25 May 19
The baseball team he owns, the Minnesota Twins, who won 78 games last season, already has won nearly half that many. And entering Saturday’s game against the White Sox, the Twins had a stunning eight-game lead over perennial American League Central Division champion Cleveland.
Twins owner Jim Pohlad says the team’s losing stretch in the past decade is “all in the past.” (Scott Takushi / St. Paul Pioneer Press)
“Obviously, I understand we’re probably less than a third of the way through the season, and how this kind of stuff can be precarious,” Jim Pohlad said. “But I really think we’ve got a good team.”
We don’t need another source on that.
“We’re excited about where the team is right now,” the Twins’ owner said.
From 2011 through 2014, the Twins lost at least 92 games a season. In 2016, they lost 103 games.
“That’s all in the past,” Pohlad said.
The Twins’ blossoming this season isn’t expected to be just a one-year deal.
“We’re just beginning right now to see the benefits of all the changes we’ve made, the way the team’s playing,” Pohlad said. “Everything we’ve done has intended to be foundational and not just a short-term fix.
“But in the short term, it’s certainly going really well.”
After that 103-loss season, Pohlad hired Derek Falvey and Thad Levine to run the baseball operation. Falvey was just 33 years old, Levine 44.
“I really don’t think it was based on age at all, just based on their attitude and a lot of background checking and so forth, and just their cultural fit with us,” Pohlad said. “But you know, there is no crystal ball with regard to that — you try things and hopefully they work out more often than they don’t.”
Pohlad is thrilled with the pair.
“We’ve always been thrilled with them,” he said. “The three of us, along with Dave (St. Peter, team president), we all know that kind of building is foundational and intended to be really persistent over the long run. I mean way more than this season. It’s all behind the scenes, under the radar, but it’s all really important to a good solid organization.”
What was it Pohlad saw in Falvey and Levine?
“We saw the willingness to make changes and understanding the need to make changes, and now we’re seeing their ability to attract and hopefully retain high caliber baseball department talent, all the way through the system,” he said.
Seven months ago, the new brain trust hired Rocco Baldelli, age 37, to replace Paul Molitor, 62, who the year before was the American League’s manager of the year and who had two years and $3 million remaining on his contract.
“I feel a lot of us connected with Rocco right off the bat, literally right off the bat, and a lot of that came with the recommendation of Derek and Thad,” Pohlad said. “Immediately upon meeting him, there was a huge connection.”
Baldelli is an engaging guy but had never managed anywhere, including the minor leagues.
“At the beginning of the season, we knew that Rocco had never managed before and that maybe there would be growing pains. But we were really committed to growing with him,” Pohlad said.
As the season progresses, players, particularly pitchers, should become available to help strengthen the Twins’ roster.
“I take from Derek and Thad the feeling that if they can find a way in their view to fortify the team, they’re going to do it,” Pohlad said.
I asked Pohlad if he’s ready to order playoff tickets.
“No, but I can’t say I don’t think about it,” he said.
“I understand after all these years how precarious success can be in any sport. I’ve witnessed it in other sports, and I clearly have witnessed it in baseball. So you kind of keep your fingers crossed.
“But I really believe it’s a good team. It appears there’s a lot of chemistry — I hear that. And there’s a lot of different ingredients, veterans, younger players that are maturing, players that maybe are playing above their historical levels.”
There are also a lot of one-year and short-term contracts that could cost a lot of money next year if the Twins keep up their pace.
“I guess that’s true, but that’s not an issue, not in our thoughts,” Pohlad said.
He’s something to see: Left-handed Tampa Bay reliever Jose Alvarado throws a 99-mph screwball that’s virtually unhittable. Alvarado, who has 28 strikeouts in 19 innings, is expected to face the Twins when they travel to Tampa Bay for four games beginning Thursday.
The Twins’ trade of Brian Dozier to the Los Angeles Dodgers last July looks like a good one. The two minor league prospects the Twins got in the deal — pitcher Devin Smeltzer and right fielder Luke Raley — have impressed at Class AAA Rochester. Smeltzer, 23, has allowed five earned runs in 24 2/3 innings; Raley, 24, is hitting .302 with seven home runs.
Meanwhile, second baseman Dozier, 32, who ended up with a $9 million, one-year free-agent deal with Washington, is batting .206 with seven homers. Second baseman Logan Forsythe, who the Twins also acquired for Dozier but now is with the Texas Rangers, is hitting .300 with three homers.
Outfielder Alex Kirillloff, 21, the Twins’ first-round draft pick in 2016, is back playing after missing a month because of a wrist injury and hitting .241 in 21 games for Class AA Pensacola. The Twins love the way he swings the bat, and if he gets going, he could be a September major league call-up, also to play some first base.
Timberwolves 7-footer Karl-Anthony Towns has been playing some baseball in Los Angeles in the offseason.
“It’s my under-the-radar thing,” Towns said.
Can he hit?
“Of course,” he said.
Can he throw?
“I can do it all,” he said.
From an NBA insider well-acquainted with new Timberwolves President Gersson Rosas: “He has a very good feel for everybody in the league. For certain he’ll shake up the roster.”
University of St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan last week emceed the retirement program of Steve Fritz for his distinguished career as a coach and administrator at the St. Paul school.
Sullivan enumerated the Tommies’ prodigious success during Fritz’s 28 years as athletics director. She concluded her introduction by mentioning that during the past five years, St. Thomas had won 65 of 117 MIAC championships — more than all of the conference’s other teams combined.
“So I guess it’s no wonder that our colleagues in the MIAC think we’re too good,” Sullivan said to loud applause from the crowd of about 160. “We have an outstanding athletic tradition, and we are proud of it.”
Forty-five years ago, Jim Hayes and Steve Lerum played golf at Theodore Wirth as co-captains of the Minneapolis Henry High School team. Appreciating the opportunity they had to play the aged course, the pair, with pals Bill Mershon and Tom Fish, who also played there as kids, donated $575,000 that next month will provide new cart paths.
“It’s such a great old golf course, but it needs some work,” said Hayes, 61, who owned the Hays Group insurance brokerage. “We played Theodore Wirth from 6 in the morning till 9 at night because it was like two bucks if you got there before 8.”
Gophers women’s golf coach Michele Redman’s fourth-place tie in the U.S. Senior Women’s Open last week was worth $43,885.
The Lynx have the best home-court advantage in the WNBA, according to a survey of league general managers.
Congrats to ex-North Star Tom Reid on the 20th anniversary of his Hockey City Pub in St. Paul.
Former Fort Worth Invitational champion Tim Herron, 49, the Deephaven resident who becomes eligible for the PGA Champions Tour in February, made the cut in this weekend’s tournament at Colonial.
Soccer fans who have attended games at Allianz Field say customer service inside the St. Paul stadium couldn’t be any better.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer speaks to a Dunkers breakfast gathering on June 7 at the Minneapolis Club.
DON’T PRINT THAT
Gersson Rosas, the Timberwolves’ new basketball chief, inherited Andrew Wiggins and his average annual salary of $36.9 million. The deal doesn’t end until 2023.
Rosas has watched the unemotional Wiggins for some time, since he was a VP with the Houston Rockets.
“I was fortunate to see him very early in his career at the Hoop Summit — I was a big fan when he was very young, and I think he’s got a lot of upside,” Rosas said last week. “For how we want to play, his ability as an athlete, as a skilled player, it’s very important to us.
“How we’re going to play is to put him in a position to be more successful. Big athlete, versatile, skilled. I remember him as a good defender. We’re going to get him back to that stage. He’s got to enjoy playing again, and that’s the No. 1 goal for us, for him to have fun and enjoy and be a big part of what we’re doing here.”
How’s that going to happen?
“Through the process, through meetings, coaches, through our style, through our culture, and that’s what we’re building on a day-to-day basis,” Rosas said. “To be fair, he’s a good guy who wants to do things the right way. Maturation takes time — you know, I was in Houston and Hakeem Olajuwon won a championship at (age) 33. James Harden wins an MVP at 29.
“We want it today, but the reality is that it doesn’t happen today — it takes time, and you’ve got to be patient for that process.”
Twins owner Jim Pohlad, on the team’s incredible home run pace: “That kind of stuff ebbs and flows throughout baseball, but we’re certainly keeping up with all that. The hitters are really good, their approach is good … I don’t want to start talking about approach, because what do I know about approach. But it seems really good.”
Trade rumor that won’t die: Ex-Gopher Phil Kessel of the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Wild, who haven’t had a right wing who can score regularly, for Jason Zucker.
It’s likely the University of St. Thomas is ultimately headed for Division I athletics. That will take some required time in Division II, but the Tommies have some extremely deep-pocketed alumni willing to do what it takes.
The uncertainty of the Tommies’ future has to be a recruiting concern.
St. Thomas’ expulsion from the MIAC has become a national story. Now, the buzz at St. John’s is that some MIAC athletics directors have expressed concern that the Johnnies have 680 student-athletes among their 11 sports, and there’s fear that might be too many to remain in the conference.
Mike Modano, finally hired by the Wild for corporate relations work, and Neal Broten are the most popular former North Stars.
Look for several college golf stars expected to excel immediately on the PGA Tour to receive exemptions to the 3M Open tournament in July at the TPC in Blaine. Among them are U.S. Amateur champion Viktor Hovland and Oklahoma State teammate Matthew Wolff.
Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders and mother Debbie last week in Phoenix attended the funeral of ex-Wolves player personnel director Rob Babcock, who died at age 62 of pancreatic cancer.
John Carlson, who was influential in raising $3.1 million for the Gophers’ 5,000-square-foot indoor practice facility, has resigned as director of the Gophers men’s golf program.
Simley grad Michael Busch, a junior first baseman-outfielder at North Carolina, will be the 24th overall pick by Cleveland in next month’s major league amateur draft, projects Bleacherreportcom. That could mean a signing bonus in the $2.75 million range.
Tom Ryther, the former KSTP and KARE TV sports anchor, pulls no punches in his Studio Z-7 newly published, “The Hummelsheim Kid,” a memoir about his long broadcasting career with candid opinions on local sports journalism.
The Big Fish Golf Club in Hayward, Wis., has been purchased by Sevenwinds Casino in Hayward.
Look for Andrew Brunette, dismissed from the Wild’s front office last month, to soon join the staff of the Florida Panthers’ Joel Quenneville.
Four players from Minnesota Duluth’s NCAA men’s hockey championship team have declined opportunities to turn professional so they can remain for the Bulldogs’ attempt at a third straight national title next season.
Goaltender Hunter Shepard, by the way, makes the ceremonial first pitch at Tuesday night’s Twins-Milwaukee game at Target Field.
Happy birthday: Hall of fame ex-Vikings coach Bud Grant turned 92 last week. Another ex-Vikings coach, Jerry Burns, is 92.
Debbie Saunders, widow of former Timberwolves coach Flip and mother of new Wolves coach Ryan, on her son’s permanent hiring last week: “I’m very proud of him and the man he’s become. (Flip) would be so proud. We always saw this in our son. Flip and I would say from the time he was 3 years old, we saw that there was a vision for him that we couldn’t comprehend. He was so mature for his age, even at 3, just the way he responded to things was so different.”
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