With Hennepin County commissioners unable to negotiate a price with landowners on the selected site for the new ballpark behind Target Center, Twins officials have gotten involved for the first time in trying to solve the problem by holding discussions with both sides to try to settle on a sale price.
The commissioners have been at a stalemate with the landowners and have refused to go along with a plan in which the price of the land would be determined under future condemnation and would allow the project to go ahead.
There was danger of the ballpark not being built until Twins officials got involved. And there is the possibility of the park not being ready for the 2010 season unless work starts in the near future.
Jerry Bell -- president of Twins Sports, Inc., and who represents the Twins in stadium negotiations -- admitted that "we have had talks."
However, Bell said he can't say anything more about the conversations he's held with the county and the landowners.
At this point, no progress has been made. The consensus among those close to the negotiations is that the Twins, who already have committed $100 million to the cost of building the ballpark, might have to contribute to buying the land to ensure the ballpark will be built.
Vikings make cap room
After some restructuring to free more money under the salary cap -- including the release of quarterback Brad Johnson -- the Vikings are now $30 million under the $109 million salary cap and rank with the top five in the league in that situation, according to Rob Brzezinski, Vikings vice president of football operations.
Owner/President Mark Wilf made it clear Wednesday that his family is determined to put a winning team on the field and will spend the money necessary to do that.
"We have complete confidence in our football experts, and we are ready to spend what they believe is sensible in the acquisitions of free agents who can help the team," Wilf said.
A year ago, before the 2006 season started, the Vikings signed free agents Steve Hutchinson, Chester Taylor, Ryan Longwell, Ben Leber and Tank Williams. They spent close to $94 million.
The caliber of free agents available this year might not be in the class of a year ago. However, Wilf said he will give the football people what they need to field a winner.
Interest in Spaeth
Former Gophers tight end Matt Spaeth, who attended the NFL combine in Indianapolis, said although he couldn't work out, everything went well with the doctors who checked his surgically repaired shoulder and he had interviews with the Bills, Bears, Bengals, Chiefs, Redskins and Jaguars. The Vikings already know a lot about Spaeth, who said he had a limited conversation with an assistant coach at the combine.
Spaeth said the Gophers' pro workout day is Monday, but he won't be able to take part. He hopes to do so before the NFL draft.
"I felt everything went really good, all the medical stuff checked out, my shoulder checked out good, the interviews went good," said Spaeth. He said he believed he could hold his own with any tight end he saw at the combine.
Gophers spring football practice opens today. One player who won't be able to take part for a while will be tackle Steve Shidell, who had foot surgery after the season and had the cast taken off Wednesday. ... Among the junior college players in school who will be able to participate in spring ball will be wide receiver Marc Cheatham from Laney (Calif.) College, defensive back Durrell Clark-Jones from City College of San Francisco, defensive linemen Serge Elizee from College of the Sequoias (Calif.) and linebacker Eric Small from Joilet (Ill.) Junior College.
Former Gophers offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tony Petersen said he was interviewed Saturday by new Iowa State coach Gene Chizik and hired a couple of days later. "This is a great opportunity because I can work with an experienced senior quarterback in Bret Meyer," Petersen said.
On the other hand, Gordie Shaw didn't get the Army offensive line coaching job he interviewed for; it went to former Vikings tight end coach John Tice. It's unusual that all of the defensive coaches on Glen Mason's staff have secured jobs but that offensive assistants such as Shaw, Vic Adamle, Luke Tressel and Mitch Browning are still looking.
Former Gopher Danny Irmen has 14 goals and 14 assists in 58 games for the Wild's farm team, the Houston Aeros. ... Among other former Gophers, Kris Chucko has 10 goals and 10 assists in 59 games for Omaha of the AHL. ... Jeff Taffe had 20 goals and 19 assists in 59 games before recently being recalled by Phoenix. ... For the Toronto Marlies of the AHL, Erik Westrum is the leading scorer with 22 goals and 33 assists in 57 games. Also with the Marlies, Chris Harrington has seven goals and 15 assists in 53 games. ... For the Toronto Maple Leafs, John Pohl has 11 goals and 12 assists in 60 games.
Northeastern freshman Matt Janning, from Watertown, Minn., has been named the Colonial Athletic Association men's basketball rookie of the week three times this season. The 6-4 Janning, who leads CAA freshmen in scoring (11.8 points per game) and rebounding (4.5 per game), is expected to be named the CAA Rookie of the Year.
Big Ten men's swimming and diving champion Minnesota is expected to have 13 or 14 qualifiers for the NCAA men's Division I Championships, which will be held March 15-17 at University of Minnesota Aquatic Center. The Gophers, who also have qualified all five relay teams, have made 15 consecutive top-15 finishes at the NCAA meet and look to finish in the top 10 after placing 11th last year.
The USHL's Sioux Falls Stampede, coached by former Gopher Kevin Hartzell, is in third place in the West Division. The Stampede is 7-0-1 in its past eight games. Forward Ryan Guentzel, the son of Gophers assistant Mike Guentzel, is tied for second on the team in scoring with 30 points (five goals, 25 assists) in 40 games. Goaltender Matt Lundin (Apple Valley) is third among USHL goaltenders with an 18-10-3 record, a 2.44 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage. Lundin, who played the past two seasons at the University of Maine, has committed to Mercyhurst College for next season.