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.