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.