couldn't get a win), then he crashed in 2008 and 2009, he finished third in 2012. It just never seemed to be his day.

Until Sunday.

"I got a little bit of luck today," Kanaan said, in victory lane. "Again, it's for the fans."

Fitting Indy 500 champions
It was two years ago today, May 29, 2011, that the late Dan Wheldon won the Indy 500 for the second time. It turned out to be his last win ever, as he was killed in a terrible crash that October in Las Vegas.

Franchitti and Kanaan (along with former racer Bryan Herta) spoke about their good friend and fellow competitor Wheldon during his memorial service. It seems pretty fitting that Franchitti and Kanaan won the next two Indy 500s. Wheldon must be looking down with those big pearly whites of his.

Kanaan will turn 39 in December. That's not necessarily "old" when it comes to racing standards, but he's certainly a veteran. If he's considering retirement at all now or in the near future, I think his decision might be a little easier because at least he'll have his face on the Borg-Warner trophy.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Minnesota Wild just can't finish, sees season end

Predictably, the Minnesota Wild lost its opening-round playoff series to the Chicago Blackhawks in five games. Chicago is one of the best teams in hockey, and the Wild just didn't match up.

The Wild's season ended with a 5-1 loss in Chicago. One of the things head coach Mike Yeo said during his postgame news conference was that they just couldn't seem to buy that first goal. That's definitely accurate. Even in game 5, the Wild got off to a good start, just like other games in the series. But they just had trouble getting the puck past Chicago goalie Corey Crawford.

One of the big problems is that the Wild just couldn't finish plays. Sure, some of it has to do with the goaltender in the net. But that has been the case for the Wild often in the playoffs. First, it was Jean-Sebastien Giguere shutting them down in the 2003 Western Conference finals. Then they met up with division-rival Colorado and Jose Theodore in 2008. Crawford played very well for the Blackhawks this year as well.

What if?
I did play with some what-ifs? when it came to goaltending. During the opening round, Vancouver made a goalie switch because of poor play, though it didn't help and they were swept out of the playoffs. The Pittsburgh Penguins also had some issues with Marc-Andre Fleury, who looked just terrible in a loss to the New York Islanders.

Why couldn't the Wild have matched up against an opposing goalie who was less than stellar? That's more frustration than anything else though.

And how about the Wild's Niklas Backstrom getting injured in warmups before the first game? He was great for the Wild all season but didn't play a single minute in the postseason. Then Josh Harding was injured, and the pipes were turned over to rookie Darcy Kuemper.

That's just some bad luck. Not an excuse for why the Wild lost the series, but it certainly was a factor that wasn't beneficial.

Own worst enemy
I know that the Wild didn't help themselves. They couldn't score on the power play either, which put them at a huge disadvantage. It wasn't that the Wild weren't getting the opportunities with the man advantage; the referees were actually nice enough to blow their whistles. But the parade to the penalty box for the Blackhawks didn't equal goals on the scoreboard for the Wild, which was a problem.

Watching the end of game five and realizing the Wild just didn't have enough to come back was frustrating. With any sport, the excitement of the postseason is so exciting and intense, that it's always hard to see the ride end.

I hope the Wild can build off of some of the strides this year (this lockout-shortened year, remember) and come back improved next season. The Wild signed two of the biggest free agents last July 4th in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. It's the belief of many, and me, too, that the Wild needs to go out and sign a strong goaltender. Get a big name, or someone who Backstrom can pass the torch to for the Wild.

I just hope next season goes well. Too bad we have to wait until next fall for the Wild to drop the puck again.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Minnesota Wild hits a win at home

The No. 8-seeded Minnesota Wild entered Sunday down two games to none in the series with the dominant Chicago Blackhawks. Game three was extremely crucial. A Chicago victory pushing the series lead to 3-0 would pretty much spell "game over" for the Wild, but a 2-1 series would bring some life to the state of hockey.

Luckily for the Wild, the result Sunday was a 3-2 overtime victory at the loud Xcel Energy Center, putting the Wild right back into the series and, maybe more importantly, avoiding a four-game sweep. It was already the second overtime game in the series.

I had an event to attend during the game, so I was pretty proud that I was able to watch the entire game I had recorded without being spoiled. The Wild started off slowly, with a bit of the same play that plagued them during Friday's lopsided 5-2 loss in Chicago. They weren't winning the races or putting pressure on with the forecheck. It looked early like the Wild hadn't changed much in the game plan.

Wild uses 'hatred' to advantage
Then things started to turn around as the first period moved along. The Wild were not only hanging with the Blackhawks, but they were taking some control of the game as well. Before the game, Wild head coach Mike Yeo used the word "hatred" as something he wanted to see in this series from his players. They certainly stepped up to that task and started hitting. It was a constant all game long.

Once the Wild got going, they started dominating in the shots-on-goal category. They peppered Chicago goalie Corey Crawford, who to his credit played outstanding throughout the game. Despite the pressure, it was Chicago that struck first, grabbing a 1-0 lead.

Fast forward to 1:30 left in the first period, and it was Pierre-Marc Bouchard who fired a pretty backhander over Crawford's glove for a top-shelf goal to tie the game. It was a huge momentum boost the Wild needed at the first intermission.

Finally, a lead
It was more of the same in the second period, as the Wild continued to pressure, hit and use the forecheck to their advantage. The game was still knotted at 1 until about three  minutes into the third period when hard-working goal scorer Zach Parise gave the Wild the lead with a shot pretty much like Bouchard's, hitting the right top-shelf.

It seemed the Wild did back off slightly as the minutes ticked down. Chicago had a few strong offensive zone cycles with the puck that looked like a power-play unit out there, except it was 5-on-5 hockey. With a couple minutes remaining, the Blackhawks managed to tie the game at 2. A potential series-breaking goal that sent the game into overtime for the second time in three games between the two clubs.

As many fans probably do during the playoffs, I watched the overtime play with a nervous feeling in my stomach. I just wouldn't be surprised if Chicago got that final tally. Some games are dominated by one team, but then it's the opponent that just gets lucky or is able to cash in even though they're down in the shots category. It felt like that could be the end result.

Anything can happen in OT
But only a few minutes into the extra session, the speedy rookie Jason Zucker became the hero. He took a sharp-angle shot near the goal line and it went in, electrifying the atmosphere on the ice and in the arena. And where did the goal enter the net? Top right shelf.

Yeo got his first playoff win as the Wild's head coach, and goalie Josh Harding got his first playoff win between the pipes. Harding started in game one after Niklas Backstrom was injured in warmups; Harding played outstanding and deserved the win in that game as well.

The win was just the boost the Wild needed, after losing 2-1 in overtime in a winnable game one, and a 5-2 thumping where they were outplayed in game two. Even though they weren't facing elimination in the best-of-7 series Sunday, it sure felt like a must-win game.

Still work to be done
Even with the win, the series is not over. The Wild need to bottle this effort today and keep that up for game four on Tuesday. Chicago is a team full of talent and proved the other night it can dominate. The Wild needs to have another superb effort to try and tie the series before heading back to Chicago.

So many counted the Wild out before a pucked drop in this series. I think they've done better than expected already. Just having two out of three games go to overtime says a lot to me anyway. The Wild may have gotten their one playoff win already. Though that might be more realistic, I hope that's not the case. Time to really prove the doubters wrong, boys.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Playoff drought ends for Minnesota Wild

The fans in the State of Hockey rejoiced Saturday night as the Minnesota Wild made the playoffs for the first time since winning the Western Conference Northwest Division in 2008.

I should say, they snuck into the playoffs. In typical Minnesota fashion, the Wild didn't clinch the No. 8 spot in the 2013 Western Conference Playoffs with dominant play. It seemed it was more of the "trying not to lose" mentality that plagues teams time and time again.

But I digress. Let's just take a few moments to realize what the Wild accomplished with the 3-1 win in Colorado Saturday. They didn't get any help from other teams, so they needed to win that final game to make the dance. That's as it should be.

The Wild held a 2-1 lead in the third period, and I got nervous as the chances piled up but the goals did not. They had a long 5-on-3 opportunity with not a lot of shots. I believe it was Jason Zucker who used some great speed and got a breakaway chance, but again came up empty.

With no insurance goals, I was crossing my fingers the clock would just get to zero already. It wasn't until just a few ticks remained that Pierre-Marc Bouchard slipped in an empty-net goal to seal the deal. Then the Wild bench erupted in jubilation.

Luckily, it made up for the fact that the Wild lost at home to Calgary earlier in the week, then again Friday night in a brutal 6-1 defeat to Edmonton. I'm glad we don't have to point to those games as two reasons why the Wild players would be polishing up the golf clubs right now.

Now it's on to the next test, facing off against the No. 1-seed Chicago Blackhawks. And hey, they're good, and very deserving of their place on top. They started this lockout-shortened season with a 13-0-3 record. On the bright side, that record contains a shootout loss to the Wild. So there's that.

The Wild have seemed to play well on the road lately while they've struggled at home. Maybe that will come in handy since they will obviously not have home-ice advantage.

Another thing to remember? The Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup last year. As the No. 8 seed. The odds of it happening two years in a row probably aren't the greatest, but it doesn't matter. Just like the Wild's limp into the playoffs doesn't matter. Once you're in, anything can happen.

The Wild already proved that with their awesome run in 2003. They came back from series deficits to beat Colorado and Vancouver on the road. I'll never forget Andrew Brunette's overtime goal in game 7 against Colorado. Simply amazing.

If you need at least one other positive for the Wild versus Chicago matchup, take this one: The series will be played entirely in the Central time zone. How's that for fan-friendly?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Watchin' and bloggin' - Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

It was 10 years ago that my family took our spring break vacation out to the west coast. We took in some of the sights, visited the Queen Mary and Disneyland. We also attended the IndyCar race on the streets of Long Beach. It was my one and only time at the race.

I sure wanted to go back Sunday for the 39th running of the Grand Prix of Long Beach, and not just because I was jealous of the 70-degree and sunny weather.

The first thing the broadcasters addressed during race coverage wasn't who was on the pole, the past winners at Long Beach or the starting grid. They talked about the security measures in place for the weekend in light of the bombings earlier in the week at the Boston Marathon. They also mentioned that the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach was the biggest sporting event in the country this weekend, with more than 200,000 people showing up.

I wrote this entry throughout the race, so this as close to a live blog as you might get from me.

Start your engines
Dario Franchitti got the pole position, which was interesting since he's had a tough start to the season for the dominant Target Chip Ganassi team. The Andretti name has also had plenty of success in Long Beach, so I was hoping Marco could continue what his grandfather Mario and father Michael had started. Unfortunately, Marco started third from the back in 26th position due to a penalty in qualifying.

The field got through the first turn cleanly and even the first couple of laps before a full-course caution as Sebastian Saavedra hit the tires hard after he tried to make a pass on Simona de Silvestro. It looked like Ryan Hunter-Reay got a great jump on the restart and grabbed the lead from Franchitti, but the pass didn't last into turn one.

Takuma Sato finally got by Hunter-Reay and set his sights on the lead. It reminded me of last year's Indianapolis 500 on the final lap. Franchitti and Sato got tangled up in turn one which sent Sato flying into the wall. I thought for certain they'd both go, but Franchitti managed to stay on track for the last couple of turns and the checkered flag.

Alex Tagliani and Charlie Kimball raced side by side and had a good battle going before they made contact with each other for another caution around lap 30. Too bad NBC Sports cut away from that action to show leader Franchitti in the pits. Oh well. There will always be that second-guessing of broadcasts.

Bring out the yellow again
The restart at lap 35 was short lived, as turn one finally caused some carnage. It was a slow start at the line, though leader Sato got a good jump. James Hinchcliffe got squeezed on the inside. Contact was made and parts went flying. E.J. Viso was also involved but quickly spun around and got going again. Hinch's day was done for the second race in a row, however, after he won the opener on the streets of St. Petersburg.

Back to green racing, Justin Wilson got around Will Power for seventh position. Then Oriol Servia was right on Power as well. It didn't look like Power's car had a good day. You don't expect such a dominant racer to hold up traffic and get passed consistently.

The rookie who's already impressed this season, Tristan Vautier, used some strategy to his advantage. He started dead last in 27th but was running in third with less than half of the race remaining. There was plenty of position shifting throughout the race with the restarts, good passing and pit strategy. Wilson didn't have a qualifying time putting him near the back, but he worked hard to run up in the top five.

Hunter-Reay got into the tires in turn eight with 30 laps to go after he went in with too much speed. That brought out another yellow, and a bunch of drivers into the pits for their routine stops. Power and Vautier had contact in the pits as Power was going into his box at the same time Vautier was leaving in their bordering pit boxes.

Movers on the restart
With 25 laps to go, Sato cleanly kept the lead. Drivers were on their push-to-pass buttons on the straightaways as they either defended their positions or tried to get close enough for passes. Andretti, still with a couple pushes left, got by Simon Pagenaud, who had used all his pushes for the race.

Graham Rahal had a good day. In the remaining laps, he was in second chasing down Sato in hopes of taking the lead. Sato held a two-second lead over Rahal with 11 laps to go, and that gap seemed to get bigger. Make that a five-second lead with three laps left.

Servia and Tony Kanaan got together in turn one with two laps to go. It started out as a local yellow, but the full-course caution came on the final lap. Too bad such a great race couldn't finish under green.

Another first-time winner
Sato gets the win. And his boss, the legendary A.J. Foyt, wasn't there to celebrate with him, as he's scheduled to have surgery soon. It was the first win for Foyt's team since Kansas in 2002. Sato was clearly excited on his victory lap. This was 52nd career start.

Other drivers that got their first career victory on the streets of Long Beach include current drive Mike Conway, Juan Pablo Montoya, Paul Tracy and Michel Andretti.

Three races so far in 2013. Two drivers with their first-ever IndyCar win. It's kind of refreshing to have some new blood in victory lane.

What a great finish for Wilson as well. From not even getting a qualifying lap in, to a spot on the podium. That's a pretty good rebound to wrap up the weekend. It's good proof that anything can happen on race day. Rahal finished second.

Pretty good race overall.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

In Boston Marathon aftermath: Live, laugh, love

Yesterday was a dark day for the city of Boston, its annual marathon and our country as a whole.

Three people are dead - one of them an 8-year-old boy - and more than 130 people were injured after two bombs exploded near the finish line of the 117th annual Boston Marathon Monday afternoon. My thoughts are with all of those who were affected.

It was one of those days that had many people glued to social media and televisions as details about the horrific incident came in. One of those days when I imagine parents hug their children a little tighter. Or if you're a journalist, it's a day when breaking news takes over.

Day turns to breaking news
I was in the newsroom when I heard about the reported explosions, and I quickly turned to Twitter as my feed began rolling with Tweets mostly all dealing with the bombing. I knew I needed to get something up with a Breaking News banner on our paper's website, so I Googled and searched for some information before the Associated Press had a story up for me to grab.

My afternoon then turned into a constant pattern of updating the web with the most updated AP story, along with scrolling through Tweets and Facebook posts to find out the latest reports. I also found the race results of a Fergus Falls man who had finished the race and was given his cell phone number to try for an interview.

I had heard reports of cell service being shut down, so when I didn't get through to the local runner, I began an interview via a string of text messages. He and his wife were safe and were out of the area when the blasts occurred. He ended his last text to me by saying he was going to spend the rest of the evening with his wife on their anniversary.

Take a moment
Some of the AP stories offered graphic details about the scene and the trauma that people endured. I did watch one short video of the explosions, from the sports reporter at the Boston Globe. That was pretty raw.

After seeing that and then a few photos, I stopped focusing with my reporter's hat on for a moment and quickly said a silent prayer for everyone involved. In all the hustle and bustle of breaking news, sometimes you just need to take a moment and think about what is happening, regardless of the news element.

As I watched the special coverage on NBC Monday night, I started thinking about the safety of other major sporting events in this country. The Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500 are two of the first ones I thought of, being a race fan, and they attract hundreds of thousands of people. Not to mention all the other sporting and recreational events.

Too many tragedies, too often
In less than a year we've seen that movie theaters and kindergarten classrooms are not exempt from violent tragedies either, with Aurora, Colo. and Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The movie theater shooting tragedy came into my mind over the weekend, actually. I went to see the late showing of the new Jackie Robinson movie "42." Having arrived a few minutes early, I was the only one in the theater for a bit. There weren't any pre-preview commericals running on the screen or anything, so all I heard were the sounds of the heating and cooling system overhead and the popcorn crunching in my mouth.

Then I looked up and saw the emergency exit door in the front of the theater. My mind went back to that day last summer when I heard the details of the Aurora shooting. It made me pause for a moment as I realized how something like that could happen anywhere these days.

Are we really safe anywhere in today's world? Probably not. Can we wrap ourselves in bubble paper and never leave the house because of what might happen? Absolutely not.

I don't know what the answers are in dealing with a tragic event such as the Boston Marathon bombing. But I do know that we should continue to move forward and live our lives by doing good things.

Live, laugh, love.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

A little racing, hockey and baseball

Lots of sports stuff going on lately. So, let's touch base on a few items.

IndyCar is back
The IZOD IndyCar Series returned to action March 24 to kick off the 2013 season. It was James Hinchcliffe who got his first career win on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. It was a pretty good race.

I was impressed with Simona de Silvestro. She started a career-best third and finished sixth. Her car gave out on her in the final few laps, otherwise she was well on her way to a podium finish. Who needs Danica Patrick for a female racing influence? IndyCar has Simona, and also Ana Beatriz. Then there's former driver and now team owner Sarah Fisher.

It was nice to see someone other than the Penske or Target guys come out victorious. I also liked watching Marco Andretti. He was talked about quite a bit during the broadcast; apparently he really worked hard on his driving in the off season. He's a racer that I don't think has lived up to his potential or famous last name yet, but this might be the season.

I was really quite envious watching the race. St. Pete is a race I'd like to get to someday. I was down in that area a few years ago, about a week before the race, so I snapped a few photos of the tires and barriers that were ready for the track.

Minnesota Wild hit a win streak
The Wild have turned things around and are playing some solid hockey as of late. The team just came off a seven-game winning streak before a loss to Dallas the other night. But, they bounced right back Saturday for a home, comeback win in a shootout over the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings.

Earlier in this shortened season, it seemed like the Wild had some of the same old problems of not scoring enough goals. It didn't look too promising for a playoff run, dashing the hopes of the key signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter last summer.

Tides have changed though and the Wild have found ways to win. They're scoring more goals and just playing better overall. A couple of the wins during the streak weren't their best games, but as good teams do, they found a way to come from behind and ultimately get the "W."

Baseball season already?
I don't know about you, but baseball season really snuck up on me this year. Maybe it's the NHL's lockout and then starting mid-winter. Maybe it's the fact that there's still snow on the ground and the temperatures are still colder than our refrigerators. Whatever it is, I'm not prepared for the Minnesota Twins to start their 2013 season.

They'll open the season at Target Field. Big mistake. I really don't know why the Twins don't have two or three series on the road to start the season. Then again, the schedule this year doesn't really favor the Twins too much. They have lots of home games in April and September, when the weather may be the most suspect, and only nine home games in July, when some of the nicest summer days and nights should make appearances.

I'll have to do some more reading up on this year's squad, though I'm not sure there's a lot of promise for a trip back to the postseason. All I know is, I must get some of my Austin friends to Target Field this year for their inaugural visits to the outdoor ballpark.

I just know we will not be going Opening Day, when temps are supposed to barely hit the 30s and wind and flurries will be in abundance.