Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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MANKATO, Minn. -- Got a solution to the Vikings' problem with birds hitting the new stadium and dying.
Let's think about this. Birds flying into building. Legendary coach who loves shooting birds. That's it!
Put Bud Grant out in front of the stadium. The man is known to be a little miserly. All you have to do is give him $50 bucks, a tank of gas, and free shotgun shells.
Birds fly toward stadium. Bud lets loose. Dinner for everyone.
What could go wrong?
Why would the Vikings sign tight end Kyle Rudolph to a $36.5 million contract?
Because they have big plans.
After spending three days with the team in Mankato, what struck me is that this team, after a couple decades of turmoil, has a chance to be somewhat stable.
Denny Green won a lot of games, but the organization was never calm when he was around.
Mike Tice was turmoil personified. Brad Childress was constantly battling with quarterbacks or bosses. Leslie Frazier was a calm and wonderful human, but he wasn't hired by the general manager who runs the team, so he was always in limbo.
Now you have a head coach hired by the general manager he works for who cares about nothing other than winning games. You have a coaching staff that Vikings employees say is already making a difference. And one of those coaches, offensive coordinator Norv Turner, is capable of building one of the best offenses in the NFL out of the parts he's assembling.
The worst contracts in sports are those that reward what a player has already done. This one projects what the Vikings expect Rudolph to do.
Rudolph has been a very good player. He has not been a star. In Turner's offense, he could become one.
Jay Novacek played five seasons in the NFL before playing in Turner's offense in Dallas. His best season pre-Norv: 38 catches, 569 yards, four touchdowns.
His first season with Norv and a budding offense: 59-657-4. His best season with Norv: 68-630-6.
Rudolph is bigger and stronger than Novacek, and about as fast. Turner spoke this weekend about teaching Rudolph to run more fluid routes, which should enable him to get deep more often, and to catch the ball in stride and run with it more often.
Assuming decent quarterback play, Rudolph could have a breakout season this year, or next.
Wrote about receiver Erik Lora for today's editions. Other interesting or emerging players to watch: Cornerback Jabari Price, safety Robert Blanton, guard David Yankey.
Key player to watch? Maybe Sharrif Floyd. He's lighter this year. I don't know if that's a sign that he's hungry and in better shape, or a desperate move for a player who didn't make an impact as a rookie.
I'll be on 1500ESPN-AM today and every weekday at 12:15 with Mackey&Judd. I'm on WJON at 7:05 a.m. with Jay Caldwell in St. Cloud every morning. My Sunday show, Sunday Sports Talk, airs 10-noon on 1500ESPN. Sincere thanks for reading and listening.
Greg Maddux will be inducted in the baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday. Here's an interview I did with Twins closer Glen Perkins after he worked with Maddux at the WBC:
Fort Myers, Fla.
Glen Perkins had just arrived at the World Baseball Classic and was eating dinner in the hotel bar when Greg Maddux, the Team USA pitching coach, walked by.
“I told him, ‘I’ll be here a while,” Perkins said, and later that night, Perkins and his favorite pitcher spent 90 minutes talking Zen and beer, Confucius and situational pitching, forever altering the way the Twins closer views his craft.
“He will always have me thinking,” Perkins said. “That is a conversation I will not forget.”
Monday morning, as he prepared to pitch, Perkins spoke of Maddux the way a fledgling guitarist in the 1960s might recall a conversation with Jimi Hendrix.
“I kept thinking, ‘I’m sitting here talking pitching with Greg Maddux,” Perkins said. “That doesn’t seem like real life to me. Not only was he the best pitcher of probably all time, but he was a guy I grew up watching. People talk about Babe Ruth being great. Well, I never saw Babe Ruth. Greg Maddux won four Cy Youngs when I was at my peak of fandom.”
During their conversation, a spring training game played on the TV. Maddux glanced up, saw a groundball single and said, “That was a stupid pitch.”
“I didn’t even know he was watching, but he picked up on everything,” Perkins said. “A guy had swung late at an outside fastball. The pitcher came back with a breaking pitch, and the guy rolled a single through. Maddux was saying that if you throw a fastball and the batter is late, throw another fastball. That’s why he thought it was a stupid pitch.”
During another at-bat, a pitcher threw two fastballs out of the strike zone. Maddux told Perkins the next pitch should be a changeup. Conventional wisdom holds that when you’re behind 2-and-0, the next pitch should be a fastball for a strike, to avoid a walk.
Maddux turned conventional wisdom on its head.
“I said that everything I’d been taught was that you had to have the hitter swing at a harder pitch, then throw the changeup off of that,” Perkins said. “Maddux said that if the hitter was expecting a fastball, you threw a changeup because of the hitter’s expectations. I had never heard that before. It made so much sense.”
Maddux recommended that Perkins begin watching video of himself and opponents.
“He said he threw every pitch of his career with maximum conviction and concentration,” Perkins said. “I think that’s part of why I didn’t succeed as a starter, because I had a hard time concentrating that much. I think even as a reliever there are times I still throw a pitch just to throw a pitch, to get to the next pitch or the next hitter.
“He didn’t do that. And he didn’t do that for 18, 20 years. For 3,500 or 4,000 innings. So he faced 20,000 batters, threw about 60,000 pitches and never let up on a pitch. I think I probably throw about 500 pitches a year now.
“If I break it down like that, I should be able to do all right concentrating on every pitch.”
Perkins kept that in mind Monday, when he struck out the side in a minor league game at the Twins’ complex.
Maddux fared better than that against Perkins, in at least one at-bat. The two faced each other in 2008 in San Diego, when Perkins was still a Twins starter and Maddux was pitching in his final season. Maddux made solid contact once. Perkins admitted he might have let up on that pitch.
“He said, ‘Underestimating your opponent can lead to catastrophe,’ ” Perkins said. “Here’s Greg Maddux quoting Confucius. Later, I said, ‘Underestimating your opponent can lead to disaster,’ and he corrected me.”
Maddux never has worked as a full-time pitching coach. With Team USA, he wound up throwing in the outfield, sometimes licking his middle finger and making the ball swerve like a small bird.
“Maddux said he never did that in a game, but he could make the ball cut any way he wanted,” Perkins said. “I’ve been back from the WBC for two days, and there have already been times when I thought about things he said.
“So yesterday, when we were practicing fielding, I licked my middle finger, and threw a cutter to the catcher.’
I'll co-host Sunday Sports Talk from 10-noon on 1500ESPN-AM from Mankato. I'm also on the station at about 12:15 on weekdays.
First impressions from the Vikings' first day of practices:
-Mike Zimmer is a no-nonsense guy. Get the sense he's going to be both very honest and very controlled about the information he gives out. I don't think he's going to try to mislead anybody, but he may not be all that forthcoming.
-Harrison Smith's flexibility might be a key to this defense. He moved around a lot during practice, sometimes lining up as a quasi-linebacker. Given Zimmer's varied defensive schemes, Smith could end up playing as a third safety or fourth linebacker in certain situations.
-Norv Turner has talked about throwing the ball more to Adrian Peterson. For what it's worth, Peterson had a lousy day trying to catch the ball. I'm guessing that at this stage of his career he's not too keen on training camp practices.
-Zimmer said defensive tackle Linval Joseph can bench-press 500 pounds.
-Wasn't as much cussing on the field as I expected, given Zimmer's outbursts during Hard Knocks, and Turner's verbosity during OTAs. Or maybe they were cussing more quietly.
-Adam Thielen of Minnesota State-Mankato made a diving catch and may be elected mayor soon.
-Teddy Bridgewater is a very pleasant and composed young man.
-Christian Ponder, in non-contact scrimmage, repeatedly pulled down the ball and ran. Why? Why?
-Matt Cassel did not look good throwing the ball deep on Day 1.
-The Vikings wisely had everyone involved in the Kluwe investigation answer questions about it on Thursday. That meant nobody was asking about it on Friday. That is the best way to handle a PR nightmare - turn it into a one-day story, make everyone available on the same day, and give yourself, as an organization, the right to say the rest of camp: ``We've already answered those questions.''
It also didn't hurt the Vikings that their day of access on the topic occured while Ray Rice was receiving just a two-game suspension for hitting his wife, and that Chuck Knoblauch's induction to the Twins' Hall of Fame was cancelled because of his arrest on domestic assault charges.
-Of course, the Star Tribune print edition, Startribune.com, Access Vikings The Blog, and Master Tesfasion's videos will cover these subjects more voluminously.
I'll be writing columns from Mankato for the next three days. First topic: How did this team manage to win just five games last year, and what does that mean for this year?
I'll be on 1500ESPN-AM 10-noon on Sunday for SundaySportsTalk with Korzo and Hunter.
What a week. I thought Minneapolis and Target Field put on a great show all week, from the Futures Game through Glen Perkins getting the save last night.
All week, Perkins talked about pinching himself, that he wasn't sure this could be real - a local boy pitching at an All-Star game in his home ballpark.
Here's the link to the column I did this spring on the turning point in Perkins' career:
Or, if you prefer text, here's the text:
FORT MYERS, FLA. – Glen Perkins is an All-Star closer who has spent his entire life in Minnesota. He is the rare Twins player who lives in state year-round, has become a centerpiece of the Twins’ marketing campaign and has vowed to play for them as long as they will have him.
It’s easy to forget that three years ago the Twins considered trading him, and only Perkins’ intervention led to what he calls “a great life.”
Perkins butted heads with his coaches at the University of Minnesota, then quarreled with his Twins bosses. He was on his way to becoming another first-round bust when, late in the spring of 2011, he walked up to Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson.
“I can remember it like it was yesterday,” Anderson said. “He came to me right here and said, ‘Can I talk to you? I was born and raised in Minnesota, I’ve spent my entire life in Minnesota, I want to be a Twin. I want to be a better teammate, I want to be a better pitcher, don’t give up on me.’
“There was some talk of making a trade, then all of a sudden he saw the light.”
Perkins remembers traveling from Fort Myers to Clearwater, Fla., with the Twins and not pitching.
“That’s the first time that had ever happened to me,’’ he said. “I was angry.”
He walked into manager Ron Gardenhire’s office and asked why he hadn’t been informed he had made the team.
“I told Gardy, ‘I want to play here, if you’ll have me,” Perkins said.
Gardenhire said he would call Perkins later in the day. Perkins figured that was a brushoff. He picked up his father-in-law and headed to Sanibel to fish.
“The phone rang before we got to the causeway,” Perkins said. “Gardy said, ‘Pack your bags, you’re going north with us.’ ”
Perkins had a similar experience with the Gophers. The Stillwater High School product made lousy grades during his first semester in college. The Gophers redshirted him, and he spent his second semester “figuring out how to be a college student.” One day, Gophers pitching coach Todd Oakes called him about a rumor that Perkins wanted to transfer.
Perkins said that if he was going to leave, he already would be gone.
“I think that was the moment for Todd where he said, ‘OK, he’s committed, he just needs to figure out how to do it.’ I never had any more trouble.”
Why so much conflict? “I guess it’s a character flaw of mine,” Perkins said.
Now he’s Mr. Minnesota, or at least hangs out with someone vying for that title.
Perkins and Joe Mauer played for the USA in the World Baseball Classic and for the American League in the All-Star Game last year. They could play in the next All-Star Game, at Target Field.
With Mauer having twin daughters and wintering in Minnesota instead of Fort Myers, the two were able to enjoy the Polar Vortex together. “We played hockey,” Perkins said. “Well, it was more like ice dancing. No sequins, though.”
They talked about their kids. They talked about their futures, with Perkins signed through 2016 and Mauer through 2018. They talked about how losing feels, and what winning at home would mean.
“We agreed that if we had crappy season after crappy season it would be worth it if just once we could win it all here,” Perkins said. “That’s the carrot dangling in front of us. The experience of winning a World Series in your hometown — what Kent Hrbek did — makes it all worth it.
“I want to be the closer of this team when we get to the playoffs. I got to see Joe Nathan do that a whole bunch.”
In the last few days, Perkins became the centerpiece for Twins television and radio commercials, and has dined with the Gophers baseball staff, with the team playing in Florida. One conversation changed him from an anti-authoritarian trade chip into a representative of all that is right in Minnesota sports.
“Either I hinted to them that I didn’t want to be here, or they got that impression,” Perkins said. “I think they appreciated what I had to say. For a guy to say, ‘This is where I still want to be,’ no matter how rough the going was, I think they respected that.”
Last night's home-run derby went on far too long, and yielded a final between Yoenis Cespedes and Todd Frazier.
But last night's derby offered an easy-to-find clue about how to fix the event.
There were two outstanding moments last night: The ovation that greeted Justin Morneau, and the home run that almost left the ballpark.
Giancarlo Stanton hit a shot estimated at 510 feet that reached the last handful of rows in the third deck of leftfield. That's what people will remember, and therein lies the lesson:
The Derby shouldn't be about hitting the most home runs. It should be about hitting the longest home runs.
Want to fix the derby? Make it quicker. Give each player 20 swings, with the guy who hits one the longest winning the whole thing. Then every swing would count, and every swing would be taken with the intent of hitting the ball out of the ballpark.
Kent Hrbek said the All Star game gave him a chance to meet up with old teammates who came to town for the game. They ate at J.D. Hoyt's the other night. The guest list: Hrbek, Greg Gagne, Scott Erickson, Tim Laudner, Randy Bush, Scott Leius, Rick Aguilera and Roy Smith.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at 12:15 tomorrow.
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