Monday, September 22, 2008

Angels, Cubs, everyone ... The final week is upon us

Another season of Major League Baseball dwindles down again.

This year it appears the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Chicago Cubs will draw top seeds in each league.

Who will win the other divisions? Who will earn wild card entries?

So little time, so much to be decided.

Beginning today, with a 1:10p.m (ET) start between the Florida Marlins and Cincinnati Reds, 11 MLB clubs have one week to make their final push.

In the drivers seat are the 96-51 Angels and 94-60 Cubs. The American League's regular season finest (Anaheim) attempt to earn home field advantage, while Chicago's north-siders seek to sew up National League home turf in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.

The AL West and NL Central battles appear settled. As for the other four MLB divisions, there is much to be determined.

Delivering my predictions from coast to coast, I'll start with the American League West and Anaheim.

There's really not much to say here. The Texas Rangers briefly gave the Angels a brief semblance of a challenge near the All-Star break, but simply have not have the pitching to compete for a division title.

PREDICTION: Anaheim (98-62), Texas (80-82) 18.0 GB

In the AL Central, the Chicago White Sox hold a 2 1/2 game lead over the Minnesota Twins. Power appears like it'll take precedence over peskiness. As the Twins continue its struggle to produce home runs, Chicago is proving they have no problem pounding out homer after homer.

The Sox have hit an MLB-best 222 homers. Conversely, Minnesota has just 108.

Chicago's Carlos Quentin has hammered 36 homeruns this season, while two other Sox -- Jim Thome (33) and Jermaine Dye (32) -- have eclipsed the 30-HR mark as well.

The White Sox power appears daunting and difficult to overcome, but don't quite sleep on the Twins. Chicago's brawn may be intimidating at the plate, but Minnesota's group of feisty hitters will not go down without a fight.

Remember the nickname Ozzie Guillen gave them a few years back? Outside of Nick Punto, many of the names and faces have changed but Minnesota does have three other players who pack a lot of "Piranha"-like punch.

Second-year player Alexi Casilla is hitting .293, while rookies Denard Span and Carlos Gomez have combined for 48 stolen bases. Outfielders Span and Gomez also have five triples apiece.

As for driving in runs, first baseman Justin Morneau leads the AL with 128 RBI. However, he's the only Twins player with more than 100 RBI and no one else on the team even comes close.

While all the Morneau RBI in the world doesn't seem to be able to help this club, the the Twins bullpen should show redemption from its mid-season woes this last week and Minnesota's Piranhas will enable them to nab the division by a game.

Chicago and Minnesota square off with a three-game set (Tues. - Thurs.), but will finish their 2008 seasons with contests against other AL Central foes.

The Twins face Kansas City for its final three games, while the White Sox must take on the white hot Cleveland Indians.

PREDICTION: Minnesota (89-73), Chicago (88-74) 1.0 GB

The AL East is very interesting. After Tampa Bay (92-62) has led Boston for most of the season, the defending World Champs are showing their toughness down the stretch.

Tampa finished winning two of four against Minnesota and clinched its first ever playoff appearance. Boston, meanwhile, defeated the Blue Jays Sunday to lift its record to 91-64.

With a starting rotation featuring five pitchers with 11 or more wins each, the Rays currently hold the upper-hand on the Red Sox. However, Rays hitters are hitting just .262 (ranking 12th in its league).

Boston does not have as consistent of a rotation as Tampa, but they do have Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Japanese-born right-hander allowed two hits through 7 IP in earning his 18th win of the season yesterday.

The Red Sox also have a potent MVP threat in Dustin Pedroia. Boston's second-baseman leads the majors with 52 doubles and his .324 BA ranks second among his AL competitors -- trailing only Minnesota's Joe Mauer (.330).

Tampa and Boston are evenly matched in terms of power -- the Rays have 171 HRs, Boston has 168 -- but the Rays have more team speed than the Bo-Sox. Tampa leads the AL with 134 stolen bases.

Pedroia's Sox host a hot Cleveland team for a four-game series, while the Rays travel to Baltimore and Detroit. The Indians will not likely carry its six-game win streak through Boston, but they will win two or three.

After its series with Cleveland, the Sox will play three more at Fenway Park, hosting arch-rival New York.

Boston should finish strong, but the Rays win both of its last series and earn its first ever AL East title.

PREDICTION: Tampa Bay (96-66), Boston (95-67) 1.0 GB

AL Wildcard: Boston

In the National League, the western division had a race until Los Angeles (81-75) acquired Casey Blake and Manny Ramirez. The two MLB veterans have helped a once-ailing offense to supplement a fine pitching staff and lead the Dodgers to a playoff birth.

Earlier this season, the Arizona Diamondbacks led the Dodgers behind its two ace pitchers. Dan Haren won his 16th game last night and ranks second in the NL with 197 strikeouts, while Cy Young hopeful Brandon Webb has 170 Ks and an NL-best 21 wins.

Arizona (78-77) may have two formidable aces, but they do not have the balanced pitching nor doesn't the hitters to compete with the Dodgers down the stretch.

Chad Billingsley leads the Dodgers pitching staff with 15 wins and a 3.22 ERA. The team has also received MVP-like numbers from Ramirez (.404, 16 HRs and 49 RBI in 47 games played with L.A.) and swift base stealing from centerfielder Matt Kemp (34 SBs).

The D-Backs, conversely, are batting a mere .251 as a team and have swiped just 57 bases.

Dodgers skipper Joe Torre will take his new team to the postseason, while his ex-team (the New York Yankees) fall short. Currently L.A. has a 2 1/2 game lead over Webb and Haren's squad.

Arizona will be on the road for a four-game series at St. Louis starting today. From there, manager Bob Melvin will lead his team home to finish its season with three versus Colorado.

Torre's crew -- which leads the NL with a 3.68 team ERA -- will finish its season with three home contests against San Diego and three on the road with San Francisco.

After a 1-0 home loss to the Giants last night, expect L.A. to heat up and build some momentum before entering the playoffs.

PREDICTION: Los Angeles (87-75), Arizona (81-81) 6.0 GB

The NL Central belongs to the Cubs. Milwaukee had a wonderful late-June and July run but has appeared to fall short.

Pitching, in particular the consistency from Chicago's starters, has played a prevalent role in the team's success this season.

Lou Piniella's pitchers rank second in the NL with a team ERA of 3.83. Ryan Dempster has been phenomenal. The Cubs Canadian-born right-hander has rebounded from a tough 2007 season to lead Chicago in wins (17), ERA (2.99) and strikeouts (183).

In his team's starting rotation, Dempster is complemented by fellow hurlers Carlos Zambrano (14-6), Ted Lilly (16-9, 180 Ks) and Jason Marquis (10 wins).

The Cubs also will rely on mid-season acquisition Rich Harden as it enters postseason play. Combining his efforts for both Oakland and Chicago this season, Harden is 10-2 with 177 strikeouts and 2.03 ERA.

Milwaukee tried to counter the Cubs pitching attack July 7 when it acquired C.C. Sabathia from Cleveland and he has been nothing short of magnificent. As a member of the Brewers, the 290-pound left-hander is 9-2 with a 1.81 ERA.

Sabathia and Milwaukee veteran SP Ben Sheets (13-8, 2.98 ERA) have both had fine seasons. Also, Milwaukee's offense has produced its share of power.

Led by Ryan Braun, the Brewers have hammered 194 homeruns as a team. It just won't be enough, however, for Milwaukee to earn a playoff spot. The Brewers lack of consistent hitting has them toward the bottom of the NL rankings with a .254 batting average.

Beginning tomorrow, the Brewers face the pitiful Pittsburgh Pirates for three before finishing its season with the Cubs in Chicago. Meanwhile, Alfonso Soriano and Derrek Lee (two of Chicago's seasoned sluggers) will fly to New York for a four games before returning to Wrigley.

Milwaukee has two quality sluggers in Braun (.287, 35 HRs and 99 RBI) and Prince Fielder (33 HRs, 98 RBI), but don't expect the Beer-makers to patch together a six-game winning streak and make the playoffs. The Cubs win this division handily.

PREDICTION: Chicago (97-65), Milwaukee (90-72) 7.0 GB

Lastly, the NL East. Easily, the league's best race, the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies will continue their battle to its bitter end.

Currently the Phillies (88-68) have the upper hand. Charlie Manuel's club defeated the Marlins last night when 21-year veteran Jamie Moyer picked up his 15th win. Meanwhile, New York lost last night as Jerry Manuel's team managed just one win in three games against woeful Atlanta.

Brad Lidge has re-vamped his career as the Philly closer. The ex-Houston Astros flame-thrower earned his 40th save last night, sealing up a 5-2 win for the 45-year-old Moyer.

The Mets, meanwhile, lost its closer for the remainder of the season. Billy Wagner, who has 385 career saves, went down with an elbow injury.

Offensively, Philadelphia's Ryan Howard is lighting up National League scoreboards. The burly left-handed hitter leads all of baseball with 46 HRs and 141 RBI. Defensively, however, Howard has committed 17 errors, which is horrible for a first baseman.

New York's 1B Carlos Delgado isn't the best defensively either (8 errors), but the 36-year-old does lead the Mets with 37 homers. He is also one of three players on his team to compile more than 100 RBI. Delgado has 110, while David Wright has 118 and Carlos Beltran has 108.

Having the luxury of a dependable closer and good starting rotation, Philadelphia may have a better overall pitching staff. However, don't forget about the two-time Cy Young award winner New York has up its sleeve.

After tossing seven innings and striking out eight in his team's 7-2 win over Washington Thursday, Johan Santana passed fellow Mets starter Mike Pelfrey for the team lead in wins (14). The left-handed Venezuela native also leads New York in ERA (2.68) and has 187 Ks.

Starting today, Santana and his Mets host the Cubs for four games, after that New York will welcome the Marlins to Shea Stadium for three to end its season. Philadelphia also hosts its last six games, opposing Atlanta and Washington for three games apiece.

Despite having tougher opponents, expect the Mets to sneak by Philly and win the division. The Phillies will, however, win the wildcard and be able to represent the City of Brotherly Love in the playoffs.

PREDICTION: New York (92-70), Philadelphia (91-69) 1.0 GB

NL Wildcard: Philadelphia

In the playoffs, the Cubs and Angels will have home field advantage, but they aren't necessarily the favorites. Although the Angels will likely finish its regular season with more wins than Chicago, Anaheim has not had any heated competition for a very long time. The Cubs have had many heated games versus the Brewers and have played in several other hotly contested games. The Angels, meanwhile, have led its division by double-digits practically the entire season.

Expect Boston to give Anaheim plenty of postseason pain. As for the Cubs, they'll need to watch out for the Dodgers and Mets this October.

As for the playoffs and World Series?

I'll wait for the regular season to be officially over until I make any specific postseason predictions. In the meantime, I'll ponder who'll replace comedian/actor Dane Cook as the 2008 MLB postseason's promotional spokesman.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

NFL '08 Postulations

Not that I'm a pro, in terms of being a football critic (I've only covered one football game in a professional sense), but I have made my predictions for the 2008 National Football League season.

Sure, the Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts are storied NFL franchises while the Eastview Lightning and Eden Prairie Eagles are high school teams in Minnesota. The Cowboys have Tony Romo and the Colts have Peyton Manning, while the Eagles, last fall, had Ryan Grant, and the Lightning had Corey Eul. Lastly, Romo and Manning are set to participate in the 43rd season of professional American football, whereas Grant and Eul tussled in a Minnesota state high school semi-final.

At any rate, working between four jobs and following Major League Baseball has left me with little time to study NFL football, but I went ahead and made my predictions nonetheless.

As far as upsets go? Well, the Arizona Cardinals making the playoffs is usually a surprise. I have the Cards earning entry this season. Also, I picked the Pittsburgh Steelers to post the 2nd-best record in the AFC this year.

Without further ado, here are my selections:

NFL 2008
Preseason Postulations

Arizona 9-7 (*)
Seattle 9-7
St. Louis 6-10
San Francisco 4-12

Minnesota 11-5
Green Bay 9-7 (wc)
Detroit 8-8
Chicago 5-11

New Orleans 10-6
Tampa Bay 8-8
Atlanta 6-10
Carolina 5-11

Dallas 12-4
Philadelphia 10-6 (wc)
Washington 9-7
New York 5-11

San Diego 10-6
Denver 8-8
Oakland 7-9
Kansas City 4-12

Pittsburgh 11-5
Cleveland 10-6 (wc)
Cincinnati 8-8
Baltimore 5-11

Indianapolis 10-6 (*)
Jacksonville 10-6 (wc)
Tennessee 8-8
Houston 6-10

New England 13-3
New York 9-7
Miami 6-10
Buffalo 5-11

(*) ~ Win tie-breaker
(wc) ~ Wild Card entries

2008 NFL Playoffs
NFC seeding
(1) Dallas
(2) Minnesota
(3) New Orleans
(4) Arizona
(5) Philadelphia
(6) Green Bay

AFC seeding
(1) New England
(2) Pittsburgh
(3) Indianapolis
(4) San Diego
(5) Jacksonville
(6) Cleveland

NFC Playoff games
(3) Saints over (6) Packers
(5) Eagles over (4) Cardinals

(1) Cowboys over (5) Eagles
(2) Vikings over (3) Saints

(1) Cowboys over (2) Vikings

AFC Playoff games
(3) Indianapolis over (6) Cleveland
(5) Jacksonville over (4) San Diego

(1) New England over (5) Jacksonville
(2) Indianapolis over (2) Pittsburgh

(2) Indianapolis over (1) New England

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A pause for a quick personal post

Part of this is an overlap from the poem regarding my grandpa.

I've done broadcasting work as well (the majority involving sports, but some other human interest pieces as well). In fact, I've been told by many they'd think I'd have a good career as a sports broadcaster. Actually, a very successful, talented, highly respected colleague of mine said I appear very natural and looked good on camera.

The reason I've chosen to follow a writing career (over television); however, is because I do not to be in the spotlight. I'm still incredibly thankful for my two television internships (with WFTC Fox 29 and Fox 9 sports). Alas, here I am two years after graduation and no full-time position yet. Nevertheless, I shall continue my ever-passionate, tireless pursuit of a career in print.

On a broadcasting, and overall journalistic sense, a list of a few people I'll forever be indebted include:

Ali Lucia
Bert Blyleven
Dick Bremer
Chris Conangala
Marcus Fuller
Marney Gellner
Jeff Grayson
Chad Hartman
Hannah Loberg
Jeff Passolt
Alize Proisy
Kim Johnson
Ron Johnson
Dave Lee
Dawn Mitchell
Mark Redal
Jim Rich
Robyne Robinson
Joe Schmit
Jim Souhan
Ken Stone
Darren Sharper
Karl Spring
Nick "Scoop" Walsh
Rebecca Watson
Darren "Doogie" Wolfson

Among, I'm sure, countless others. Well, those are just people I've been fortunate enough to work with in some capacity or another.

There are definitely far more others, but I digress. I just wanted to take a moment to sincerely thank each and every one of you. I especially will always be thankful to and remember Mr. Grayson and Professor Stone -- who, all his students were always warmly welcomed to simply call "Ken."

An Ode to My Grandfather

Forever, in our hearts, we will be missing,
A lover of baseball, family and fishing.

St. Michael and Emily, on Earth were your home,
Near Father in heaven is now where you'll roam.

My grandpa, you were, my grandpa you'll be,
Your wife, my dear Grandma, forever you'll see.

The farm stuff you sold, the homes you would own,
All the stories you told, happy thoughts in me sewn.

I love you dear grandpa, I'll always be wishing
In heaven, with grandma, again you'll be kissing.

~dedicated to my grandfather:
Norbert Louis Barthel (3/1/06 ~ 4/2/06)

**I recited this in front of more than 200 people at his funeral, which, for me took a lot of strength. I've done broadcasting work as well (the majority involving sports, but some other human interest pieces as well). In fact, I've been told by many they'd think I'd have a good career as a sports broadcaster. A very successful, talented, highly respected colleague of mine said I appeared very natural and looked good on camera. I disagreed at the time, but maybe someday ...

The reason I've chosen to follow a writing career (over television); however, is because I do not want to be in the spotlight. I'm still incredibly thankful for my two television internships (with WFTC Fox 29 and Fox 9 sports). Alas, here I am two years after graduation and no full-time position yet. Nevertheless, I shall continue my ever-passionate, tireless pursuit of a career in print.

Gophers looking to stay alive against Pepperdine in Sweet 16

Gophers looking to stay alive against Pepperdine in Sweet 16

December 12, 2003

Gophers looking to stay alive against Pepperdine in Sweet 16
By Jeff Barthel

Minnesota's volleyball team will look to knock off a Pepperdine squad that has won 25 straight matches tonight at The Pyramid.

No, the Gophers aren't in Egypt, but in Long Beach, Calif. to compete as one of 16 NCAA Division I volleyball teams still alive in the postseason tournament.

Minnesota defeated the Waves 3-0 last year.

"It's a different team from last year, but the lineups will be very similar," Minnesota coach Mike Hebert said.

The Gophers faced Pepperdine in their first match of the 2002 season - they defeated the then-No. 8 Waves 30-24, 30-25, 30-28.

"We were unranked and caught them by surprise," Hebert said.

This year's Gophers (23-10) currently bear a No. 14 ranking and will compete against the 4th-ranked Waves (27-2) in a 7:30 p.m. PST (9:30 p.m. CST) match tonight.

All-time, Minnesota has a career-record of 2-0 against Pepperdine.

Should the Gophers win, they'd advance to their first-ever Elite Eight and take on the winner of No. 5 Stanford (25-6) and 13th-ranked Washington (22-8).

The Gophers have appeared in the third round of the NCAA tournament in three of the past four seasons, but have never advanced to the Regional Finals.

"(This year) we have a much better feeling of being on a mission," Hebert said. "They've fought and clawed their way back from the bottom of the barrel, that provides me with a lot of confidence that they'll put on a good show."

Minnesota started the year ranked 6th, but dropped its first four matches and eventually slipped out of the top 25.

The Gophers have bounced back to win 17 of their last 20 matches. Hebert is pleased will their performance, but also remembers the Waves from last year and knows to be cautious.

Pepperdine coach Nina Matthies remembered that match but was reluctant to compare the two.

"Last year was last year," Matthies said. "(This time) it's a whole different ballgame."

The Waves come into tonight's contest having not lost since Sept. 3 - a 3-0 loss at No. 1 USC.

"For us to win, Cassie Busse, Erin Martin, and Trisha Bratford are all going to have to deliver," Hebert said.

Busse - an All-American and the 2003 Big Ten player of the year - leads the Minnesota offense in kills (531) and hitting percentage (.300).

Bratford and Martin have contributed 438 and 409 kills, respectively, this season. Martin - a junior outside hitter - is also second on the team with her .252 hitting percentage.

Hebert also said middle blockers Jessica Byrnes and Meredith Nelson will have to step up.

Nelson and Byrnes have shared the role of starting middle blocker this season.

Minnesota's blocking attack finished third in the Big Ten this year. The Gophers are led by Nelson - the only player to knock away triple figures (128) in blocks.

The Gophers have 335 (119 solo, 432 assists) blocks as a team.

Pepperdine has 306.5 blocks (79 solo, 455 assists) this year. They have three players at or over 100 blocks this season.

Sophia Milo leads Pepperdine's blocking attack with 121 (23 solos, 98 assists). Seniors Lyndsey Hache (118) and Katie Wilkins (100) are the other two Waves who've compiled 100-plus kills.

As the most experienced middle blocker on Minnesota's 2003 roster, Byrnes has a .230 hitting percentage and 70 blocks this season.

Byrnes or Nelson would likely go up against Milo.

She is a part of a Pepperdine roster that is plentiful in height.

The Waves also have as a 6-foot-4-inch outside hitter (Wilkins) and two middle blockers - Mia Arnborg and Kristin McClune - that both stand 6-foot-3-inches tall.

"It's tough to play against a team with a lot of height," Nelson said, "It forces you to use a variety of shots to score."

Nelson - an All-Big Ten freshman selection - will be ready to crush the Waves. Joining Nelson will be to newly-selected All-Region players - Busse and sophomore libero Paula Gentil.

Gentil - who had 23 digs in last year's match versus the Waves - is also a two-time Big Ten defensive player of the year.

**This story was published in the Minnesota Daily, the University of Minnesota school newspaper. It is also viewable at:

Long Beach regional features top talent

Long Beach regional features top talent

December 10, 2003

Long Beach regional features top talent
By Jeff Barthel

Minnesota's volleyball team began its 2003 campaign three and a half months ago with a trip to Hawaii.

The Gophers lost all three matches in Honolulu to three ranked teams at the time - a 3-0 loss to No. 2 Hawaii, a 3-1 loss to No. 22 Louisville and a 3-0 sweep at the hands of No. 16 UCLA.

"It was very good that we had those teams on our schedule," Minnesota coach Mike Hebert said. "We played in some of the toughest arenas in the country against some of the best competition available."

Minnesota also lost a Sept. 13 match at No. 3 Florida.

"The leftover residue (from those losses) will give (the Gophers) confidence for this weekend," Hebert said.

Hebert's 14th-ranked Gophers (24-10) will face No. 4 Pepperdine (27-2) on Friday in Long Beach, Calif. If they defeat the Waves, Minnesota would then take on the winner of No. 5 Stanford (25-6) and 13th ranked Washington (22-8) for a Saturday evening battle for the right to move to the Final Four.

The Gophers will make their fourth Sweet 16 appearance in team history - including a 3-1 loss to Arizona in last year's tournament.

The 2003 Gophers were ranked sixth at the beginning of the season. However, they lost their first four matches of the season - the three in Hawaii and a 3-2 home loss to unranked Kansas.

After opening the Big Ten season with two losses, Minnesota was 7-7 and had dropped out of the top 25.

Now, the Gophers have won 23 of their past 29 contests and are fresh off a 3-1 victory over No. 16 Northern Iowa.

"(The Panthers) are a team I have tremendous respect for," Hebert said. "We feel very comfortable having vanquished a notable opponent."

Minnesota will move on from defeating the Missouri Valley

Conference champions to face Pepperdine - champions of the West Coast conference.

"We're definitely up for it," Minnesota All-American Cassie Busse said. "We are excited to play such a highly-competitive team."

Pepperdine is led under the tutelage of head coach Nina Matthies.

Matthies has compiled a 411-285 (.636) record through her 20-plus years as head coach of the Waves.

The other two that complete the Long Beach regional - Stanford and Washington - are both teams Minnesota has yet to defeat.

The Gophers are 0-2 against the Cardinal and lost the only match they've played against the Huskies.

The two Pac-10 teams finished their conference in second and fifth place, respectively.

Minnesota hasn't played Washington since Sept. 7, 1996. The Gophers played Stanford and Pepperdine to open last season's schedule.

"All I remember is the excitement here when we had to play them," Busse said. "We were all just especially excited to get the season started."

The Gophers defeated Pepperdine and lost to then top-ranked Stanford 3-1.

It was a match where the two teams were tied 1-1 and Minnesota had a 27-26 lead in game three. The Gophers then surrendered four straight points and lost the match 30-21, 24-30, 30-27, 30-21.

The Cardinal - who won the 2001 national championship - went on to a 33-5 record last season.

Stanford also made it to the 2002 national championship match but lost the title to USC.

The Trojans, coincidentally, have only lost one match over the past two seasons - Stanford defeated USC 3-2 (30-26, 16-30, 30-26, 28-30, 16-14) on Nov. 11, 2002.

USC is in a different bracket from the Gophers, but could face Minnesota should the 2002 Big Ten champions win two matches this weekend.

**This story was published in the Minnesota Daily, the University of Minnesota school newspaper. It is also viewable, with a photo, at:

Solving the Power Outage problem

Solving the Power Outage problem

March 29, 2006

Solving the Power Outage Problem
Twins and Al Central breakdown
by Jeff Barthel

The Minnesota Twins have oiled up the leather, stretched out the lumber and limbered up their arms in anticipation of beginning the 2006 regular season with the hope to reclaim the American League Central title.

To do so, however, the Twins will undoubtedly have to hit better—especially when it comes to power. In an era known for power hitting, the Twins have not had a 30-homerun hitter since 1987 (Gary Gaetti with 31, Tom Brunansky with 32 and Kent Hrbek with 34).

So, where are these extra-base hits and long balls going to come from? Like many other Twins teams in recent years, this year's Twins have many players who should be considered 30-homer worthy. Who should be considered as the top power-hitting contenders for the 2006 Twins?

Tony Batista – The 32-year-old veteran third baseman hasn’t played Major League Baseball since 2004. Minnesota hopes the ex-Orioles, Blue Jays slugger (who’s topped the 30-homer mark three times in his 10-year career) can provide the much needed power; but it’s hard to believe he can get back to MLB form and knock out 30.

Torii Hunter – The defensive superstar’s hitting has become more consistent in recent years. Last season, which included missing more than two months due to injury, Hunter only hit 16 home runs. However, in Hunter’s previous four seasons he led the team in home runs three of those years — including hammering out 29 homers in his 2002 All-Star season.

Joe Mauer – Female fans, dream on. This 22-year-old catcher will be a phenomenal hitter. Look for Mauer to hit .300-plus and possibly lead the team in batting average. But, as far as home runs, this St. Paul native will likely hit 30 at some point in his career, it’ll be a few years though. As for 2006, look for Mauer to hit some homers, but not more than 24-25. The third-year catcher will provide Minnesota some consistent hitting, but not a ton of power … yet.

So, who will be that first Twin since ’87 to hit 30 home runs?

Of the above-mentioned, Hunter and Batista are the most probable; however, the key to bringing some power back to Minnesota’s lineup will be its 24-year-old Canadian import — third year first baseman, Justin Morneau.

In 2005, the towering first baseman’s production (or lack thereof) paled in comparison with his lofty potential. Preseason illnesses and getting hit on the helmet hampered Morneau’s production last season. He finished last season with a .239 batting average, 22 home runs and 79 RBI.

Although his RBI total led the Twins, expect better things for Morneau this season. At 6-feet-4-inches, and a strong 227 pounds, the burly first baseman should be able to knock out 30 and drive in 100 if his health holds up.

This season Morneau has been in good health so far. He competed in the World Baseball Classic for Canada and rejoined Minnesota with plenty of time to prepare his swing and first baseman skills for the new season.

**This story was published in The Wake, the University of Minnesota student magazine. It was accompanied by an AL Central preview I did and may also be accessed (with its complementing visuals) at:

Eastview goes down in a blaze of Eden Prairie red

Eastview goes down in a blaze of Eden Prairie red

November 21, 2007

Eastview goes down in a blaze of Eden Prairie red
by Jeff Barthel

The Eastview Lightning football team was excited for its chance at exacting revenge on its mighty Lake Conference foe last Friday night.

Lightning fans flocked to the Minneapolis Metrodome in droves to support their team. Among the spectators included the Eastview pep band, its cheerleaders, and a 350-plus-student section united in white displaying its large banners of hope to inspire its football squad’s determination.

Then, roughly two and a half hours later, these faithful followers stood proud despite watching their Lighting get trampled 30-0 for its 11th straight loss to the Class 5A, No. 1-ranked Eden Prairie Eagles in the state semifinals.

“We’ve got nothing to be ashamed of, only to be proud of,” said Eastview head coach Kelly Sherwin.

Sherwin was especially proud of the defense, which limited Eden Prairie’s mighty offense to nine points on its first three possessions. Playing a major role in Eastview’s early defensive success was defensive back Erik Klefsaas.

Following an Eastview turnover, Eden Prairie’s rushing game placed the Eagles in a second-and-10 situation at Eastview’s 25-yard line. Eden Prairie quarterback Ryan Grant attempted a quick pass to wide receiver Ben Heuper only to be clobbered by Klefsass for a 2-yard loss.

“It felt great,” Klefsaas said of the hit. “The score was 0-0 at the time, so I felt I made a big play, it just didn’t happen for us.”

The play set up a 45-yard field goal attempt for Eden Prairie’s seldom-used kicker, Erik Soderberg. Entering the game, Soderberg had only four attempts on the season, making true on all four with a longest of 43 yards.

The kick was up, and, not only did it clear the Dome’s goal posts, it was dead-center and had an extra 10-12 yards to spare.

Following the field goal came two more Eden Prairie field goals.

The first came after a turnover, when Eastview quarterback Corey Eul threw a pass toward wide receiver Erik Fabry that wound up five yards short and in an Eagle defender’s hands.

The other field goal came after a third-and-eight situation went awry. Eul backed up to pass, but had no protection. Mere seconds elapsed as the Eastview quarterback was bombarded by a two-man sack attack.

The sack was registered as a 14-yard loss.

Despite the offensive struggles, the score was only 9-0 with 6:07 remaining on the first half game clock.

Then, less than one minute later, Eul fumbled a missed hand-off attempt. Eden Prairie recovered and took advantage of the Eastview turnover immediately, as the Eagles Matt Swanson rushed to the left side and slipped by Lightning defenders virtually untouched en route to an 11-yard touchdown run.

“That last touchdown (before the half) just killed us,” said Klefsaas. “We still felt we were in the game, in the second half, it just didn’t work out in our favor.”

After surrendering four first-half turnovers to Eden Prairie’s 429.8 yards-per-game and 42.1 points-per-game offense, 16-0 was a modest deficit.

However, things eventually became worse for a worn-out Lightning defense.

Eden Prairie opened up the second half with drives of 5:13, 6:59 and 1:27.

The latter two drives included a dropped punt by Eastview’s Patrick O’Neil that led to a Scott Lindner touchdown to make the score 30-0 with 8:33 remaining in the fourth quarter.

“We just killed the clock,” said Eden Prairie quarterback Ryan Grant. “In the second half, our offensive line did a tremendous job pushing off defenders and keeping them (Eastview) off the ball.”

From there, Soderberg (who also handles the punting for Eden Prairie) launched a punt that pinned Eastview on its own 3-yard-line with 5:27 remaining in the game.

Eden Prairie controlled possession for 28 minutes and 49 seconds, while Eastview managed the clock for 19:11. The Eagles rushed the ball 46 times for 227 yards, while the Lightning combined for 86 yards on 28 carries.

The loss marked the 11th straight for Eastview at the hands of Eden Prairie. Sherwin has witnessed all 11.

Entering Friday’s tilt the Lightning were 10-1, the lone loss being a 21-0 home defeat to Eden Prairie. The Eagles have beaten Eastview by a collective score of 275-59 over the 10-year rivalry.

In the 11 years of Eastview football existence, the Lightning have won 75 games and lost 43. The record includes 59-31 in Lake Conference play; or, 59-23 versus its Lake foes if you exclude Eastview’s 0-9 inaugural season.

After this most recent defeat, the Eagles gathered in celebration while Sherwin gave his Lightning an inspirational talk. Minutes later, Sherwin was ask about his team’s fan support, which still stood near its team while players were mourning in tears of frustration, but also pride.

“I mean, it’s just outstanding, it’s a credit to our school,” said Sherwin, clearing his throat while looking to the Lightning faithful. “I think we’re lucky, and it’s a credit to these guys that therein so many people here.”

“We hope we got beat by the state champion,” added Sherwin. “That’s our goal, if Eden Prairie wins the state championship and keeps it (first place) in the Lake Conference, that’s the way it should be.”

With Grant, Soderberg and Mobley graduating in 2008, Sherwin will re-group with a new batch of black, blue, silver and white as next year’s Lightning hopes to finally extinguish the blazing red fury that is Eden Prairie Eagles football.

**This article was published in the Apple Valley edition of Thisweek newspapers. It may also be viewed at:

Prior Lake's Busse set for '08 Olympics

Prior Lake's Busse set for '08 Olympics

November 21, 2007

Prior Lake's Busse set for '08 Olympics
by Jeff Barthel

Ten years ago, there was a modest 15-year-old girl growing up in Prior Lake. Since then, Cassie Busse hasn’t been able to be home much.

However, this holiday season, the former Prior Lake Christian School volleyball standout will be home to share her tales of qualifying for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.

“It’s such an amazing feeling,” said Busse following her team’s sweep of Japan at the FIVB World Cup Nov. 15. “After a long season of working hard, we can finally see the fruits of our labor.”

Busse, a two-time All-American (2002, 2003) with the Minnesota Gophers, is one of two former Gophers standouts who participated in the recent International Volleyball World Cup tournament in Japan.

An outside hitter, Busse has been teamed up with another ex-Gophers standout:four-time All-Big Ten setter Lindsey Berg. Berg had been seeing more playing time than Busse, but neither Busse nor Berg actually played in the Japan match.

While Berg serves as one of the team’s primary setters, Busse (being relatively new to the team) serves the role of backup opposite hitter.

However, in Team USA’s Nov. 15 match versus Italy, Busse was able to step in and play some significant minutes. In fact, she provided a performance the other end of Team USA’s former Gophers star tandem appreciated dearly.

“She played free and relaxed and played great,” said Berg following Team USA’s three-set loss to Italy Nov. 15. “I’m really happy and proud of her. There is only a bright future ahead for Cassie.”

The U.S. was 9-1 heading into its match versus Italy, but the team was without the services of its starting opposite hitter, Tayyiba Haneef-Park. This allowed for the insertion of Busse, and not only did she get to play against the Italians, she played quite well.

Busse recorded nine kills, three digs, one block and a service ace while playing a major role in all three games. The kill total tied Busse for the team-high with former Stanford standout Logan Tom, but despite the strong performance the Prior Lake native remained humble.

“I’m very lucky to be able to play with such skilled players,” Busse said. “My setters, Berg and Robyn Santos, are such talented setters, they make my job a lot easier.”

Another factor Busse acknowledged was scouting – or a lack thereof.

“Also, I don’t think the Italians really knew much about me,” she said. “They probably didn’t have much video on me.”

Whatever the case, the loss to Italy gave Team USA a lot of things to work on and greater tasks to face in the weeks and months before Beijing.

Italy finished with an 11-0 record and the gold medal. Brazil, which Team USA upset 3-2 on Nov. 7, won the silver, while the United States took home the bronze.

While Busse played in parts of other matches, there were none like Italy. So what was the most important thing she learned from that match?

“That no matter who is on the other side of the net, USA Volleyball needed to play ‘USA Volleyball,’” said Busse. “If we’re playing our best and playing together, we are a force to be reckoned with. It doesn’t matter if our opponent is ranked first or last, we step on that court knowing we’re going to give 100 percent.”

In the meantime, back at the Busse household in Prior Lake, her family is excited to have her back for the first time since September. She plans to be home for close to six weeks, and her mom, Nancy, is as excited as anyone.

“We’re all more than excited – her sisters, her niece, everyone – we’re all excited,” Nancy said. “She’s just so fun to be around.”

After the holidays, Cassie says she plans to head back to Colorado to begin training for the Olympics. The team will fully regroup in May to commence Team USA’s official training for Beijing and the 2008 Olympics, which run Aug. 9-23.

**This story was published in the Prior Lake American and Savage Pacer. A newspaper in Busse's hometown and a neighboring Minneapolis suburb.

It can also be viewed at:

Establishing a Volleyball Powerhouse

Establishing a Volleyball Powerhouse

October 12, 2005
Establishing a Volleyball Powerhouse
Three easy steps to eternal greatness
by Jeff Barthel

This fall season the Minnesota sports world has seen a dismal end to the Twins recent playoff streak, a disconcerting start to the Vikings season and the annual encouraging start and eventual faltering of the another season of Gophers football. However, one program that’s been consistently strong - but not nearly as recognized - is Minnesota Gophers volleyball.

Led by Head Coach Mike Hebert, the Minnesota volleyball program has become a national power in recent years. Entering his 10th season here, Hebert brought the Gophers out of obscurity and into the national spotlight, leading the team to its first Big Ten Championship, Final Four and national championship appearances.

Hebert says there’s no magical secret to his success, but listed the following criteria for building a national power.

First, you have to hire a great coaching and recruiting staff. Second, you have to find good players. And third, you have to create an environment that makes everyone happy.

In fulfilling his first step, Hebert brought in recruiting coordinator David Boos in 2002. At 30, Boos is considerably inexperienced in comparison to Hebert, a NCAA Division I head coach of 29 years. However, he has already done his share in helping Hebert form a top volleyball program.

As a coaching/recruiting tandem, Hebert and Boos have attracted many of the nation’s strongest, most talented players to Minnesota; four have developed into NCAA All-Americans.

As for the third step in Hebert’s success plan - environment – Minnesota has the Sports Pavilion, a 5,800-seat arena renown as one of the top volleyball venues in the country. From there, the environment created by Hebert fosters success beyond just the physical atmosphere.

Every major NCAA contender has superior coaching, top talent and quality facilities to nurture its success -- what does Minnesota have that others may not?

“I think we project a certain style in a program where people are happy and get along and support each other, and the coaches are of the same mind,” Hebert said. “I think it’s a feel-good, warm, fuzzy kind of a program that attracts a lot of people.”

Historically, though, the nation’s most successful programs have nearly all come from states where warm weather and/or beaches are plentiful, making volleyball more easily accessible to its athletes. Since its inception in 1981, the NCAA Division I Womens Volleyball Title has been held by just nine teams, seven of which are located in warm climates.

Stanford, located in northern California, has six titles, including last year’s. Three other California colleges - UCLA, USC and Long Beach State - have three apiece. Hawaii has also won three, while Pacific has won two. In fact, only three D-I schools not from California or Hawaii - Penn State University, Texas and Nebraska - have won the NCAA volleyball title.

Still, Hebert insists Minnesota’s “warm” program can attract recruits despite the cold climate.

“We still get a lot of difficulty [recruiting] because of the weather, but the people who understand what’s important, I think, are still attracted to the program.”

In an attempt to push Minnesota past it’s national runner-up finish - the Gophers lost the championship 3-0 to Stanford in 2004 - Hebert’s 2005 team will boast eight new players and an incoming recruiting class ranked fourth nationally. Ironically, two of the new players transferred from states known for their warm weather.

“I think a big part of coming here was coach Hebert,” said USC transfer Sara Florian, “just his sincerity of wanting me to be a part of his program.”

Top freshman recruit Kyla Roehrig agreed that the coaching staff was a major selling point in signing with the Gophers.

“I just loved my visit here, the coaches are great,” said Roehrig, a 6-foot-5-inch Nebraska native. “And the girls ... you just want to attach to them because they remind you so much of your friends and family.”

Roehrig joins a volleyball family that includes three-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Paula Gentil, All-American junior setter Kelly Bowman and a front-court tandem - junior Meredith Nelson and sophomore Jessy Jones - Hebert touts as “one of the best, if not the best middle blocker tandem in the Big Ten.” Nelson, Minnesota’s leading blocker in 2005, returns as a the team’s captain. Hebert also credits Bowman, Jessica Byrnes and Marci Peniata as team leaders.

So by adding a bevy of top recruits and a pair of talented transfers to this group of talented veterans, could this be the year Hebert and Minnesota win it all?

The 2005 team is arguably the most talented group of athletes the Gophers have ever had. Considering the Gophers are off to a hot start this season, and have been ranked in the top ten for over 20 straight weeks dating back to 2003, it is plausible but still early.

“I think the key is to be balanced offensively and also to maintain our team chemistry,” Nelson said. “We have eight new players and eight veterans, so it’s going to be hard to continue a level of chemistry that’s going to be an elite team.”

Williams Arena: The Legacy of a Legendary Barn

Williams Arena: The Legacy of a Legendary Barn

February 15, 2006

Williams Arena: The Legacy of a Legendary Barn
by Jeff Barthel

As technological advances allow for revolving stadium-ceilings and rubber-induced field surfaces, one campus venue has maintained its mystical sense without such changes.

With its 79-year-old rafters and one-of-a-kind raised floor, Williams Arena has become an emporium of rich memories for countless fans, players, employees and visitors of all kinds.

“I think it has that barn look to it,” says Chuck Mencel, Gophers basketball guard from 1951-55. “It’s a very visually appealing place and has been a popular place for Minnesota families to come to.”

Constructed in 1927, and first used in 1928, “The Barn,” as Williams Arena is commonly known was first titled, the University of Minnesota Field House. In these times, the facility was used for basketball, off-season winter football practices, tennis and indoor track.

In 1950, the wide-framed building was split in two distinct playing areas, one for hockey and one for basketball. During this time, the famed Gophers gym changed its name to the well-known title it bears today. Since then, Williams Arena has become known as one of the nation’s premiere basketball arenas.

The first game played at the Barn came in the midst of some rough years for the Gophers. Minnesota transferred its team from Cooke Hall (which still exists today, used for kinesiology and sports studies) to play Ohio State at their new gym on Feb. 4, 1928. The Gophers lost the game in double-overtime and finished its season 4-12 and ninth in the Big Ten.

In the 1930s, coach Dave McMillan led his team to its first Big Ten title at Williams. The team took out Wisconsin and Northwestern to finish its season 14-6 (10-2 conference).

The year 1946 marked the arrival of a young Myer “Whitey” Skoog, the man many basketball historians would suggest originated the jump shot.

Don Knauer, a resident of Eden Prairie and U of M alum, shared some memories of Skoog and the 1948-49 Gophers.

“Whitey Skoog invented the jump shot,” says Knauer, recalling the All-American he watched in his collegiate years.

“It was the first time I had seen it used,” adds Knauer, who as a member of Phi Sigma Kappa – a fraternity still in existence on 18th Avenue Southeast “We (Gophers fans) always felt it was quite the treat to take a walk over to The Barn.”

Soon after the days of Whitey Skoog, came Chuck Mencel.

“I remember playing Iowa for the Big Ten championship in ’55,” says Mencel. “20,000-plus people packed the Barn that day.”

Mencel was speaking of Feb. 29, when the largest crowd in Gophers basketball history (20,176) watched his Gophers play Iowa for the Big Ten championship. The former All-American Gophers guard spoke fondly of that day, recalling how fans crowded themselves into the Barn’s hallways.

“The public support was amazing,” says Mencel of the excitement the city had surrounding the team. “At that time, it was the largest attendance of any basketball game in the country.”

Mencel spoke passionately of the uproar of Gophers fever that day, saying the famed game led some of the local Minneapolis theatres to shut down their daily operations so they could offer ticket-less Gophers fans a chance to watch the game on their big screens.

Williams could seat 18,025 at the time, but the excitement of a Big Ten championship, Minnesota’s 15-5 record and its interstate rivalry with Iowa, led to masses of Maroon and Gold maniacs. Unfortunately, for the team and its throngs of fans, Minnesota lost the game 72-70 and would finish the season in second place.

Moving into the 60s, “Sweet Lou” Hudson would grace the Williams hardwood. Arguably the best Gopher ever, Hudson did not win any championships, but did average 20.4 points per game in his three years before embarking on a 13-year NBA career that included six All-Star performances.

Years after Hudson made his departure, another player, who is often considered Minnesota’s best ever, Kevin McHale, entered Williams Arena’s confines (1977-80).

McHale, who was a Minnesota-grown boy from the northern town of Hibbing, is definitely the most remembered. The Boston Celtics’ great helped his NBA team to three championships and eventually earned a spot in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.

A few years after McHale’s days as a Gopher concluded the Clem Haskins era began. The coach of Minnesota basketball for thirteen years, Haskins is remembered for two things; the team’s Final Four appearance in 1997, the other, sadly, is an academic scandal.

“I was then hired by Clem as a student manager,” says Michael Dale, a Williams Arena facility manager of six years.

Dale, who was prepared to leave his hometown of Rochester to come work for Haskins, never would get the chance to work with him due to the aforementioned scandal.

“My only personal memory with Clem was my senior year in high school," says Dale, "he took two hours of his time to sit and talk with me.”

Reverting a few years back in Clem’s coaching regime, there was a young man named Kevin Lynch (Gophers guard 1988-91) who lit up the maple floor of the Maroon.

“Oh man, this place was rocking the time we beat Illinois,” says Lynch, recollecting a favorite memory.

Lynch was referring to his Gophers 91-74 upheaval of the 4th-ranked Illini Jan. 6, 1990, another of a myriad of great memories this treasured arena has witnessed.

Now a radio commentator of Gophers basketball, Lynch and his partner Dave Lee, happily spoke of a place they’ve both spent several years in.

“Just look at the rafters, the atmosphere,” says Lynch, following the duo’s Jan. 29 broadcast of Minnesota’s 61-42 defeat of Indiana. “It’s just a great place to be at.”

“There’s been many great years here, a great place with a wonderful atmosphere for basketball,” says Lee. “It still [after nearly 80 years] possesses the character and charm that are lacking in the new multi-functional arenas on other campuses.”

Lee—a local radio personality of 16 years—and Lynch have been WCCO 830’s radio broadcasting tandem for the past five years. Dick Bremer, a television commentator, has done Gophers basketball games since 1986. Serving as the Gophers television voice, Bremer recalls the opportunity he had of capturing up-close-and-personal memories of the much adored ’96-97 Gophers.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the Big Ten championship season,” says Bremer. “I remember the dogged determination of Bobby Jackson; he was one of the players who separated Minnesota from the rest of the conference.”

Jackson, now a nine-year veteran of the NBA, played point guard for this special Gophers squad. A junior college transfer from Salisbury, N.C., in his second year at Minnesota, thrilled many hometown fans with his mind-boggling passes and his rim-rocking dunks.

“I remember coming up here to watch the men play and watching Bobby Jackson,” says Jamie Broback, a native of Apple Valley and forward for the Gophers womens basketball team. “I think Bobby was one of my favorite athletes to watch, then seeing Lindsey Whalen, she was my favorite female player to watch.”

Broback was a senior in high school when she saw Whalen play on the Minnesota womens team’s first full season at Williams (it previously played in the Sports Pavilion). Coincidentally, this team's inaugural year at its new venue (2002-2003) was also
current coach Pam Borton’s first year at Minnesota.

“It’s definitely a great arena,” says Borton. “It’s a tough place to play for opponents because of its mystiqueness, because the fans feel like they are sitting almost on top of the court.”

Borton has been instrumental in building success for the Gopher women, lobbying and eventually accruing the help (which included much fundraising by her players) to get the team’s new locker room and team room built.

These additions, combined with much of the work Michael Dale and the facilities team have contributed greatly to the renovation, remodeling and restoration of a treasured Arena.

While the Gophers mens basketball squad has struggled this year, the 2006 Gopher women have flourished. Either way, Williams Arena will undoubtedly continue to be a magical atmosphere for students, fans and the Twin Cities public for years to come.

Love Your Grandma!

Love Your Grandma!

Love Your Grandma!
by Jeff Barthel

Most people have heard the encouraging expression “count your blessings.” Well, for me, my number one blessing is my Grandma Barthel. With all due respect to my other grandmother,Grandma Ceil, Cecilia Jeannette Barthel, is a blessing who’s been of great inspiration to me in innumerable measures.

My college years have extended far beyond the timely ideal and financially appealing four-year-graduation plan. What began in 1998 at Bethel College in St. Paul will soon come to an end here at the U. And, while I cherish the many opportunities, experiences and memories these years have afforded me, I’ve definitely had several rough times as well. Throughout these times—both good and bad—there’s been one constant source of emotional support besides my mom—and that’s Grandma Barthel.

With her simplistic appreciation for life and her family, Grandma B has always been a beacon of hope and joy. Whether by offering up a home-cooked meal, shining me a smile, or by embracing me with her more-than-generous hugs or sincere praise—this gracious women has shared with me her gifts of humility and tender care in lightening up the dreariest of my days.

What’s more amazing is, this is how she is with everyone—quiet, gentle and unassuming, merely grateful for each and every day of life. No, she does not understand email, cell phones or other new technologies; she simply loves to love—whether she’s caring for me, my grandfather, her eight children or pretty much whomever else she knows. And it’s for these lessons in compassion and humility that I’ll forever be grateful to her for.

Never, not once, will you hear a complaint from Ceil. No hate or harm could you ever see through her thoughts or actions, nor any disparaging remarks or anger will you detect in voice.

Cooking, cleaning and maintaining a household—things many of us take for granted—are all things she does well. At 89 years of age, my Grandma’s done these things for the good part of a century. She made lunches for all eight of her children everyday throughout the pre-microwave eras of the 1950s and ‘60s. While grandpa worked hard to provide the financial means necessary for their 10-person household, grandma would quietly clean her husband and childrens' dirty clothes and cook the family hearty dinners.

Grandpa, who turned 90 Saturday March 11th, is an honorable man in his own right, but behind every good man is a wonderful wife. In recent weeks, while grandpa has suffered arthritis over nearly all of his aching body, grandma has been doing all in her power to take care of him.

Sadly, grandma and grandpa may soon have to separate. Something I’ve never had to conceive of until literally days ago. Grandma Ceil is not of tremendous health and even her amazing emotional strength cannot overcome the mental and physical assistance needed for grandpa any longer.

It saddens me to even write about this, they both mean so much to me. Which is why, as both Grandma Ceil and Grandpa Norbert make visits with their primary care doctor and look at nursing homes near their home in St. Michael, I’ll have to cease from writing more of these saddening events and return to the crux of this column.

Call your grandma. Listen to your grandma. Care for your grandma. Yes, grandparents are old. Yes, grandparents are often times forgetful. And yes, my grandma and several others out there will soon be dying — although we dread that day.

So, in this time of, as my grandma often says, “everyone’s go, go, go all the time,” please take some time to slow your life down.

Everyone needs to work. Everyone needs money. Everyone needs time for friends, time to study, time to sleep. But don’t forget about some time for family. Although it’s difficult for many us to be in constant contact with our parents, we still try to make that phone call, write that letter or, if we live close enough, meet up with them for dinner from time to time.

So as long as Grandma Ceil is around, I shall continue to talk to her, ask about her, listen to her stories, visit her when I’m able to and seek her advice — especially about girls. She’s so great with that.

Baseball is Back and so is Torii

Baseball is Back and so is Torii

February 22, 2006

Baseball is Back and so is Torii
Insight from the Wall Climber himself
by Jeff Barthel

For baseball fans, this is the time of year you get that “itch”—you know the season is just a few weeks away, yet you wish it began tomorrow. As for baseball in Minnesota, one of its most revered athletes can’t wait to get back to playing the sport he so cherishes.

“It was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced,” Twins centerfielder Torii Hunter says of the ankle injury he suffered last season. “I had a slight crank in my ankle and my talus (a.k.a. anklebone, which bears the weight of the entire body), and I had some ligaments that were stretched … that was the worst pain ever.”

The event occurred July 27 at Boston’s Fenway Park, since then, much to the delight of Hunter, he has fully healed. The Major League Baseball veteran entering his 10th season shared his appreciation for modern medicine.

“Surgery’s so easy these days, 20 years ago if I had a knee problem they’d have to cut your leg open and you’d have to wait a year before you’d come back,” says Hunter.

Known for his death-defying, wall-climbing, homerun-robbing catches, the Gold Glove centerfielder also says there’s no chance he’ll change his style because of the injury. “All I want to do is go out there and play hard and if [injury] happens, it happens,” says Hunter, “but I’m still gonna run into that wall, you can believe that.”

After his incident with the Fenway wall occurred, making things tougher for Torii, the injury rendered him unable to play the final two months last season. It frustrated him, he could only watch as his Twins fell from playoff contention and finished in third. Then, to add insult to his injury, Hunter also had to witness Minnesota’s arch-nemesis (the Chicago White Sox) waltz through the playoffs and win a World Championship.

“It was tough man, sitting at home,” says Hunter about watching the 2005 MLB playoffs from his home in The Colony, Texas. “I felt (as a team) we should have been there because we made in three years in a row and we failed every time. And now Chicago, after three years of us winning (the AL Central), they win it on the first try,” adds Hunter, with dismay.

Although Torii is grateful to be a Twin, he does admit to being a tad bit jealous of Chicago. Over the off-season, he caught up with former teammate and current White Sox catcher, A.J. Piersynski. The two appeared on FSN’s Best Damn Sports Show together, where AJ was able to give Torii an up-close look of his shiny, new ring.

When asked his relationship with Piersynski, Hunter smiles and talks of spending many good times with his “buddy.” He says the two enjoy sharing off-season ventures such as getting together for golf or a trip to Vegas together in the off-season. So then, what happens when Torii’s coming in to score and there’s a play with A.J. standing at the plate?

“What I always tell him is when I’m rounding third and your there standing with the ball, I’m going to have to take you out,” says Hunter, “then he’s like ‘well Torii, I’m ready for you.’”

Hunter (who stands 6-foot-2, weighs 220 pounds) takes pride in the fact he played football and confidently claims he’s stronger than the 6-foot-3-inch, 240-pound Piersynski. Despite his no-fear attitude, he does recognize an advantage for A.J.—his
catcher’s gear.

“He’s the one who’s got a chance to survive and I don’t,” says Hunter with thoughts of a collision with Piersynski, “so we’ll see who survives.”

Putting last season to rest, Torii is excitedly preparing for 2006. And with him, he’ll take his fifth Gold Glove—a prestigious award that sometimes slips under the radar, especially when it’s given in the off-season and the team is no longer hot news.

Torii’s Gold Glove collection now adds up just one short of his childhood idol, Twins Hall of Fame centerfielder, two-time World Champ and owner of six Gold Gloves, Kirby Puckett. With all due respect to Puckett, thinking of Torii’s Twins of today—with Hunter playing in his prime, and as Twins fans of today adoringly cheer “Torii, Torii” just as the team’s fans of the late ’80s and early ’90s affectionately screamed “Kirby, Kirby,”—has then the centerfielding baton been passed?

“When I first signed with the Twins, I knew about Kirby Puckett and that he was the guy who made all the plays here,” says Hunter recalling his younger years. “Kirby Puckett was one of the players I definitely admired and respected.”

When asked about the thought of passing Puckett in Gold Gloves Torii recognizes Kirby’s greatness, humbly responding, “Oh man, how ‘bout one more.”

Hunter went on to speak about this coming season, about the White Sox acquisition of Jim Thome, Chicago’s improved pitching staff and all the challenges he’s excited to face, but for now, he’ll get set for training and bonding with new teammates—such as ex-Marlins Gold Glove second baseman Luis Castillo, power-hitting third baseman Tony Batista and new hitting coach, Joe Vavra.

Although Hunter suffered disappointment this past off-season: his injury, the White Sox, as well as the departure of long-time teammate (and close friend) Jacque Jones. Hunter says he’s confident in what players like Batista, Castillo and ex-Tigers slugger Rondell White can do.

So, as another calendar page turns and spring training begins, another exciting season of watching Torii Hunter and his Twins will soon begin.

Bending time back a few years

These next few posts were articles I wrote awhile ago. Well, seven articles, two columns and a poem to be exact.

When people ask me who my two favorite interviews were, I like to tell them, "well, there's this ex-Twins outfielder I had a personal 16-minute sit-down interview with, that was neat." Oh yeah, I was also fortunate enough to interview my dad's All-time favorite Twins player as well. That was pretty neat, and I got to ask him how he'd handle hitting Johan Santana. Then there's volleyball All-Americans, a young Gophers hockey goalie and a few other neat interviews.

However, my number one favorite interview was and still is my grandmother -- Cecilia Jeannette Barthel.

Torii Hunter takes second place. Tony Oliva might be third. From there, I've really enjoyed interviewing athletes in niche sports, so to speak ... i.e. swimming, rowing, running ... Them, some aspiring comedians, musicians and other special interest type of people. Basically, I like to interview and write stories about anyone who is truly passionate about what they do. Whether it be organizing poker nights at various bars and night clubs or amazing filled hockey arenas by making a great glove save on a Friday or Saturday night.

Leaving Minnesota and making impacts elsewhere

It’s August 28th. The Minnesota Twins are one game behind the Chicago White Sox in the American League central, the Chicago Cubs have the best record in all of baseball, and the Washington Nationals have faded quickly into the MLB cellar.

I think it’s fair to say Minnesota has surpassed its expectations thus far, but how about those some of those ex-Twins and what they are doing for other teams?

Well, first off, let’s start with those Miracle Rays down in the lower east coast. Tampa Bay is 80-51 and owns a three and one half lead over the defending World Champs in the American League east.

In helping the team formerly known as Devil Rays, three Twins have played key roles. Pitcher Matt Garza has been a huge inning-eater and won 11 games thus far. The right-hander has made 25 starts, posted 110 strikeouts and compiled a 3.53 ERA. He ranks third on the team in innings pitched and totes an impressive 1.23 WHIP (Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched).

Aiding Garza toward the end of the games is ex-Twins middle reliever Grant Balfour. The native of Sydney, Australia has made 38 appearances for Tampa and has a team-high 13.08 K/9 ratio (strikeouts per nine innings pitched). Balfour has baffled opposing hitters in posting 63 Ks through 43.1 innings pitched. The 30-year-old has been a valuable set-up man to Rays closers this year.

Lastly, ex-Piranha (as previously deemed in Minnesota) Jason Bartlett has contributed nicely to the Rays success. Bartlett has not shown any power (zero home runs this year), but he has played a steady shortstop for Tampa and provided some speed. Through 99 games played thus far, the Rays SS has made 13 errors and stolen 18 bases. True, the 28-year-old infielder is homer-less, but Bartlett has provided the Rays with a respectable .271 batting average, 17 doubles and three triples thus far.

Moving on to the west coast. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have teetered with Tampa for the best record in the AL in recent weeks and months.

Leading the Angels offense has been Vladimir Guerrero, but ex-Twins centerfielder Torii Hunter has contributed as well. Vlad the Impaler (Guerrero) has compiled .289 batting average, 23 home runs and 78 RBI – leading Los Angeles hitters in all three of those departments – while Hunter has brought his savvy defense out west and contributed offensively as well. The seven-time Gold Glove winner has yet to commit an error this season. Hunter also has hit 19 HRs, compiled 67 RBI and is hitting .274 through his first five months with the Halos.

Switching gears to the National League, how about former Twins ace Johan Santana?

Well, he’s having another nice season, but lacks a little in the wins department. The left-handed two-time Cy Young award winner has posted a 12-7 record for the New York Mets. Santana doesn’t lead the team in wins, but does lead Mets starters in innings pitched, ERA and strikeouts. The brilliant Venezuelan lefty ranks second in the NL with his 2.59 ERA and 159 strikeouts (trailing San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum in both categories). As for Santana’s durability, thus far he has tossed a league-high 190 innings – excluding C.C. Sabathia (201.1 IP) who has pitched in both leagues this year.

The Mets also have ex-Twins second baseman Luis Castillo on their 2008 roster. Castillo, however, has been hampered by injuries this season. The Mets infielder has only played in 70 games and contributed a paltry .257 batting average thus far. Castillo has recently come off the DL, though, and may be a factor as New York continues battling the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL east.

Currently, the Mets hold a miniscule half-game lead over the Phils.

Other notes on ex-Twins:

Doug Mientkiewicz and Luis Rivas are with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Mientkiewicz is having a bit more success than Rivas. The ex-Twins first baseman known for his swift defense and bubble gum blowing is batting .282 and has 28 RBI. Rivas is batting a mere .229 so far this season.

Remember the Hawk? Latroy Hawkins. He is now with the Houston Astros. He began the season as a member of the New York Yankees bullpen, but has migrated south. Hawkins has not allowed a run and has struck out 14 batters since switching leagues and joining his new club. Thus far, the right-handed journeyman has pitched in 11 games for Houston – the seventh MLB team Hawkins has played for since his nine-year tenure with the Twins.

Casey Blake has had a decent career since leaving Minnesota. After five and a half seasons with the Cleveland Indians, the talented utility man now has a chance to make a playoff push with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Blake, who just celebrated his 35th birthday Aug. 23, has five homers and 15 RBI while donning the Dodger Blue. Blake’s Dodgers hope to topple the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL west – currently L.A. trails the D-Backs by three games.

Ex-Twins catcher A.J. Pierzynki is still thriving in Chicago. Since becoming a member of one of Minnesota’s major rivals, the 32-year-old veteran is batting .277 with 60 HRs and 223 RBI. Anthony John Piersynksi also has accumulated 36 passed balls and 14 errors over that span of time.

Christian Guzman made the All-Star team this year as a member of the Washington Nationals. In fact, the former Twins infielder has been one of very few bright spots for his NL east cellar-dwelling team. The Nationals have an MLB-worst 48-85 record, but Guzman leads his team with a .298 batting average. The Dominican-born infielder has sparkled defensively as well – committing 13 errors through 110 starts at shortstop this season.

Livan Hernandez was picked up by the Colorado Rockies after the Twins released this season. Since landing his new roster spot, the 13-year MLB vet has not been so hot. Hernandez, once World Series MVP with the Marlins, has allowed 23 runs in 18.2 innings since joining the Rockies.

Ex-Twins outfielder Jacque Jones began his season as a member of the Detroit Tigers. From there, things have not gone so well. The serviceable OF who was always known for his hustle and irremovable smile is now in the Florida Marlins organization. Jones hit .165 through 79 at-bats with the Tigers and was released from them on May 6. Then, after hitting .108 with Florida’s Big League club, Jones was relegated to signing a minor league contract May 20.

Rondell White and Craig Monroe are ex-Twins, though the thought of them resurfacing somewhere is about as feint as Tony Batista or Phil Nevin making an MLB roster again.

Lastly, how about Eddie G.? Eddie Guardado. Yes, “Everday Eddie” (as he was known by Twins fans years ago) has returned to Minnesota. Six years after posting career-high 45 saves for Minnesota, Guardado’s former club has decided to give its ex-closer another go. Minnesota dealt the Texas Rangers a minor league pitcher to acquire him less than a week ago. The six-foot stouthearted lefty has come full circle after filling in for Texas and a couple other MLB bullpens over the years. Guardado pitched with Cincinatti and Seattle on two separate occasions with each before beginning his 2008 season with the Rangers. Since beginning his second term the Twins Aug. 25, Guardado has allowed one run in two appearances. Joe Nathan will remain Minnesota’s closer, but the hopes are that Guardado can provide some quality late-inning relief this September.

Matt Lawton, Matthew LeCroy and other past Twins players are out of baseball now, but chances are their current MLB employment status is still palpable.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Terrific Texas Twosome

Sure, neither of their teams may make the 2008 playoffs, but how about the individual efforts thus far by a Houston first baseman and Texas outfielder?

Entering the All-Star break, Lance Berkman is a bona fide Triple Crown threat, and Josh Hamilton is not far off.

Do either of these sluggers have a chance?

Sure they’ve got a chance, but there is two and a half months of baseball remaining, let’s not quite heat up the Triple Crown talk. I mean, we’re talking about a feat that hasn’t been accomplished for over 40 years (Carl Yastrzemski, 1967). Let’s just take a look at these two players and analyze their MVP chances.

First up is Berkman.

Through his team’s first 95 games the 32-year-old Astros slugger has a .347 batting average, 22 home runs and 73 RBI. What’s more impressive? The 10-year-veteran has compiled these numbers for a team that ranks near the bottom of National League in many offensive categories.

Houston, as a team, has scored 414 runs. Of these, Berkman has touched home plate 79 times. That’s more than one-fifth of the Astros’ run total; pretty impressive for a power hitter. The hefty first-baseman is able to compile such a lofty run total because he’s not only a talented hitter, he’s a smart hitter.

Berkman leads his team in runs by a 19 point margin, but he leads the Astros in walks by an even larger amount. The 6-foot-1-inch slugger has earned 56 free passes this season – Carlos Lee is second with 29. The walk total, in addition to that high batting average has Berkman ranking third in the National League with a .443 on-base percentage.

While walks, batting average, on-base percentage, are all key attributes to a team MVP, Berkman has helped out Houston with other facets of his game.

No, he doesn’t have Jose Reyes’ speed, but Berkman has stolen 15 bases, which ranks at the top among MLB first basemen.

As far as run production, Berkman’s 73 RBI doesn’t lead his team (Carlos Lee has 76), but he still fares well among league leaders. Only Ryan Howard (84) has more than the Berkman or Lee.

While Howard – who also has a league-leading 28 homers – and Atlanta’s Chipper Jones (who’s currently hitting .376) may stand in Berkman’s way in terms of the Triple Crown, the MVP award could be a possibility if he can maintain his ’08 success during the second-half of this Major League season.

Okay, so how about Hamilton?

Wow, what a story. If Hamilton is able to break Hack Wilson’s legendary RBI record, we almost have to give him the MVP, right?

Through his first 95 games, Hamilton has 95 RBI. Wilson had 191 in 1930. Okay, to break Wilson’s record, Hamilton would need to keep his pace and then some.

Thus far, in 2008, Hamilton has a .310 batting average and 21 home runs to go along with his league-obliterating RBI total.

Isn’t it something, though? As good as Hamilton has been, he’d still have to drive home 96 runs over the remaining 67 games of this 2008 season just to tie Wilson.

Well, beyond Wilson and the single-season RBI record, let’s take a look at what else this Rangers outfielder has done this season.

I believe Hamilton’s odds at winning an MVP are team-based. As opposed to Berkman’s Astros offense, Hamilton’s Rangers rank at the top of American League offenses with 538 runs scored. In fact, Texas has scored 43 more runs than second-place Boston.

The key cog is this offensive juggernaut is none other than Hamilton.

Cleveland’s Grady Sizemore has 23 homeruns and Hamilton’s teammate Ian Kinsler leads the AL with a .337 batting average, but the Texas slugger still has Triple Crown potential this season.

Kinsler is one of the main reasons Hamilton has been having a monster year. The Rangers second-baseman also leads the AL in doubles (34) and runs scored (84). In fact, those stats, as much as they bode favorably to Hamilton’s success, might also be reasons for him not to win the MVP. If Kinsler can maintain his 2008 first half through the second, he too could bear claim to MVP; but, that’s another story.

Okay, back to Hamilton and his 2008 AL MVP chances. I think they hinder on Texas’ continued offensive success. Kinsler has been a fine table-setter for Hamilton, but several other players are vital to Texas’ offense as well. Players like Milton Bradley, Michael Young and rookie David Murphy have all contributed to the Rangers’ run-producing success.

Bradley, who’s primarily been Texas’ DH, is hitting .316 with 19 home runs and 57 RBI; Young has scored 63 runs, posted a .302 batting average and driven in 52; while Murphy has hit 13 homers and 60 RBI. If these Texas hitters can keep up its offensive production and enable the Rangers to keep its AL-leading team batting average (which is currently .285), Hamilton should be in good position to succeed.

At 27 years of age, 6-feet-4-inches and 235 pounds, Hamilton is poised to continue putting up big numbers in what is really his first full MLB season (he had 298 at-bats for Cincinnati last season).

Now, going back to weighing Berkman and Hamilton’s MVP, or dare say it, Triple Crown odds …

Berkman has always hit for average (he’s a career .304 batting average) and, obviously, has more experience than Hamilton; but as far as sheer power goes, the young Ranger phenom packs a bit more punch.

In the end it comes down to team baseball. Come September, I don’t see the Astros competing with Chicago or Milwaukee in the NL Central. As far as the Rangers, however? Well, they’ll need to pitch better, but this offense is so potent that I could definitely see them making a run at Anaheim, which is why I’d say Hamilton has a better chance to earn any type of prominent individual accolade.

It’d be really neat to see Hamilton’s Rangers offense continue to soar. Texas pitching, however, ranks dead last in AL pitching with its 5.10 team ERA.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Rays of Hope

If you’re a baseball fan – especially if you’re a follower of an American League east team – one burning question branded in your mind is “Are the Tampa Bay Rays for real?”

Through 90 games of this 2008 MLB season, the answer appears to be yes. The Rays are 55-35, have a dominant 36-14 record in their domed home of Tropicana Field, and lead the defending World Champion Boston Red Sox by two games.

All this sounds nice, but where are these Rays coming from? Who are they? And, do they have what it takes to battle the Red Sox and Yankees for American League East supremacy?

No, it’s not possible. It’s Tampa Bay. These guys are perennial losers. There’s just no way these guys can win more games than Boston or New York, right?

Well, let’s take a closer look.

True, Tampa Bay has been a losing franchise. Since its inception in 1998, the Rays (formerly the Devil Rays) have compiled a miserable 645-972 record – good for an MLB-worst 39.8 winning percentage over those 10 seasons.

Of those 10 seasons, they owned the worst record in the Major Leagues five times and finished dead last in the AL East in all but one of those seasons.

So, how have they been able to turn this around?

Pitching, thus far, has been the main reason. As of July 9th, Tampa Bay ranks ninth in American league defense and seventh in batting; however, the Rays pitching ranks third.

Thus far, the Rays have a team ERA of 3.60. This includes a 36-22 record and 3.67 ERA among its starting rotation. That’s great, but who are these pitchers and can they sustain their pitching prowess?

Since 2005, many faces have changed, but one pitcher has remained strong and reliable for Tampa Bay. Scott Kazmir is this pitcher. The Rays left-handed ace was an All-Star in 2006 and totes a career record of 42-33 with a 3.53 ERA.

Kazmir has been a stalwart for Tampa’s pitching staff through some very tough seasons.

From 2005 through 2007 Tampa Bay posted a 194-292 record. Despite the lack of team success, Kazmir was 33-28 and posted a 3.52 ERA through 537.1 innings pitched. The left-hander also recorded 576 strikeouts during that time-frame – including 239 in 2007.

Complementing Kazmir is Tampa’s current strikeout leader, right-hander James Shields. Through two-plus seasons with the Rays, Shields is 25-21 with a 4.06 ERA.

Thus far, in 2008, Kazmir and Shields have not disappointed. Kazmir is 7-4 with a 2.69 ERA. Shields, meanwhile, leads the team with 96 strikeouts and is 7-5 with a 3.64 ERA.

It’s after these two pitchers where the Rays have some question marks.

Tampa’s three, four, and five starters – Matt Garza, Edwin Jackson and Andy Sonnanstine – have combined for a 22-13 record and 3.93 ERA. These stats look good for now, but we’re talking about three pitchers who – prior to Sonnanstine’s 10 wins this season – had yet to win more than seven games in a season.

Garza had two seasons with Minnesota prior to joining Tampa this season. In these two years, the 24-year-old righty achieved an 8-13 record with a mediocre 4.46 ERA.

Jackson has a bit more experience than Garza, but not much success. The Rays right-hander lost 15 games for the Devil Rays in 2007 and owns an 11-19 record and 5.16 ERA through five seasons of MLB pitching prior to 2008.

Finally, perhaps the Rays greatest overachiever thus far is Sonnanstine. The Rays 25-year-old righty currently leads his team in wins (10), but went 6-10 with a 5.86 ERA last year for Tampa Bay – his only experience as a Major Leaguer thus far.

Besides the lack of success, these pitchers lack experience. Entering the 2008 season, Tampa’s starting five have a combined 14 years of MLB experience entering and they are an average of 24.6 years of age.

These things do not bode well for Tampa Bay down the stretch.

Also, as the Rays recently dropped three straight to the Yankees in New York as Boston swept a sizzling Minnesota Twins team in three games at Fenway.

So, are the Rays finally beginning to sink or will they be able to keep up its heated battled with Boston and New York?

Don’t be surprised if the Rays make a nice run, but playoffs? A winning season will be a step in the right direction for Tampa Bay this year, then, in 2009 or 2010, the Rays can start thinking about earning its first post-season bid.

Of course, you never know, if Kazmir and Shields stay healthy and the other three starters can maintain their 2008 success, get ready folks, Tampa Bay will have a baseball team ripe and ready to root for in October.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

MLB '08 Predictions

**These are prognostications I made about three weeks ago, it just slipped my mind to post them. Yes, I understand it's nearly two weeks into the season now (which may cheapen the value of these predictions to certain readers); but, I know I stayed true with my selections and that's what matters.

MLB 2008 Preview

Los Angeles Angels over New York Mets (six games)

Los Angeles over Boston Red Sox (four games)

New York over Colorado Rockies (four games)

Los Angeles over Detroit Tigers (four games)
Boston Red Sox over Cleveland Indians (five games)

New York over Los Angeles Dodgers (three games)
Colorado over Chicago Cubs (five games)

Final Standings for American and National Leagues:
LA Angels 91-71
Seattle Mariners 88-74
Oakland Athletics 79-81
Texas Rangers 71-91
Cleveland Indians 93-69
*Detroit Tigers 88-74
Kansas City Royals 83-79
Minnesota Twins 76-86
Chicago White Sox 68-94
Boston Red Sox 103-59
New York Yankees 86-76
Tampa Bay Devil Rays 84-78
Toronto Blue Jays 74-88
Baltimore Orioles 63-99
Colorado Rockies 89-73
*Los Angeles Dodgers 87-75
San Diego Padres 83-81
Arizona Diamondbacks 79-83
San Francisco Giants 68-94
Chicago Cubs 90-66
Milwaukee Brewers 85-77
Houston Astros 79-81
Cincinnati Reds 79-81
Pittsburgh Pirates 77-83
St. Louis Cardinals 72-90
New York Mets 90-66
Philadelphia Phillies 89-67
Atlanta Braves 83-81
Washington Nationals 72-90
Florida Marlins 70-92
* Wild Cards

Date: July 15th 2008
Location: Yankee Stadium (Bronx, New York, New York)
AL Starters:
SP — Fausto Carmona (CLE)
C — Victor Martinez (CLE)
1B — Justin Morneau (MIN)
2B — B.J. Upton (TB)
3B — Alex Rodriguez (NYY)
SS — Derek Jeter (SS)
LF — Ichiro (SEA)
CF — Torii Hunter (LAA)
RF — Vladimir Guerrero (LAA)

AL Reserves
Pitchers — Felix Hernandez (SEA), Justin Verlander (DET), Dontrelle Willis (DET), Daisuke Matsuzaka (BOS), Joe Blanton (OAK), John Lackey (LAA), Scott Kazmir (TB), Francisco Rodriguez (LAA), Bobby Jenks (CHW), J.J. Putz (SEA), Jonathan Papelbon (BOS)
Infielders — Carlos Pena (TB), Joe Mauer (MIN), Michael Young (TEX), Ivan Rodriguez (DET), Adrian Beltre (SEA), Chone Figgins (LAA), David Ortiz (BOS), Billy Butler (KC), Brian Roberts (BAL)

Outfielders — Gary Matthews Jr. (LAA), Jacoby Elsbury (BOS), Curtis Granderson (DET), Grady Sizemore (CLE), Vernon Wells (TOR)

NL Starters:
SP — Ubaldo Jimenez (COL)
C — Russell Martin (LAD)
1B — Mark Teixiera (ATL)
2B — Orlando Hudson (ARZ)
3B — David Wright (NYM)
SS — Jose Reyes (NYM)
LF — Alfonso Soriano (CHC)
CF — Juan Pierre (LAD)
RF — Hunter Pence (HOU)

NL Reserves:
Pitchers — Johan Santana (NYM), Brad Penny (LAD), Cole Hamels (PHI), Jake Peavy (SD), Aaron Harang (CIN), Carlos Zambrano (CHC), Ian Snell (PIT), Manny Corpas (COL), Kerry Wood (CHC), Eric Gagne (MIL)
Infielders — Brian McCann (ATL), Bengie Molina (SF), Prince Fielder (MIL), Ryan Howard (PHL), Hanley Ramirez (FLA), Chase Utley (PHI), Freddy Sanchez (PIT), Ryan Zimmerman (WAS), Troy Tulowitzki (COL), Chipper Jones (ATL)
Outfielders — Bill Hall (MIL), Eric Young (ARZ), Rick Ankiel (STL), Kosuke Fukudome (CHC)

American League:
MVP — Vladimir Guerrero
CY — Daisuke Matsuzaka
Rolaids Relief — Francisco Rodriguez
R.O.Y. — Jacoby Elsbury
Comeback Player of the Year — Dontrelle Willis
Gold Gloves —
Pitcher: Francisco Liriano (MIN)
Catcher: Ivan Rodriguez (DET)
1st Base: Justin Morneau (MIN)
2nd Base: Nick Punto (MIN)
3rd Base: Chone Figgins (LAA)
Shortstop: Derk Jeter (NYY)
Outfield (3): Ichiro Suzuki (SEA), Curtis Granderson (DET), Torii Hunter (LAA)

National League:
MVP — Jose Reyes (NYM)
CY — Johan Santana (NYM)
Rolaids Relief — Manny Corpas (COL)
R.O.Y.— Felix Pie (CHC)
Comeback Player of the Year — Miguel Tejada (HOU)
Gold Gloves —
Pitcher: Johan Santana (NYM)
Catcher: Russell Martin (LAD)
1st Base: Mark Teixeira (ATL)
2nd Base: Luis Castillo (NYM)
3rd Base: David Wright (NYM)
Shortstop: Jose Reyes (NYM)
Outfield (3): Juan Pierre (LAD), Alfonzo Soriano (CHI), Mike Cameron (MIL)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Walking Off an Angel

Los Angeles Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez went down with an injury after surrendering the lead to the Cleveland Indians in the top of the 9th tonight. The man known as K-Rod was in danger of letting his Angels lose.

The defeat would've been the Angels first loss in 162 consecutive contests where they've entered the ninth with a lead.

So, what happened? Well, Rodriguez, could've easily earned a win instead.

The Angels' Torii Hunter hit a walk-off grand slam.

This does not make Hunter the American League MVP. (Although, for one night, he was at least Anaheim's MVP).

The home run didn't give K-Rod a W. And no, Hunter's blast didn't miraculously cure Rodriguez and make him healthy for the rest of April. The homer did, however, get the Angels star closer off the hook for at least one more night.

It also gave Angels reliever Scott Shields (1-0) a mulligan victory.

There is a Rose in Spanish Harlem

It's not only a Mamas & The Papas lyric, Derrick Rose is indeed a special Rose. Tonight, however, he was not quite special enough. Perhaps Rose was in Harlem preceding the NCAA tournament... Or, perhaps, Rose's team just fell short tonight. In any case, it was a nice season for Memphis and I still hope the Timberpup's draft Mr. Rose in the 2008 NBA lottery.

Also, don't worry Derrick. As Mama Cass and The Mamas & The Papas proclaimed, "Monday, Monday, how could you leave and not take me."

(For those interested in stats and so forth ... Sorry, I've got tendinitis at the moment, and a lot of writing and stat digging is not something I'm up for at the moment)

I could go on "every other day (every other day), every other day (every other day) of the week is fy-iii-nnn-ee yeah." ... Although tonight is not one of the finest nights in Rose's life, something tells me, he'll get over it.

4-7-08 Kansas Jayhawks 75, Memphis Tigers 68 in OT

Friday, February 29, 2008

Timberwolves sink near NBA's basement

Al Jefferson scored 22 points and corralled 10 rebounds for the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight; however, it was not enough as Minnesota fell short of the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight at Quicken Loans Arena 92-84.

Corey Brewer added 15 points and four steals for the Wolves, but the loss dropped Minnesota to 12-45 and last place in the NBA's western conference -- a mere half-game ahead of Miami in the NBA's overall standings.

Lacking Kevin Garnett, Minnesota's power forward Craig Smith led the Wolves in the paint with eight points and eight rebounds. Smith's performance was not enough, however, to suppress Cleveland. The Cavaliers cruised to victory as they were led by another astonishing performance its all-star phenom, LeBron James.

James was the game's leading scorer with 30 points, on 11-for-22 shooting, and he also led the Cavs with 13 assists.

Also helping Cleveland tonight was Delonte West. As one of Cleveland's recent acquisitions in its three-team trade, West score 12 points and dished out five assists to aid the Cavs in disposing the Timberwolves and improving to 33-26 and 5th place in the Eastern conference standings.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Minnesota makes veteran move that may benefit Liriano

For the first time in many years, the Minnesota Twins opening day starter will not be either Johan Santana or Brad Radke.

Neither will this pitcher be Livan Hernandez.

Tuesday, the Twins signed Hernandez when the 32-year-old journeyman inked a $ 5 million contract for the 2008 season.

Santana brought his top-dollar, Cy Young award-award winning arm with him to New York. Radke retired in 2006 after spending all of his 12 Major League seasons with Minnesota.

The Twins 2008 opening day starter this March 31 will likely be either Francisco Liriano or Scott Baker. As for the other three spots in the Twins starting rotation, Hernandez should earn one and there will be battles for the other two.

Starting rotation aside, one thing is certain about Hernandez, the native of Cuba and 12-year MLB journeyman will add veteran leadership to this very young Twins pitching staff (something Radke gave Minnesota for a long time).

Known as a common choice for Twins opening day starter over the years, Radke is not similar to Hernandez in physical stature or pitching style, however, the two right-handers are similar in durability.

Radke pitched 12 seasons of Major League Baseball.

Eisler "Livan" Hernandez will enter his enter 13th season as an MLB starter.

Throughout his Twins career, Radke tossed 2,451 innings for a 204.1 per-season average. As for Hernandez, the 2007 Arizona Diamondbacks starter has chalked up 2,371 innings for a 197.6 inning-per-season average.

Also, the two pitchers' career records and ERA are similar.

Radke was 148-139 in his career with a 4.22 ERA. Hernandez has compiled a 134-128 record and a 4.25 ERA.

Now, if you go beyond regular season achievements, you'll find Hernandez -- a 6-foot-2-inch, 245-pound native of Villa Clara, Cuba -- has the upper hand on Radke.

Radke has appeared in one All Star game (1998). Hernandez has two All-Star appearances (2004, 2005) and a World Series ring.

Hernandez was also the MVP of the 1997 World Series when he pitched the Florida Marlins to a seven-game championship over the Cleveland Indians -- a series that became known as the "Latino Series."

The message here is that Hernandez is experienced and he's Latin.

What other Latin pitcher is competing for a Twins starting rotation position?

Minnesota's future ace and 24-year-old flame thrower, Liriano (who grew up in the Dominican Republic).

To sum up Minnesota's one-year agreement with Hernandez:

No, the result will not give Minnesota a 2008 championship. Neither will Hernandez be a 20-game winner for his new club.

On the bright side, however, for the Twins' youthful pitching staff this move should bode well both for the staff (as a whole) and for Liriano.

Hernandez should benefit Minnesota by aiding Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson in the development of Liriano.

Furthermore, with the absence of Santana the move might also can assist Anderson in doing something else. Hernandez could be the key in aiding Anderson to mold Liriano into a future Cy Young award winner.