As Twins fade, transition to football is here

John Gilbert

Joe Mauer, resisting rumors this will be his final year, leads the Major Leagues with a .424 batting average and runners in scoring position. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Joe Mauer, resisting rumors this will be his final year, leads the Major Leagues with a .424 batting average and runners in scoring position. Photo credit: John Gilbert

The Reader hits the sidewalks on Thursday night, usually, and this week that will be the perfect time to make the transition from baseball to football, because both the Vikings and the Gophers play Thursday night football this week.
I mean, the Twins are coasting to the finish, at least they would be, if they had any momentum to spend on coasting. But the season has turned ugly in these closing weeks for the Twins, and we’re looking at a team that is playing lifeless baseball to finish off a season where the management gave up on the club before the players did.

There is no reason to continue watching the Twins, although I find myself turning on the TV whenever they’re on, just to see how they seem to be hanging in there. Or, not hanging in there.
Eddie Rosario has faded from any chance of reaching .300 in what should be a breakout year for him. That leaves only good ol’ Joe Mauer as a reasonable attraction through the closing weeks. Mauer is going along at about a .278-.280 clip, which isn’t bad, if expectations weren’t so high for him.
But here’s a little-known fact: While hitting .277 or so, I saw a couple days ago that Mauer is hitting .424 with runners in scoring position - best in the entire Major Leagues! That means, if there’s a chance to drive in a run, a chance to really help his team win, Joe can buckle down, focus, and hit the ball sharply.

The transition to football will be an easy one this year, however. As the Twins sink slowly into the western sky, the Vikings and the Gophers football teams are already to start. And UMD also is ready to hit the road to Minot to open the Northern Sun season.
Of the three, the UMD Bulldogs are the closest thing to be a cinch for your entertainment dollar. Coach Curt Wiese always has his charges up and ready for an honest effort, and my pick is they’ll blow out Minot and be on their way to a strong start to a championship season.
The University of Minnesota is full of promise and promises, but delivering on their potential has proven to be an elusive quality for the once-Golden Gophers. Coach P.J. Fleck is starting anew, but with unproven candidates at quarterback. If the Gophers succeed and earn a bowl spot, I’ll be first to congratulate them. But we’re tired of the dog-and-pony show that somehow the U gets folks throughout the Twin Cities to buy into, year after year.

In fact, if you research the Big Ten West at all, you’ve got to like Wisconsin as the huge favorite to win it, and from my vantage point, I like Iowa and Northwestern as top contenders. And another team I like is Nebraska, which had fallen on tough times but now has brought back a former Cornhusker to coach, and it won’t take him long to restore Nebraska to its glorious, recent past. Purdue, in fact, should be improved.

That could make the Big Ten West look like Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern, Nebraska, Purdue - and then Minnesota and Illinois. That’s awful, and we’ve got to hope the Gophers shatter that mold. Meanwhile, the usually powerful Big Ten East has Ohio State as favorite, but thrown into turmoil over coach Urban Meyer’s failure to fire his assistant for abusing his significant other, and is suspended for the first three games. If that doesn’t disrupt the Buckeyes machine, they’ll win the East. But strong competition will come from Penn State, Michigan State, and Michigan. Should be a great race, and a memorable playoff between division winners. 

We can only wonder how long it will take the Gophers to climb up into contention. We’ll get an early peak Thursday night when the Gophers open against New Mexico State, a team that got pounded by Wyoming last weekend, while being held to minus-9 yards rushing.
Then there are the Vikings, who grumbled about new quarterback Kirk Cousins in his exhibition play, then praised him as though he was the reason the Vikings won a quite entertaining exhibtion 21-20 over Seattle last weekend. For those who dozed off at halftime, Cousins led the Vikings on an outstanding 97-yard touchdown march in the first quarter, a lengthy drive that left Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense with only three plays in the quarter. But those six points were all Cousins could generate. It took third string Kyle Sloter to rally the team for two touchdowns and a closing 2-point conversion to pull out the victory.

They keep that quarterback rating in the NFL, and for the record, Cousins was 17-28 passing and had a rating of 79.8; Sloter was 11-15 and had a 126.4 quarterback rating.
I’m not ready to suggest the Vikings are headed for a lousy season, but we have seen nothing that indicates Cousins has established the cohesiveness, the charisma, and the offensive coordination that Case Keenum had a year ago. And don’t overlook the Green Bay Packers, who have set themselves up in strong position to let Aaron Rodgers reclaim the division for the Pack if the Vikings don’t hit the ground running - and maybe passing.

Hawaii Hurricanes Little League Champs

As usual, I enjoyed what I saw of the Little League World Series at Williamsport. I do believe the little darlings are way too pampered, and I noticed that every team had these new flashy uniforms - even the teams from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Japan, South Korea and Canada. In the interminable closeups they insist on showing us on ESPN, you couldn’t miss the Russell Athletic logos on the caps and shirts the teams wore.

Is this a condescending move to show that we won’t let the kids from other countries provide their own uniforms? We can’t let them go on “our” TV broadcasts unless they’re wearing the proper uniform and spotless hats. It first hit me that they sure hadn’t worn those caps much, and then I realized what had happened, as corporate America captures all the little kids from around the world.

Same with every team’s arsenal of the newest and latest shiny aluminum bats. Remember playing ball, when you pulled out your favorite bat and wouldn’t have felt comfortable with any other bat, even if it was new. Anyway, I’d love to see a team come in wearing scruffy uniforms, with ripped sliding wounds in their pants, stitched up and ready. And the old battered caps from a long season of hard play. It would be great, but we’re waaaaaaay beyond that these days.

In case you missed it, Japan beat Puerto Rico 1-0 to gain the international final, where Japan lost to South Korea convincingly. At that point, they had to face the U.S. champion, which was Hawaii, and Hawaii won the championship 3-0 with a great performance. Hawaii shut out four of the five foes it beat along the way and gave up only a total of three runs in the tournament.

Of course, amid all the serious interviews and glamorization of the kids, adult intervention prevailed, to a fault. In one game, the game-winning run was on second when a hitter hit a clean single down the right-field line. The right fielder got to it immediately and had a great chance to throw the runner out at home. The right fielder fielded the ball, jumped to his feet right on the right field line, and as he went to throw, there was this large, hulking figure right directly in his path, on the base line. It was the umpire. The kid calmly double-clutched, stepped around the ump, and fired a great throw to the plate. The catcher caught the throw and applied the tag, just a millisecond too late - about the time it took the kid to step around the ump! And with that, the winning run scored.