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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I'll admit it: Baseball has turned me off this year.
With the Twins becoming irrelevant for a fourth straight season, I could barely stand to watch the game once the All-Star game bunting was pulled off of Target Field.
This week made me watch again.
Thanks to two former Yankees.
Derek Jeter delivered as only he can. He came to Target Field in mid-summer of his last season, and delivered a double in his last first All-Star at-bat.
He came to the plate for his last first at-bat in Yankee Stadium, and doubled again.
Then, after the Orioles scored three runs to extend the game to the bottom of the ninth, he got his first game-winning hit in seven years in his last at-bat at Yankee Stadium.
Sunday, Jeter hit an infield single at Fenway, then was removed, after raising his career batting average to .310.
Baseball gives us these moments more than any other sport.
Wednesday, another former Yankee did himself proud, too.
A rain delay kept Hughes from earning a $500,000 bonus for innings pitched.
On Friday, the Twins offered him a chance to pitch in relief to earn his bonus. He refused. It was the rare moment in modern pro sports when everyone involved in a supposed controversy came out looking good.
The Gophers' victory over Michigan on Saturday was the most impressive outing by a Gopher football team in my 24 years working at the Star Tribune.
Not since the program's glory days has the Gophers lined up against a power program and whipped them physically the way the Gophers beat up Michigan. It was a mismatch.
The Gophers had by far the better coach, by far the best running back, the better quarterback ,and the stronger roster. That shouldn't happen against Michigan even when the Gophers are at their best.
Jerry Kill is to be commended for putting this program together with basic building blocks: A sound, well-coached defense, a power running game, and a roster filled with well-conditioned athletes.
Brady Hoke is at the opposite end of the spectrum. He is an embarrassment to his profession. Even an average coach should be able to act as a caretaker of the Michigan program. Hoke can't even do that.
That he would re-insert a limping, concussed quarterback into a game shows that he's not just a bad football coach, he is clueless.
Mike Zimmer's challenge today: Limiting Julio Jones. Jones is the Falcons' best player, and maybe the second-best receiver in the NFL. Zimmer did well to limit the Saints' big plays last week. If he can keep Jones from putting up big numbers, the Vikings could make this a game. Jones is the one player who can turn this into a blowout.
The Twins’ signing of Kurt Suzuki is fine, and logical, but it invokes Rule No. 1 of sports coverage:
Place far more emphasis on what a team does than what it says.
The signing of Suzuki to a two-year deal that could turn into a three-year deal makes sense because he is the right kind of player to work with the Twins’ young pitchers, and he is, I am told, an ideal teammate and lockerroom presence.
But what the Suzuki signing really means is that Josmil Pinto isn’t a work in progress as a catcher. It means he’s just a bad catcher.
If the Twins thought they could have Pinto straightened out by next spring, they wouldn’t have paid Suzuki $6 million a year. They are paying Suzuki to be their starting catcher, because they know they don’t have another one close to being ready.
I would have preferred the Twins trade Suzuki for a good young player, but my understanding is that they didn’t have that option. Failing the ability to trade Suzuki for value, signing him to an extension was logical. The one thing the Twins couldn’t afford to do was let Suzuki leave, for nothing in return, as a free agent at the end of the season.
Six million a year used to be real money. Remember, when Kirby Puckett signed a five-year, $30-million deal before the 1993 season, that was briefly the largest contract in baseball history. When Chuck Knoblauch was approaching free agency as potential Hall of Fame second baseman (you can look it up), the Twins gave him that same contract.
Now $6 million a year is what you pay a pretty good veteran catcher because you have no other options.
We’re doing Sunday Sports Talk (1500ESPN-AM) from the 3M Championship on Sunday, 10-noon in one of the big tents. Stop by and heckle Korzo.
I’m covering the Lynx-Phoenix showdown tonight at Target Center, and will be on 1500ESPN at 12:15 on Friday with Mackey & Judd, aka Homer & Panic.
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.
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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