MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was at Target Field on Wednesday for the Twins’ eighth annual diversity celebration. He said that despite attendance being down by over 2.6 million fans across the league through Tuesday night, he believes baseball remains as vital as ever.
“I’m very positive about the state of the game,” said Manfred, in his fourth year as commissioner. “You know, we’ve had a really good attendance year after a difficult weather start. Our revenues are up. I think we have the greatest crop of young players coming into the game in generations. I mean just this year, [Nationals outfielder Juan] Soto, [Braves outfielder Ronald] Acuna, really great young players. I’m really positive about where we are.
“Attendance is down. We got into a little hole with the weather early in the season, and we have steadily reduced the amount we’re down. When the weather improved, we’re doing just fine.”
He said baseball’s national TV ratings are about even with last year, but he acknowledges the challenge presented by the popularity of the NFL.
“Football is a huge competition. It’s a great product,” he said. “They do a great job promoting their game, but we think our game stacks up with anybody.”
After working with the MLB Players Association to establish a new collective bargaining agreement for 2017-2021, Manfred said he believes there is no strike on the horizon.
“We have four more years to go, we have some time still on that one,” he said. “We work hard every day to have a good relationship with the union. We’ll find a way to make [a new] agreement.”
Plenty of competition
Even though Cleveland has dominated the AL Central this season and Boston has done the same in the East, Manfred sees a lot of competition.
“Houston is [one game ahead of Oakland] in the American League West, we have a nice race there. We have a good race going in the National League West,” he said. “We don’t have every division [going down to the wire] every year, but I think the wild card has really helped us in terms of keeping fan interest up because you have great races there.”
Some people would like to see more wild-card teams, but Manfred wants to keep the number of postseason qualifiers exclusive. Only 10 of 30 MLB teams reach the postseason, compared to 16 of 30 in the NBA and 12 of 32 in the NFL.
“We pride ourselves on our postseason game the most,” he said. “It’s the most exclusive postseason, the hardest one to get into in any sport. It makes our regular season very important.”
Where does he stand on the Twins as they continue to try to field a long-term winner?
“Look, the Twins are one of our best-run franchises, one of our smaller markets that manages to be competitive,” he said. “They draw; you can’t ask for better management than the Twins.”
When it comes to Twins owner Jim Pohlad, who serves on several MLB committees, Manfred said: “He plays a really significant role in terms of the management of the game.”
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said Monday that Ifeadi Odenigbo brings a unique dynamic to the defense. In the Vikings’ second preseason game, a 14-10 loss to Jacksonville on Saturday, Odenigbo was able to move from defensive tackle, where he has played all camp, to defensive end and come up with a team-high seven tackles to go along with two sacks.
“For a guy on gameday to be able to play three or four positions, that’s important,” Zimmer said. “A lot of things happen like in [the game Saturday]. We have to be prepared for all of those scenarios.”
Odenigbo is a first-generation immigrant from Nigeria and said he had to convince his parents to let him play football at Centerville High School in Dayton, Ohio.
“My friends at school, they were like, ‘Hey Ifeadi, you’re big, athletic, you’re Nigerian, you look like you have traits,’ ” Odenigbo said. “My track coach was my football coach at the time and he was like, ‘Hey man, you don’t have to run in a circle. Running in a circle is fun but hitting somebody is a lot more fun.’ ”
Odenigbo’s talent was immediately apparent. He started playing his sophomore year and by his senior season, he had scholarship offers from Ohio State, Stanford and Notre Dame before eventually choosing to attend Northwestern.
When he finished his college career, he was second in school history with 23½ sacks.
What does he recall about playing the Gophers?
“I remember every time we played at TCF Bank Stadium, it was a cold stadium,” he said. “I think we got our butt kicked both times I was out there. It hasn’t been fun.”
Odenigbo was picked in the seventh round last season and the Vikings put him on their practice squad, which he said was necessary.
“I wasn’t being over- analyzed by my coaches,” he said. “I went in with the mind-set to let me improve; what tendencies do I mess up? I think towards the end of the year, I became a solid player.”
He said defensive line coach Andre Patterson taught him a crucial aspect of his game.
“He says God gave us all our own instruments and you can’t duplicate your game off of one person,” he said. “By the way you’re playing, you get to find out what kind of pass rusher you are and from there, you can play a lot faster.”
Odenigbo’s openness to playing either end or tackle and finding what kind of pass rusher he is might help him make the active roster.
• Former Gophers football coach Jerry Kill, now the interim athletic director/special assistant to the chancellor at Southern Illinois, told The Southern Illinoisan that he’s focusing primarily on fundraising after hiring three new coaches. If he will remain in his role is up in the air. “The biggest thing for me is I want to make sure I’m healthy,” Kill said. “I’m going through some checkups right now, and if I get the OK from them and so forth, then I’ll talk to the chancellor [Carlo Montemagno]. But I’ve put a hell of a lot into it in six weeks. I’d like to see how it matures and goes.”
• Former Vikings guard Willie Beavers will be on the U.S. Bank Stadium field for the Seahawks when they face the Vikings in their third preseason game Friday. Beavers attended Western Michigan under Gophers coach P.J. Fleck. Beavers played 40 percent of the snaps at guard last week against the Chargers.
• After several years as an assistant to Steve Fisher, Brian Dutcher went 22-11 and reached the NCAA tournament in his first year as head men’s basketball coach at San Diego State. On Wednesday, the Aztecs extended the contract of Dutcher, the son of former Gophers coach Jim Dutcher, through 2022-2023 for a guaranteed $4 million.