Friday

2-27-09: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

We've made it to the end of another week. Even if it is a snowy, frigid ending here in the upper Midwest. It makes me wonder if I'd prefer wintry and no work, or spring-like and too much work? I imagine most of you could guess which side I'd come down on.

The end of the week doesn't just mean 48 hours of work-free frivolity. No, it also means the weekly edition of the wonder that is the DFTU! I'm sorely tempted to add in the Twins and Diamondbacks to this weekly homage to my favorite franchises. But I'll hold off until we get closer to Opening Day and things get a little more meaningful.

I will admit to DVR-ing the Twins Spring Training opener Wednesday night against the Red Sox (whom I hate), and watching it back later that night.

I know. It's sick.

Taping an early Spring Training game is like taping Tiger Woods warming up on the putting green (which I believe was covered by the Golf Channel). But I did it. And I even managed to revel in a Twins victory. Yes, I miss baseball that much.

Incidentally, the Twins/Yankees game tomorrow (4pm Central time) is also being broadcast on MLB Network (check your local listings... this means you Mom and Dad... I checked the other day and I believe it's channel 175... I hope you guys get it!). And yes, since I won't be home, I'm DVR-ing that one as well!

But I digress. Today we've got Badger hoops and Wild hockey to discuss. So let us away!

"No man is exempt from saying silly things; the mischief is to say them deliberately."
- Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), French Renaissance writer


Who? Me? Deliberate? Never!

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Speaking of deliberation, it's time once again for everyone's favorite weekly segment: Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 30-24-5, which gives them 65 points and puts them in third place in the Northwest Division. They're a full 13 points behind first place Calgary, but only 3 points behind second place Vancouver. More importantly, their 65 points makes them the 7th seed in the current Western Conference playoff picture. Though to be fair, they're tied with both Dallas, Edmonton and Anaheim at 65 points, holding tie-breakers over those 3 teams.

Whew. That might be the longest "record and standings" paragraph I've ever written. Part of the wonder that is the Western Conference playoff race.

The craziest part of it is that you have the top four seeds (San Jose, Detroit, Calgary and Chicago) and then everybody else. The difference between the fourth seed and the fifth seed is 8 points. The difference between the fifth seed and the 12th seed is a mere 6 points. That means roughly, that if 12th seed St. Louis wins three more games than 5th seed Vancouver, they tie in terms of points. Mind you they'd both probably miss the playoffs in that scenario. But things are so weird out West this year, that maybe they'd both be in under that scenario too!

The bottom line is that the playoff picture changes daily. So any given snapshot doesn't tell you a whole lot about which way teams are moving. It also means that every game against a fellow playoff competitor is critical.

And in an interesting byproduct of the overtime/shootout system, it becomes critical to beat them in regulation. Getting the two points for an overtime or shootout win is nice, but getting them at that point means the other team got a point as well. Beating them in regulation, on the other hand, provides more separation. And at this point, separating yourselves from your direct competitors is key.

What's been interesting for the Wild is that they haven't really been playing teams that they're in direct competition with for the final few playoff spots. If you look at their last four opponents: Calgary, Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles, their relative seeds are: 3, 2, 4, and 13. Look, the Wild aren't going to break into that top 4. As much as home-ice would be nice in the playoffs, it's not going to happen this year. And while L.A. is only 4 points behind the Wild, most pundits don't consider them a serious playoff contender.

So while the Wild's recent results are somewhat encouraging (6 points out of a possible 8), games against teams like Edmonton, Anaheim, Dallas, Columbus and Vancouver are the most important ones on the schedule. And of the 23 games the Wild have remaining, 10 of them are against teams who are currently within 3 points of where Minnesota sits in the standings.

My point? There's going to be plenty of shuffling of the 5-12 seeds between now and the end of the regular season. And those people who say the Wild's chances were doomed after that disastrous Ottawa loss? Slow down. To quote the Hammer, "it's way too early to panic."

Next up for the Wild is a 6-game road trip. They play back-to-back starting tonight in Calgary, then tomorrow night in Edmonton. Then comes the West coast run of Vancouver, San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim. Brutal? Yes. But that's the price you pay for all those home games in February.

By next week at this time, I doubt the playoff picture will be any clearer. But hopefully we'll have a feel for how the Wild might fare in the month of March when they have only four games at home.

Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are 17-10 overall and 8-7 in the Big Ten conference. 8-7 puts them in a 3-way tie for fourth place in the Big Ten.

Another streak is dead. The Badgers had won five in a row heading into last Sunday's tilt on the road against Michigan State, which they lost 61-50. The loss was especially frustrating since, once again, Wisconsin led at halftime.

But after scoring 31 against the Spartans in the first half, the Badgers could only manage 19 in the second half. Due credit goes to Tom Izzo for making adjustments at the half, but that's still a second half that Wisconsin would like to have back.

What worries me is that the "lead at halftime, tank in the second half" bit is reminiscent of what was going on during their 6-game losing streak earlier this year. If there's a sense of "uh-oh, here we go again" in the Badger locker room, then I fear for the final 3-game stretch of the regular season.

As I pointed out last week, the Badgers needed to win three of their last four to get to 20 regular season wins. Well, now they need to win out. And while I think they can feel confident in two of those games (home against Michigan and Indiana), that road game against Minnesota Wednesday night terrifies me. I've tried to scrub the memory of blowing an 11-point lead at halftime at home against the Gophers from my mind. But as you might guess, I've been less than successful.

Now the Badgers have to travel to Williams Arena and contend not only with the inherent advantages of a raucous crowd and a raised floor, but also with a team that on any given night can hang with the best in the Big Ten. Oh, and I should toss in the fact that the Gophers are also fighting for their NCAA tournament lives. You think that might help inspire them a bit?

I think I'll be watching that one through interlocked fingers whilst whispering prayers to whatever deities I can think of.

Does that fully express my sense of foreboding? I hope so.

So the best case scenario is 3-0 and the worst case is probably 1-2 (sorry Indiana... Tom Crean will get you there, but not this year). 3-0 and a couple of wins in the Big Ten Tournament has to get them in the Dance. 1-2 leaves them in a spot where they may have to reach the Finals at least to get in.

There have been so many examples of it in the history of sports, that it shouldn't surprise me that over a 30-game schedule, a team's post-season fate could be determined by just 3 games. But I still find it remarkable. And I guess that's why I watch!

As mentioned, the Badgers start that crucial 3-game closing sprint on Sunday against Michigan. Then it's off to Minnesota Wednesday night. (I beg you oh supreme Buddha... please help the Badgers beat the Gophers!)

That's it for this week folks. I'll be back on Monday with more Sports Take goodness for you to consume. Until then, thanks for reading!

Tuesday

2-24-09: Joe Crede

Hello again everybody...

Today marks the traditional mid-point of the work week. Except for yours truly this week, when it means I only have one more day to go! All right. I'll quit bragging. It's not very gentlemanly, I know.

But I have to focus on the positive since it sounds like we're going to get a good shot of snow tomorrow. Winter's not done yet! Mother Nature teased us with some Spring-like temperatures and some of us forgot it was still February. Tomorrow sounds like a lamentable reminder. Oh well, Spring Training is under way, and that means Spring isn't far off.

And speaking of Spring Training, that leads me to today's column topic: Joe Crede. That's right, the Twins finally got the third baseman signed and into camp. Speculation over his signing is dead, let the speculation over his regular season performance begin! I'll discuss.

Off we go!

"Give a man a fish, and you'll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll buy a goofy hat. Talk to a hungry man about fish, and you're a consultant."
- Scott Adams (1957 - ), author of
Dilbert comics

Who isn't a Dilbert fan? Anyone who's ever worked in an office will recognize the not-so-subtle truth in each comic, including this one.

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They did it.

After an off-season devoid of much in the way of action, the Twins finally made a splash near the opening of full-squad Spring Training workouts by signing 3B Joe Crede to a one-year, $2.5 million contract with incentives that could earn Crede a total of $7 million.

So now what?

I've spent so much time wondering if the Twins were going to actually pull the trigger, I really haven't sat and thought about how this affects the club's chances. So allow me to speculate!

The first thing I love about this deal is the price. For those of you who haven't heard about Crede's background, he's had two back surgeries over the past two years. Hence the $2.5 million base salary after Crede earned $5.1 million with the White Sox last year. Considering the fact that the Twins had talked about dropping $3 million on Eric Gagne (a guy who's obviously cooked), $2.5 million is a pittance to spend on a guy who was in the All-Star game just last year.

And if he hits all of his incentives and the price escalates to $7 million? Well that's all the better because it means his back is fine and he's been a regular part of the Twins line-up.

The second thing I like about this deal is the depth it creates for the Twins. Prior to Crede's signing the Twins had been set to go with a platoon of Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris at third base. Now, if Crede's your everyday third baseman, Harris can become your utility infielder and Buscher can give Crede and first baseman Justin Morneau the occasional off-day.

The guys most adversely affected by the signing are Matt Macri and Matt Tolbert. Tolbert might have a chance to stick as an extra infielder, but Macri now most likely opens the year at Rochester. On the upside, that means the Twins have one or two guys at AAA who they were prepared to put on the major league roster. So if somebody gets hurt, you've got some flexibility.

Obviously, I'm a fan of the deal. But as I posited earlier, the question now becomes, "what can Twins fans really expect to get from Crede?"

Well, he'll be entering his 10th season in the big leagues, so you'll be getting a veteran presence.

He's a career .257 hitter. But you have to factor in the last two seasons of back troubles. Go back 3 years and the guy won the Silver Slugger award for third basemen. So while he probably won't give Joe Mauer a run for the batting title, he's no slouch in that regard either.

He's hit 125 home runs in his career. His highest single-season total was 30, also in 2006. Last year he hit 17 in the 97 games he played before his back acted up on him again. And it's that power-hitting ability that has Twins fans so excited. If he can even provide 20-25 big flys from the third base spot, that will be a significant improvement over anything they've had there since Cory Koskie signed with the Blue Jays.

He's also a plus-fielder with a career fielding percentage of .963. Last year Brian Buscher fielded at a .934 clip for the Twins, and in Brendan Harris' 18 games, he had a .971 fielding percentage. So if anything, you're gaining a little with the glove at the hot corner.

As for where he fits into the line-up? That's anyone's guess. I've seen it speculated anywhere from 3rd to 7th. And, of course, Gardy isn't talking about it. Not yet anyway.

Presuming he's healthy, here's how I think the Twins line-up shakes out: 1. LF Denard Span, 2. 2B Alexi Casilla, 3. C Joe Mauer, 4. 1B Justin Morneau, 5. LF Michael Cuddyer, 6. DH Jason Kubel, 7. 3B Joe Crede, 8. SS Nick Punto and 9. CF Carlos Gomez.

Why 7th? Mostly because after the lefty bats of Mauer and Morneau, it gives you a nice right-left-right-switch-right break down. That becomes important later in ballgames because it prevents an opposing manager from being able to bring in just a righty, or just a lefty to get an advantage for an inning.

We should also remember that no matter what line-up the Twins run out for Opening Day, it's subject to all sorts of changes. Delmon Young's going to get his fair share of at-bats be they as a left fielder or the designated hitter. Plus, RF Michael Cuddyer is coming back from an injury-plagued year. So if he starts off slow and Crede starts off strong, you could easily swap them in the 5 and 7 spots.

In the end, nobody knows exactly how this will shake out. Crede may return to his All-Star form, or his back may blow out on him a week into the season. We're not going to know anything until he gets some games under his belt. What's got me pumped about the signing is that there's very little down-side to the deal and a tremendous amount of upside.

If he gets hurt and it doesn't work out, then the Twins are out $2.5 million and are back to the Buscher/Harris platoon. If it does work out, then you've got a solid fielder who can add some significant pop to a line-up that could use it. As well as another bat that can help protect Justin Morneau and make sure he gets his fair share of hittable pitches to look at.

I haven't worked out my final predictions for the AL Central, but presuming that Crede looks healthy after the better part of Spring Training, I can assure you that his presence in the line-up will have an effect on where I pick the Twins to finish.

He's not the "final piece" per se, but he fills several needs and puts the Twins in a solid position to make another playoff run.

So welcome Joe Crede! We Twins fans wish you nothing but the best! Oh, and if you wouldn't mind kicking 10 different types of dog crap out of the White Sox 19 times this year, we'd appreciate it.

That's all for today folks. I'm back on Friday with the wonder of the DFTU for you. Until then, thanks for reading!

Sunday

2-22-09: Running Game Commentary V

Hello again everybody...

Time to kick off another work week and it's one that I'm actually looking forward to. Not the work so much, but the week. It's a short one for me as I've got a 3-day weekend coming. Plus I get to see a concert that I'm really looking forward to. So let the week commence!

Today's column is the 5th version of the Sports Take Running Game Commentary. And this one ought to be a doozy. Not only is it based on the Wild hosting the Red Wings, but it also involves your favorite guest-correspondent, the Hammer. So let's not dilly-dally. Let's get to the commentating!

"Football is a mistake. It combines the two worst elements of American life. Violence and committee meetings."
- George F. Will (1941 - ), American newspaper columnist, journalist and author


I like football, so I can't agree with the sentiment. But it's a damned-clever way of making the point!

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It's time for the Sports Take RGC V. Saturday night, I attended the Wild hosting the Detroit Red Wings at the Xcel Energy Center. And not only was I part of the 18,568 (sort of) who attended, but the Hammer was there too. That's right. Minnesota's biggest Detroit Red Wings fan hung with me in the Al Shaver Press Box. What follows is a Running Commentary of our thoughts and reactions as the Wild battled the Wings.

Pre-Game

This may very well be my last regular season trip to the X for the '08-'09 season. Turns out the last weekend game of the season is the Sunday after I've left for Phoenix. So if this is going to be my regular season swan-song, I hope it's a good one!

The Wild still have the best pre-game festivities in town. I keep mentioning that, but it's the truth. Tonight's are a bit different. During the team introductions, there's a not-so-surprising mix of cheers and boos for the Red Wings. They're not quite the Yankees, but there's no question that there are Red Wings fans all across the country. Including immediately to my left.

Tonight's "Let's Play Hockey" announcement comes from Nick Nelson. You might know him locally from a story on KARE 11 TV. Or nationally, you might have caught him on the Today Show. Thumbnail sketch of his story: the kid chose to have he legs amputated to stop a condition that causes "webbing" of the skin from spreading to the rest of his body. He now gets around on a pair of prosthetics and seems as happy as any kid his age. Phenomenal story. And he does a brilliant job of firing up the fans for a big game. Which leads us to...

First Period

00:01... That's right. We're one second into the game and Hammer's already pointing out that the opening face-off was won by Henrik Zetterberg, a 7th-round pick by the Red Wings. Detroit has an amazing ability to find gems in the late rounds of the draft, and Zetterberg's Exhibit A.

00:54... I look to my right and two booths away is Hammer's personal hockey hero, Steve Yzerman. For those of you not well versed in hockey, Yzerman is a Detroit legend. He played so long and so well for the Red Wings that he became known simply as, "The Captain". I point out his presence to the Hammer who simply smiles and nods. This could get annoying if Detroit gets way out in front.

2:20... Hammer points out that Chris Chelios just stepped out on the ice for the first time tonight. "He's 47 years old and still playing in the NHL. At 47 I just hope I'm still alive." He's the Hammer folks!

2:50... The Wild strike first. A pretty pass from Pierre-Marc Bouchard makes its way through a pair of Wings to the stick of Owen Nolan who slips it by Jimmy Howard to make it 1-0 Wild. Bouchard and Marc-Andre Bergeron get the assists. Hammer points out that Nolan's the best hockey player to come out of Northern Ireland. These are the things he knows that I don't. And it's why I'm happy to have him around.

6:55... After the Wild survive their first penalty of the night, the Red Wings take their first trip to the sin bin as Ville Leino (that's Finnish for Ville Leino) goes for Holding.

8:15... And the Wild take advantage. Owen Nolan gets his second of the night and 17th of the season. Assists go to Eric Belanger and Brent Burns. Hammer notes that there are some eerie parallels between this game and last Saturday's Ottawa game where the Wild blew a 3-goal lead. Suddenly my glee turns to abject fear.

11:03... The Wild fail to take advantage of another power play. Hammer looks to our right and says, "Stevie Y doesn't look scared. If he's not scared, I'm not scared."

The rest of the period passes without incident.

End of the first period: Wild 2, Wings 0. The crowd gives the boys a standing ovation as they leave the ice in appreciation for the energy and effort they displayed. Hammer wonders if maybe the crowd didn't just realize that Steve Yzerman's in the building, resulting in the ovation. Sorry Hammer. I can't give you that one.

First Intermission

Hammer and I travel down to the commissary. On the way, we run into a slew of WCCO people. Sports maven Mike Max is in attendance, as is producer Dan Geiger. And naturally, former CCO morning personality, and current Wild TV play-by-play guy Dan Terhaar is present. But of course, the coup de grace is the dean of WCCO broadcasters, Sid Hartman.

Here's how our conversation went (for the sake of young eyes, and in honor of WCCO weatherman Mike Lynch, I'm going to replace each of the F-bombs which were part of the conversation with "Lynch"... you'll get the idea):

Sid: "What the Lynch are you doing all dressed up?!" (I was wearing a tie and sport coat.)

Me: "I thought it was a good look."

Sid: "Do you Lynch-ing think you're going to get Lynch-ing lucky or something?"

Me: "Well it can't hurt."

Sid: "I wouldn't bet on it."

Me: "But you would bet on Bernie Madoff?"*

(* - I didn't actually say this last line. Mostly because Sid can't really hear anymore and I'd have had to repeat it 5 times. And by then, it would've lost a little something.)

As we get back to our booth Hammer breaks out one of his trusted stand-bys, "It's way too early to panic." Good advice for all you kids out there!

Second Period

2:55... Just like that the Red Wings are back in it. A scramble in front of the Wild net catches Niklas Backstrom out of position. Tomas Kopecky is able to bang a loose puck home. Assists go to Ville Leino (Finnish for Ville Leino) and Kirk Maltby. They say that a 2-goal lead is the most dangerous lead in hockey. Now it's a one-goal lead and I'm forced to believe them as my sense of, "Oh God, here comes Detroit" is rising.

6:16... We reach the first Media Time-Out of the second period. The key to the second period for the Wild is to not be as over-confident and flat as they were against Ottawa. Hammer and I discuss and concur that even with the early Detroit goal, the energy still seems to be there for the Wild.

7:31... Hammer speculates that Yzerman could be scouting Brent Burns for Team Canada's effort in the 2010 Winter Games. The way that Brent's been playing as of late, I hope Yzerman takes more than just tonight into account.

7:50... As though that thought was made manifest by the hockey gods, Burns takes a "Holding the Stick" penalty. The crowd doesn't like the call. I can't argue with it. Fortunately the Wild are able to kill off the penalty and maintain their lead.

10:05... During the second Media Time-Out, Hammer and I debate the "Mount Rushmore" (copyright Bill Simmons, not ESPN) of websites. He starts with YouTube, Facebook and Wikipedia. All solid choices. But I point out that Google has to be at the top of the list, since it's the only one of the four that's been turned into a verb.

14:49... Third Media Time-Out. This time we discuss how nice it would be to have digital cable at work instead of the standard cable set-up we have now. First of all, it would give us the MLB Network. And secondly, it would give Hammer and me the opportunity to campaign for the various sports packages. I'm thinking MLB Extra Innings. He's thinking NHL Center Ice. We agree to meet in the middle and ask for both! Can you tell there's not a lot happening in the game right now?

17:13... Suddenly that changes as my man, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, collects a nifty pass from Owen Nolan, beats the Detroit defense and goaltender Jimmy Howard to put the Wild back in front by two goals. Bouchards 14th goal of the year, and Nolan's third point of the night come at a crucial time as the second period is nearly finished. Hammer would just like to point out that Stevie Y still appears unconcerned.

18:13... After the Wild's Eric Belanger was whistled for slashing, Detroit's Jiri Hudler goes off for holding leaving us 4-on-4 for the rest of the period.

18:44... And the Wild take advantage of the open ice! Martin-freaking-Skoula gives the Wild a 3-goal lead and takes the starch out of Detroit. A brilliant pass from Mikko Koivu gets him one assist, Antti Miettinen gets the other. Hammer acknowledges that at this point, Stevie Y looks a little concerned.

End of the second period: Wild 4, Wings 1. The Second was a tale of two periods. The Wild had little to no sustained offense for nearly half the period. Then suddenly, bang-bang (copyright Cactus Jack), it's a 3-goal lead for the Wild. Wow.

Second Intermission

Hammer and I head off for refills again. And again we're cornered by Sid. This time he spends most of the conversation ripping Dark Star. We're happy to let him. Hey, at least he's not giving us grief!

A few more conversations with work folks follow. Nothing terribly entertaining however.

Which leads us to...

Third Period

1:27... Hammer says that if the Wild stay within themselves and play their game, they should be able to win. I say that if Detroit stops whiffing on scoring opportunities, this game's a long way from over. As we discuss, Vancouver's Mats Sundin scores the game winning shoot-out goal against his old mates from Toronto. Did I mention we get the Center Ice package in the press box? Yeah, I like my job.

7:17... Lots of good back and forth action. Detroit's getting their chances, but so are the Wild. I'm feeling pretty good until the Wild's Stephane Veilleux takes a Tripping penalty. The Wings are 0-4 on the power play up until now. I say it's critical for Detroit to take advantage if they're going to get back into the game. Hammer won't concede "critical", but he says it'd certainly help their chances. Fortunately for the Wild, they kill the penalty.

14:45... Still going back and forth when out of nowhere, a shot from the blue line beats a screened Nik Backstrom. As I'm trying to figure out who got the goal, Hammer stands up. I wonder why until I realize that the Center Ice package is showing the Calgary/Edmonton pregame where they're playing the Canadian National Anthem. What can I say? The man loves his Canadian culture.

After Toronto reviews the circumstances around the goal, it turns out Ville Leino (Finnish for Ville Leino) got the goal. Brian Rafalski and Dan Cleary got the assists. Hammer says, "Stevie Y agrees with the call." Thank heavens for that.

It's 4-2 Wild with a little over 5 minutes left. Can they hang on?!

18:30... The Wings pull their goaltender leading to a sustained offensive flurry. Somehow the Wild manage to keep the puck out of their net leading to...

19:58... Stephane Veilleux intercepts a pass and fires a shot from his blue line to the dead-center of Detroit's net. The empty-netter makes it 5-2 Wild. I can't believe they're going to do it!

Final Score: Wild 5, Wings 2. Hammer's clearly upset, but he's maintaining an impressive outward calm. He attempts to comfort himself by saying, "It's only fitting that the game ends with #19 scoring." (Steve Yzerman wore #19.) How can I argue with that?

Post-Game

Down we go to see the unforgettable "Jacques Lemaire Post-Game Press Conference". As Hammer and I board the elevator, I look up and see Yzerman getting on immediately in front of Hammer. I pat him on the back and he just nods. It's clear that the presence of his hockey hero is a salve upon an otherwise annoying loss.

The press conference itself was rather uneventful until a magazine writer asks if Jacques found himself looking for Andrew Brunette on the bench at any point during the game. Tonight was the first game in the last 510 that Brunette has missed due to injury.

Jacques deadpans, "Well, since we knew he was going to be out, that gave us a chance to set-up our lines and special teams with that in mind before the game started. So no, I wasn't really looking for him."

Translation: No, and that was a dumb question.

Hammer adds, "It would've been really cool if he'd sworn at the guy in French."

So as I mentioned at the beginning, this very well could've been my last regular season game for the '08-'09 season. And if it was, it was a hell of a way to go out.

Hammer would like to quote hockey guru Barry Melrose at this point, "At this time of the year, your best players have to be your best players." And tonight, Detroit's best players weren't their best players.

What can I add to that except: Wild win, Wild win, Wild win!!!

That's all for RGC V. I hope you enjoyed it. At least more than you enjoyed Rocky V!

These are always fun for me to write, but the presence of the Hammer made it all the more enjoyable.

I'll be back on Wednesday with more of the Sports Take goodness you've come to expect. Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

2-20-09: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

Once again we've managed to make it to the end of the week. And even if we're due for a little snow here in the upper Midwest, we'll take it in exchange for 48 hours away from the salt mines! Well at least I will.

And what better way to wrap up our week than with a little diddy I like to call the DFTU. In an amazing swing, the Badgers have gotten themselves back on track. And the Wild? Did I mention the Badgers were back on track? I'll discuss. Let us away!

"Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage, and those who manage what they do not understand."
- Putt's Law, Archibald Putt (pseudonym for some author I couldn't identify)


That's a shout-out for my readers who work in technology fields. It was in no way intended to describe the structure at a hypothetical radio station which takes 4+ days to change a light bulb. Nope, not at all.

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And now it's time for everybody's favorite segment, Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 28-24-4, giving them 60 points and putting them in 4th place in the Northwest Division and in 10th place in the Western Conference playoff race, 2 points behind Edmonton for the 8th seed.

After the Wild's crushing loss last Saturday to the Ottawa Senators, they had 4 days off to either stew over the lost opportunity, or to refocus and come out strong against Calgary last night.

The result of last night's game? A 3-2 loss to the Flames in overtime.

They weren't flat, so I think it's clear that they didn't stew over the loss. But it's equally clear that they weren't as focused as you'd like them to have been. It's hard to point to any specific regular season game in hockey and call it a "must-win", but last night was one of those rare times where I think you could have.

After the way the Wild self-destructed last Saturday, how could they not come out like gangbusters on Thursday night? I know Calgary's a good team, and the Wild don't play in a vacuum. But I've seen this team dominate periods. I've seen them buzzing around the ice and creating all kinds of havoc. So I know they have that in them. I just didn't see them come out with that kind of energy on Thursday, and that was disappointing.

The Wild have 26 games left this season. Looking over the last 3 seasons, you'd need about 95 points to get into the playoffs. The Wild have 60 points, so they need 35 more, which means of those 26 games, they would need to win 17 or 18. So is 17-9 or 18-8 a possibility for this team? Yeah, I guess. But of the 16 games they play in March, 4 of them are in the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center. Let's just say I'm not feeling as positive as I may have been a week ago.

The biggest positive for the Wild to lean on in the grind that will be their March schedule is that the teams they'll be playing on the road aren't the best in the league. That gives them a chance to get on a roll and sneak into the playoffs. And while I'm sure some folks wonder what the point of earning the 8th seed and getting smoked by the Red Wings would be, I'd remind them that in hockey especially, anything can happen in the playoffs. If they get in and Niklas Backstrom gets on a crazy roll, who knows?

But the first thing is to get in. And they've certainly put themselves in position for an uphill climb to get there. The quest continues Saturday as the Wild host the Detroit Red Wings (I'm going, and between myself and a special guest-correspondent, you can look forward to an interesting Running Game Commentary). After that the Wild take a brief trip to Chicago for a game on Sunday before returning home to face the LA Kings on Tuesday.

Next...

Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are 17-9 and 8-6 in the Big Ten, which puts them in a tie for 4th place in the conference.

Wow what a change a few weeks can make! Just two weeks ago I was in full-on panic mode after the Badgers had dropped 6 games in a row. Since then, Wisconsin has ripped off 5 wins in a row and are the hottest team in the Big Ten.

Two weeks ago, I lamented that the Badgers had to go 8-1 in their last 9 games to get to 20 wins and have a solid shot at getting into the Tournament. Now, they need to go 3-1 in their last 4 games at Michigan State, vs. Michigan, at Minnesota and vs. Indiana to get to 20. Seems a lot more reasonable doesn't it?

So what in the world happened? How could a team go from the coldest team in the league to the hottest team in the league? I've struggled mightily trying to figure this out. Then the other night WCCO's sports guru Mike Max gave me an explanation that made a ton of sense.

If you look at the 6 games Bucky lost, the only game in which they were truly blown out was the first of the six losses when Purdue smoked them 65-52 in West Lafayette. Otherwise, the games were not only fairly close, but Wisconsin held leads in most of them.

Mike's theory is that Wisconsin has a talent level where if bounces go their way they win, and if they don't they lose. So if you say the 6-game losing streak was because luck wasn't on their side, then we have to say that the 5-game winning streak has occurred because the basketball gods were with them.

The theory certainly explains the wildly varying streaks. But it's also a dangerous assumption. If you believe that luck balances itself out over the course of a season, then a team has to bring something above and beyond luck to have the success necessary to make the Tournament.

So if I grant that simple luck had a lot to do with the various streaks, then I have to hope that some sort of maturation and gelling as a team had something to do with it also. Because if that wasn't part of it, I fear greatly for what kind of success the Badgers can have down the stretch.

Those road games at Michigan State and Minnesota will not be easy, but they are winnable. The home games versus Michigan and Indiana are not only winnable, it's probably fair to call them "must-wins". If Wisconsin can get 3 of those 4 and a couple of wins in the Big Ten tournament, I think that'll be enough to earn a spot in the field of 64.

I hope.

Next up for the Badgers is the aforementioned trip to East Lansing, Michigan, to challenge the Spartans on Sunday. Then it's a week off until they host Michigan at Kohl Center the following Sunday.

Suddenly college basketball is getting exciting for me again!

That's all for this week. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend and arrive back here safe and sound on Monday. I'm pumped to bring you another edition of the Running Game Commentary. I only hope it meets my expectations. Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

2-18-09: Mailbag

Hello again everybody...

It's mid-week time again. Time for the downhill slog to the weekend. I don't know about you, but it can't come soon enough for me. I should've known coming into the last couple of weeks - but it unfortunately failed to occur to me - that 5 hours a day of "fill-in" hosts (2 hours of 12-3 applicants, and 3 hours of "Don for a Day") would end up being quite the grind. One learns quickly to appreciate experience in a host, and the ability to quickly get in a groove.

But I'm looking forward to the weekend for more than just getting away from the grind. Saturday's a big day. Not only do the Wild host the Detroit Red Wings (look for the first ever "dual" Running Game Commentary on Monday), but Saturday also marks the 20th edition of the MONDO Juggling Festival.

Now, I know that those of you who aren't already familiar with this festival are thinking: "A juggling festival?!" Yes, a juggling festival. I wish I knew how many years ago I first started attending this as a birthday present to one of my closest friends. But suffice it to say that it's been many years, and it's still some of the most fascinating people-watching that I've ever seen. And yes, over the course of the years, I've actually managed to learn to juggle. Well, sort of. I won't proclaim myself an expert, but I do okay. Put it this way, my 5-year-old nephew loves it when Uncle Dan starts juggling and then drops stuff. Simple entertainment. You can't beat it.

So yeah, I'm looking forward to the weekend!

But before we get there, I've got a couple of columns to bang out. And today, it's another edition of the Sports Take Mailbag. I put out a plea for Mailbag questions last week and got approximately 3276 questions about Alex Rodriguez. So I apologize if I don't get to all of them, but I'll try to encompass most of them with today's question. Off we go!

"When we ask for advice, we are usually looking for an accomplice."
- Marquis de la Grange (1639-1692)


I can't find any biographical information on this guy. But trust me, the quote connects to the column.

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It's time once again to dip into the Sports Take Mailbag. Remember, if you've got a question about the wonder or the absurdity of sports, drop me an email at: dcook93@yahoo.com, and I'll do what I can to satisfy your curiosity. As always, there are no dumb questions, just questions that will hopefully prompt entertaining answers on my part! Emphasis on: hopefully!

Today's question (or actually "series of questions") comes from David in Milwaukee:

Should MLB release the names of the 103 other players tested in '03? What about the 500 or so that came back clean? Does A-Rod's situation differ from McGwire and/or Bonds when considering Hall credentials? Who is this mysterious "cousin" of A-Rod's? Why is the sky blue? Why does that guy in Milwaukee keep asking questions?

Now that's a mailbag entry I can sink my teeth into! Thanks David!

First of all, let me state that I hate that I'm writing a second column about A-Roid, and I'm going to hate it when I write several more. But it's the story in sports these days, especially with his press conference yesterday. It annoys me to feel like I have to comment on it. But I'm hoping that by commenting on it, I'll manage to work through my annoyance. Does that make any sense?

First off, "should MLB release the names of the 103 other players tested in '03?"

My answer here is twofold: yes, I think those names need to come out, but no, MLB shouldn't be the ones to do it.

As I mentioned in a previous column MLB had a specific agreement with the Players Union that the results of those 2003 tests would be strictly confidential. And the union had promised their membership that those results would, in fact, be destroyed. That's the only way the agreement for testing was reached in the first place.

Those results weren't destroyed thanks to the federal case against Barry Bonds, and now an intrepid reporter has obtained at least A-Roid's name. And if someone was able to leak his name, it's presumable that someone, somewhere has the rest of the list as well.

So I don't think MLB should be the one releasing the rest of those names, as that would violate the terms of their initial agreement with the players. But I do think it's only fair that the other 103 names on that list be made to pay the same price as A-Roid is paying. And given the nature of investigative reporting today, it'll surprise me quite a bit if those names aren't brought to light sooner than later.

"What about the 500 or so that came back clean?"

We've seen a little bit of this, but if it was me, and I knew that I hadn't taken anything and hadn't ever tested positive? I'd be out in front of every camera and microphone I could find proclaiming my innocence. Players like Jamie Moyer and Roy Oswalt have come out firing at A-Roid. Not only were they proclaiming their innocence, but they were also taking shots at Rodriguez's Hall of Fame possibilities, and what the effect of his performance was on their numbers.

I'm not so sure this is the angle I'd take if I were them. I'm not saying they're wrong. But I don't think bitterness and anger sounds genuine from guys who kept their mouth shut throughout most of the era itself. If these guys were so concerned with what was going on, where were they 10 years ago, hell, 5 years ago when "chicks were digging the longball"?

I like guys coming out and saying, "I didn't do this and I don't want to be lumped in with the guys who did." But taking cheap shots at the guys who did now, when you kept your mouth shut before? I can't get with that.

"Does A-Rod's situation differ from McGwire/Bonds in terms of Hall of Fame credentials?"

Yes, it differs, but not in the way you might think.

Neither Mark McGwire, nor Barry Bonds have admitted to knowingly using any form of performance enhancing drugs. And yet, McGwire hasn't come close to being voted into the Hall in his two years of eligibility, and the conventional wisdom is that Bonds won't either, even though their numbers would certainly qualify them.

Whether one believes that A-Roid has been honest with the details surrounding his use or not, he's come forth with something resembling an admission and that could change the way in which he's viewed when his entrance to the Hall is up for consideration.

But I need to stress the word could. We're in foreign territory here. With Pete Rose's gambling, MLB passed a rule specifically banning him from eligibility for the Hall, so baseball writers weren't allowed to even consider him. Now, they're finding themselves in a position to decide whether they should be considering a player's ethics and morality when it comes to voting for the Hall.

The other major difference between Rodriguez and McGwire/Bonds and I guess we can throw Roger Clemens in there, since it's likely he'll be treated the same, is that the A-Roid revelation came in the prime of his career. With those other guys, all the talk of PED's came either towards the end of their career or after they'd retired.

That's an important distinction because A-Roid will have time on the field to overcome that nickname, while the rest of these guys can only rehab their image through interviews. If Alex can continue to put up numbers while being tested regularly, then he helps make his case that he deserves admission despite his PED usage. The other guys don't have that chance.

"Who is this mysterious 'cousin' of A-Rod's?"

This is where the quote connects! For those of you who didn't see Rodriguez's press conference yesterday, Alex claimed that it was his "cousin" who procured the illegal substance that Alex took. Apparently this was an "over the counter" drug in the Dominican Republic, and this "cousin" was able to purchase it there and bring it to the States for he and Alex to take.

First of all, let me declare right now, that if I ever get in a jam, I promise to all my cousins that I won't throw them under the bus in order to mitigate the heat I'm taking. Secondly, boy I sure hope that Alex's "cousin" knew this was coming. Because I guarantee you he's currently dodging a thousand different media organizations who are all trying to get "exclusive" photos and interviews with him. Sound fun to you? I didn't think so.

So I don't know who this guy is. But I do know that we'll be finding out in the next few days as everybody from ESPN to the Sun Sentinel will be trying to nail down everything anybody ever didn't want to know about him.

Finally, "why is the sky blue and why does this guy from Milwaukee keep asking questions?"

The sky is blue because of the chemical composition of the atmosphere and the manner in which it refracts the sun's light... or something like that.

This guy in Milwaukee was my freshman roommate in college and one hell of a supportive friend. And I hope he keeps asking questions because it makes writing these things a lot more fun for me!

So that's the latest on the A-Roid debacle. I hope that answered most of the questions I received. If you're still unclear on any of it and have nowhere else to turn, then I beseech you to drop me an email and you too can participate in the wonder of the Sports Take Mailbag!

That's all for today. Friday is time for another DFTU column. The Badgers are streaking in a good way finally as they take on Indiana Thursday night, I'll have an update on Friday! The Wild? Yeah, I'll have a Badger update on Friday! Until then, stay safe and thanks for reading!

Monday

2-16-09: Spring Training

Hello again everybody...

I have to preface today's column by admitting that I'm trying to fight off a lousy mood. Having a lousy morning is bad enough, but when it happens on a Monday, it feels twice as bad. So I'm trying to relax, take deep breaths and stop jumping down people's throats. Let's hope penning this column has a therapeutic effect.

Besides, today is a day of celebration! Pitchers and catchers have reported, and the countdown to Opening Day in baseball has officially begun. I'll discuss the wonder of Spring Training and what's to come here at The Sports Take.

So let's get to it!

"Anyone can do any amount of work provided it isn't the work he's supposed to be doing at the moment."
- Robert Benchley (1889-1945), American humorist


Um, yeah. No comment. (*whistling innocently*)

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Twins pitchers and catchers reported yesterday and as of today, practice is officially underway in Ft. Meyers, FL. In this day and age of year-round access to state of the art workout equipment and regimens, I'm not sure it's all that necessary for pitchers and catchers to report ahead of the rest of the position players. But baseball is a game of tradition, and traditionally getting a pitcher's arm in shape takes more time than getting a batter's swing in shape.

That doesn't stop some position players from showing up early. Veterans who were injured last year (Michael Cuddyer) and want a head start on getting in playing shape, and young guys trying to impress management (Matt Macri/Matt Tolbert) will often report to camp around the same time that pitchers and catchers arrive. There aren't any scheduled practices or workouts for them, but there's still plenty they can do to get settled in for when the rest of the boys show up next weekend.

I read somewhere (apologies, but I forget where) that Spring Training is actually starting earlier than usual this year. It doesn't feel that way to me, but maybe they're right. The reason cited for the earlier starting date is the World Baseball Classic.

The WBC is Major League Baseball's attempt at creating an international event starring some of it's star players. The inaugural event was held in 2006 and was a moderate success. If MLB had it's way, I think we'd have seen the USA vs. Cuba in the finals. Instead we got Japan vs. Cuba, with the Japanese squad emerging victorious. This wasn't all bad, since if you'd like to market the game internationally, Japan's Ichiro isn't a bad player to focus on.

The 2009 version (supposedly after this year, the WBC will be played every 4 years - why they went 3 years in between this time is beyond me) runs March 5th through March 23rd. This works out swimmingly for me since I'll be heading to Arizona to check out some Spring Training games (oh, and to visit my parents) right around the time that the WBC is wrapping up, so most of the players I'd like to see will be back with their MLB clubs.

Which brings us to the main problem with the WBC: timing.

When you hold an event like this in the Spring, you create situations where teams are forced to decide whether they want to allow a player to go play for his country in the WBC, or keep them at their Spring Training facility to get ready for the upcoming season. Sure, it's an honor for anybody to represent their country in international competition. But players also are acutely aware of who butters their bread. And risking a player's MLB season for a 3-week tournament is a dicey proposition. So if there's any question as to a player's health, they generally don't go.

It's also bad timing for fans who annually attend Spring Training workouts for their favorite teams. While it's true, that you don't go to a Spring Training game expecting to see the same starting nine for your club that you'll see on Opening Day, it's tough on fans when you know you've got no shot at seeing a team's stars, because they're off playing in a game between Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.

The trick is, there really isn't a better time to do it. The World Series now ends in early November. And you'd have to give guys at least a month or two to wind down from the season itself. That leaves you sometime in January. And if you try and hold it then, you're severely limited as to what venues you can hold it in. Not that the weather in Northern climes is significantly better in March, but there's at least some flexibility.

So instead, we get Spring Training interruptis. It's not the worst thing in the world, but I'm not sure the event itself is exciting enough to justify it. Maybe this year's WBC will prove me wrong. You know I'll be watching!

I mentioned in the preamble that I'd be outlining what's coming here at The Sports Take. Those of you who've been reading for the duration will recall the mammoth post that started the whole thing and previewed the 2008 MLB season.

(If you haven't read it, check the main page, on the right side til you see the list of my favorite posts. The post at the bottom is the original 2008 preview. My picks are high comedy, unfortunately, that was completely unintentional!)

This year rather than forcing you to digest it all at once (or print it out for some throne room reading), I've decided to break it up into 1 division preview per post. So starting March 20th, you'll be getting the finest in baseball previews (or the best I can put together for you)!

Until then I'll keep mixing in some hockey and college hoops for your reading pleasure. But I'm not going to bother trying to hide my excitement for the upcoming baseball season. I wouldn't be able to pull it off even if I wanted to!

That's all for today. If you're wonder, I'm feeling much better now! I'll be back on Monday with more Sports Take wonder. Until then, stay safe and thanks for reading!

Friday

2-13-09: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

Sometimes I feel like I'm getting repetitive when I lead off talking about where we are in the week. Especially when I know that some of my regular readers don't work Monday to Friday. But I can't help it. I'm one of those folks who views each weekday as it relates to it's distance to the weekend. That might not be the most psychologically healthy thing in the world, but it's just how I roll.

So thank heavens it's Friday and most of us are staring down the barrel of 48 hours free from the bonds of our work-lives! Sorry Josh...

Today it's once again time for everybody's favorite segment, the DFTU.

But before I get to that, I'll mention that a couple of those big baseball free-agent dominoes that I mentioned a few columns ago have finally fallen. OF Bobby Abreu signed a one-year $5 million deal with the Angels. And OF Adam Dunn signed a 2-year deal with the Washington Nationals. I love the Abreu signing for the Angels, even if it further crowds their outfield situation. I'm lukewarm on the Dunn deal. It's certainly a boost for a woeful Nationals offense. But it's not like he's the piece that's going to put them over the top. And if you're Dunn, how do you get excited about going to one of the handful of clubs who has absolutely no chance to make the playoffs?

Did I mention that Twins pitchers and catchers report on Sunday? Yeah, A-Roid or no, I'm still excited for Spring Training!

Time for the rest of the column! (copyright Paul Harvey... sort of)

"Writing well means never having to say, 'I guess you had to be there'."
- Jef Mallett,
Frazz, 7-29-07 (1962 - ), comic strip writer and artist

I probably should've saved this one for a Running Game Commentary, since the sentiment expressed is precisely what I go for with those. But my archival abilities aren't quite that good... yet.

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So let's get on with everybody's favorite segment: Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 28-23-3. That's good for 59 points and 3rd place in the Northwest Division.

I suppose we're far enough along in the season that we should start looking at the Western Conference standings as well. If the season ended today, the Wild would be the 8th seed in the West. The Oilers are only one point behind in 9th. And the Bluejackets are only 2 points behind in 10th. So the Wild's playoff status is far from certain.

I guess at this point I'm feeling cautiously positive about the Wild's chances at this point.

They are coming off of a 3-1 home stand in which they beat Anaheim, Edmonton (see Monday's Running Game Commentary) and Colorado, with a loss to Nashville mixed in. The Anaheim win was solid. The Edmonton win required a shootout to clinch. And the Wild scored the winning goal against Colorado with about a minute-and-a-half remaining in regulation. So they weren't dominant on the home stand, but at this point, I don't think we can expect the Wild to dominate anybody. That's just not part of their game.

And in the interest of fairness, I have to mention that they lost 4-2 to the Red Wings last night. And having watched the game, I can tell you that it wasn't as close as the score would indicate. For some reasons the Wings have the ability to put the teams they play in the position of having to hold on for dear life. It's not that they're unbeatable, but they have so much talent, that they put teams like the Wild at a serious disadvantage from the opening face-off.

In the past I've discussed the "feast-or-famine" nature of the Wild's offense. In the past week and a half, that's flattened out somewhat. And I mean that in a positive way. I haven't done the math, but eyeballing it, I'd say they've been averaging 2.5 goals per game or so over that period. that's not exactly an offensive outburst, but it means they haven't gone in the tank as much as they had earlier in January.

I'm a little worried about the defense recently. The Wild have always preached the "team defense" concept. But they still rely heavily on a few core defensemen and G Niklas Backstrom. Unfortunately, one of those core guys, Brent Burns, has been less than stellar of late. I've discussed this with a fellow Wild fan, and neither of us can put our finger on why. But we both agree that there have been far too many bad passes and turnovers for a guy who's supposed to be a top-tier defenseman. Is it the bouncing back and forth between winger and defensemen? Is it the missing tooth? I don't know. Whatever it is, I hope he gets it fixed soon. The Wild need him to be at his best if they want to make some noise down the stretch.

Coming up, the Wild host the Ottawa Senators Saturday night. I'll be in attendance, but I won't throw another RGC at you quite so soon. Too much of a good thing is still too much. After that the Wild get four days off before they host Calgary next Thursday and the Red Wings the following Saturday (I'm going to that one too, and very well could be doing an RGC).

Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are 15-9 overall and 6-6 in the Big Ten, which puts them in a tie for 6th place in the conference.

Wow what a difference a week can make. After a horrible 6-game losing streak, the Badgers have won three in a row. Illinois, Penn State and Iowa are all beatable teams mind you. But as panicked as I was a week and a half ago, I'll take it!

Fellow Badger fan and my freshman year roommate David in Milwaukee put it best:

"Could Bo have the Badgers back on track? If they can take down Ohio State this weekend it would be awesome. They have a real shot sneaking back into the Tourney given their remaining schedule and a modest showing in the Big Tournament. And if he could own Tom Izzo one more year??? Ah, a boy can dream, right? Plus, that would pretty much guarantee you'll get back your bragging rights over the Gophers. I sense them perhaps headed in an opposite direction. On Wisconsin!"

Thank you David. Well put.

I'm not sure about "owning" Izzo this year. After watching the Spartans take apart the Gophers twice this year, I have a hard time seeing that happen. But stranger things occur in sports.

I wish I could give you more depth as to the reasons for the turnaround, but I honestly don't know what's going on. It doesn't look like they're playing much differently, but they're clearly having more success in scoring the basketball. Plus their defense has gone from "rather porous" to "somewhat effective". That may sound like back-handed praise, but considering how bad they were, "somewhat effective" is a marked improvement.

As for their tournament chances? Obviously they've dug themselves a significant hole. It's not impossible that they'll manage to climb out of it, but it's far from guaranteed. They'll need to win 5 of their last 6 to make it to 20 wins. And that certainly won't be easy with road games at Michigan State and (God I hate to say this) Minnesota. But it can be done.

In addition to that, I think they'll need a fairly significant run in the Big Ten Tournament (at least the semi-finals?) in order to secure a spot in the 64-team field. And to be honest, if they drop more than 2 of these last 6, they'll probably need to win the whole thing and get the automatic bid to get in.

As David mentioned, the Badgers host Ohio State on Saturday night, followed by a winnable game on the road against Indiana next Thursday. Then comes the big test on the road at Michigan State one week from Sunday.

That's all I've got for this week folks. Keep rooting for the Wild and Badgers and I'll be back on Monday! Seeing that Twins pitchers and catchers report on Sunday (did I mention that yet?), there's every likelihood that Monday's column will be baseball-centric. We shall see. Until then, stay safe, have a fun weekend, and thanks for reading!

Wednesday

2-11-09: A-Roid

Hello again everybody...

Another middle of the week, and like most of you, I'm already looking forward to the weekend. We've been feeling awfully "Seattle" here in the upper Midwest the last few days, but I'm not complaining. I'll take 40's and damp over negative temps and snowing any day of the week and twice on Sunday!

I'm beginning to write today's missive from Key's Cafe at the Foshay Tower in downtown Minneapolis. I had to be downtown for a work meeting at 9:30am. And yes, for those of you wondering, that is painfully early for me. But like the good soldier I am, I made it in and was glad I did. But it did leave me with the problem of finding something to do from approximately 10:30am til I have to be in the studio at 1pm. So I did some research, found out Key's has wireless Internet and serves breakfast all day, and decided I'd go there.

I'm happy to report the breakfast was good (the bacon was especially yummy) and once they rebooted their modem, the wireless Internet functions quite nicely. So you have my apologies if there's any grease on your screen. I tried to clean up as best I could before I started typing!

Today's Take focuses on the subject at the forefront of most sports fans' minds, and all baseball fans' minds: Alex Rodgriguez. Or as he's been dubbed in the New York media, A-Roid.

(Aside - Don't get me wrong, I still hate Boston. But I am anxious to see how badly the Red Sox fans, whom I hate, rib A-Roid when he shows up in Fenway. That ought to be entertaining!)

Let me say by way of preview that I wasn't surprised by the revelation, but I was saddened, and more than a little annoyed. I'll discuss.

So let us away...

"An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a narrow field."
- Niels Bohr (1885 - 1962), Danish physicist


I think Professor Bohr might have been more famous for smelling something rotten in his native State, but I thought this quote was clever as well!

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Okay. A-Roid time.

Where do I begin?

For those of you living under a rock for the past week, it was revealed over the weekend in a Sports Illustrated investigation, that Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees was one of 104 baseball players to test positive for performance enhancing drugs in 2003.

The rub is that the tests that were conducted in 2003 were done after the players received strict assurances that they'd be anonymous and that the results were to be destroyed.

Why destroy the results? Because the tests were only designed to indicate whether PED's were a problem in Major League Baseball or not (I know, more obvious an answer could not be). If more than 5% of the tests came back positive, then MLB would institute regular, random testing. If not, then not.

So let's do some quick math. Each of the 32 MLB teams has a 25-man active roster. That equals 800 active MLB players. 104 is 13% of the 800. So those tests clearly exceeded the threshold for the institution of regular testing, which is why we have the program we have in place today.

So why does any of this matter?

It matters for several reasons. First of all, those tests were supposed to be destroyed. They weren't because 5 days after MLB received the results, they were subpoenaed by the federal government in the case they were building against Barry Bonds. The feds were able to tie the results up in court long enough, that a reporter was able to get ahold of A-Rod's name as one of the positive testees.

Which begs the question, are we going to learn the other 103 names on that list? I'd be flummoxed if those names didn't come out sooner or later. It's unfair that Alex is the only name to be revealed. And if that list is in the hands of the federal government (the single worst institution ever at keeping something secret), then some intrepid reporter will eventually gain access to the entire list and publish it.

It also matters because of who Alex Rodriguez is.

When Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron's career home run record, the event was met with indifference pretty much everywhere except San Francisco. By that time, the conventional wisdom was that Bonds was guilty of steroid use, and his record was therefore tainted.

Alex Rodriguez was supposed to be the guy who rid that sacred record of it's taint. He's the active player with the best shot at breaking Bonds' mark, and up until now, he was also under no suspicion of being a PED user.

Now that's changed. Now we have an admission, albeit a limited one, of Alex's use of steroids from 2001 to 2003, his years as a Texas Ranger.

In his recent interview with ESPN's Peter Gammons, Alex claimed that he felt a tremendous amount of pressure to perform from the mammoth, record-setting contract he'd just signed. And, given the "culture of baseball" at the time, PED's were a method by which he could achieve the results he, as well as Rangers fans and management, desired.

And clearly they worked. In his three years with the Rangers, he hit no less than 47 home runs per year, and drove in no fewer than 118 runs. Those are some serious numbers.

According to Alex, he suffered an injury in 2003 that "awakened" him to the dangers of PED use, and he ceased using them after being traded to the Yankees prior to the 2004 season.

Do I believe him? No. But I don't think that really matters either.

I don't believe him because this is the same guy who in 2007, looked Katie Couric in the eye and told her he'd never used any form of PEDs. Obviously, that was a lie. And once you know someone's willing to lie to a national audience, it's only prudent to question any statement they make thereafter.

As I said, I don't think it matters though, because once the taint of PED's is on you, that's pretty much it. It's like how they say you can't be "a little bit pregnant". You can't be "a little bit of a PED user". Once you've done it, you've done it, and your career will be forever colored by it.

So now Alex can't be the guy who de-taints the career home run record.

That's unfortunate, but it's not why this revelation really annoys me.

It annoys me for two reasons.

Those who are regular readers of The Sports Take, or have known me personally for any length of time, know that I love the game of baseball. The PED controversy has been a dark cloud hanging over the game for at least the last 5 years. People can say what they want about the Mitchell Report. But if nothing else, it seemed to at least start to put a period at the end of the "steroids" paragraph. Baseball had begun to move on. We'd gotten back to focusing on the game, not on what the players were or were not injecting themselves with.

Now, all that progress has been reversed. Now we're going to spend the next several months talking about A-Roid and his indiscretions. And we'll also be waiting for those other 103 names to surface. And when they do, we're going to spend months dissecting those names and the implications they make for the game.

And that leads me to my second annoyance. I've spent the last 3 and a half months getting excited for the start of the 2009 baseball season. I don't want to think about steroids. I want to think about Justin Morneau hitting a 3-run bomb. I want to think about Stephen Drew legging out a triple. I don't want to think about who these other 103 guys are, or when we're going to find out about them.

But now it's unavoidable. Steroids will dominate the discussing during Spring Training. And whenever the names come out, we'll be talking about those for several months as well. That means by my estimation, we won't be talking about pure baseball until after Memorial Day at the earliest.

That makes me sad for baseball. And annoys me to death as a baseball fan.

So that's my Take on A-Roid. For those of you wondering why I didn't discuss his punishment, that's because there isn't going to be any. At least nothing formal from Baseball. He didn't break any rule at the time of his positive test. And he hasn't tested positive since. I'm not sure what the statute of limitations is as far as legal charges, but my guess is that's run out as well. So the only punishment he's going to receive is to his image and marketability.

That's all for today. I'll be back on Friday with this week's edition of the DFTU. Until then, stay safe and thanks for reading!

Sunday

2-8-09: Sports Take Running Game Commentary IV

Hello again everybody...

Welcome back to another week in the salt mines. The upshot is that highs here in the upper Midwest are supposed to be in the 40's. The downside is that we're going to mix in some rain, sleet, snow and perhaps even some thunder with those above-normal temps. It's rarely a dull weather week here in Minnesota, and this one seems to be no exception.

Today it's time for another Sports Take Running Game Commentary. Yesterday, I went to the Xcel Energy Center to see the Wild take on the Edmonton Oilers. Today, you get to follow along. So let's get to it!

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts."
- Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, advocate for social reform and pacifist.


It's a good thing the guy lived to be 97, he had a lot to do!

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Without further ado, I bring you the Sports Take Running Game Commentary from the Wild versus the Oilers, dated February 8th, 2009:

Pregame: This is the first time I got to bring my new laptop to the X for a hockey game. It's almost like I'm a real-life journalist! I figure that if I'm going to be amongst professionals, I can at least act as if I was one.

As we go through the usual pregame routine, Adam Abrams announces the starting line-ups. Which gives me pause to wonder if there's anything more pointless than "starting line-ups" in hockey? I mean these guys are going to be off the ice in a minute-and-a-half anyway, so what does it matter who actually starts the game?

If you read the Running Game Commentary 3, you'll recall how I described how cool it is to watch the youth hockey player skate the "State of Hockey" flag to center ice. But today I saw something that made it even better. As the Wild players hit the ice, the kid turned to face them and held out his fist. Several Wild players took the cue and gave the kid a fist-bump as they skated by. I'm sure this isn't the first time it happened, but it's the first time I could recall seeing it. And I dug it.

Sara Renner did her usual solid job of singing the National Anthem. And because the Wild were facing a Canadian club, we get to hear "O Canada" as well. Damn the Canadians for having a better Anthem than we do!

First Period: And we're off. Nothing much going on in the first few minutes. Seems like the teams are feeling each other out a tad. I've got the Edmonton radio crew sitting over my left shoulder. So far, the play-by-play guy has butchered at least two names of Wild players. And there are a surprising number of "umms", "ahhs" and awkward pauses for a Canadian broadcaster. I mean given the passion of Canadians for hockey, wouldn't you expect they'd have the highest quality broadcasters as well?

4:15 - I peek down at the laptop for a second and suddenly hear the crowd start to cheer. I look back up and see Cal Clutterbuck skating away from a disheveled Oiler defenseman. This guy is turning into a folk hero in front of our eyes. Only I can't help but think that sooner or later, he's going to take a run at the wrong guy and get clobbered onto the injured list.

4:29 - We get the first penalty of the game called on the Wild's James Sheppard who goes for hooking.

6:08 - Woops. Here's the second penalty of the game. Clutterbuck gets caught reaching with his stick instead of moving his feet and goes for tripping. This gives Edmonton :21 of a 5-on-3. 5-on-3's are crucial in hockey games. They're almost "must-score" situations for the team with 5. But they're also an opportunity for the team with 3 to get a lot of momentum if they kill it off. In an interesting move, the Oilers call a time out, presumably to set up a play.

6:26 - The time out pays off. Some nifty passing around the net results in Oiler D Sheldon Souray lighting the lamp. Assists go to Denis Grebeshkov and Ales Hemsky. And no, "Ales" isn't a typo. Oilers lead 1-0.

9:35 - Derek Boogaard and Zack Stortini do a little pushy-shovy as they get lined up for a faceoff. Unfortunately for the Wild, it escalates after the faceoff and Boogaard takes a whack at Stortini resulting in the third Wild penalty of the night. Derek takes a seat for slashing. The crowd doesn't appreciate it.

9:46 - And here's the make-up call as Souray gets his fists up in Nick Schultz's face and gets whistled for roughing. We're 4-on-4 for the next 1:50... unless someone else gets whistled for a penalty.

12:00 - Nothing comes from the 4-on-4. Now I'm thinking I have to look up who this Edmonton radio play-by-play guy is. It's getting almost comically bad. Turns out his name is Rod Phillips and he's been calling Oiler games longer than I've been alive. You'd think he'd be better prepared, but it just took him 7 long seconds to figure out who Martin Skoula is. And Skoula's been in the league for 10 years.

14:43 - Yet another Wild penalty. This time Stephane Veilleux goes for slashing. He broke Ethan Moreau's stick clean in half. And while that's a neat trick, it'll cost him 2 minutes. Fortunately, the Wild kill the penalty.

17:45 - I just heard Marek Zidlicky called "Zidlitsky". Oof.

18:19 - Out of nowhere, Eric Belanger fires a seemingly innocuous wrister past Dwayne Roloson from the left circle. That's a save Roloson makes 9 times out of 10 and I guarantee you he'd like to have that one back. Assists go to Owen Nolan and Kim Johnnson. We're tied at 1.

End of the first period - Wild 1, Oilers 1.

First Intermission: I didn't see any of the fan festivities during the first intermission because I got caught up in a series of conversations with folks in the press box.

First up, I chat briefly with Wild radio analyst and former North Star Tom Reid... who I accidentally call "Bob". Wild play-by-play wiz Bob Kurtz had just walked by, and somehow the wrong synapse fires when Tom said hello. I feel really cool right now. Oof.

Next up, I chat with John Mikelson who in addition to being a hockey guy, works at the horse track. Hard to top that combo. He agrees that the first period was somewhat doggish.

Then I see that Sid Hartman's in the press box for one of his annual "yes, I go to Wild games too" appearances. Or perhaps he's just looking for a new financial adviser, given that it came out last week that he had money invested with Bernie Madoff. Woops!

After that, I run into Stu Thornley in the press box commissary. You may recall from STRGC 3 that Stu's our local SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) guy. Naturally, our conversation centers on Joe Torre's book and the story that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003. Both of which I'll discuss further on Wednesday.

Finally, I run into Mike Grimm, the voice of Golden Gopher Basketball. I don't bring up the Badger hockey team's sweep of the Gophers, he doesn't mention the Badger Basketball team's 6-game losing streak which was only recently snapped. This is all really for the best.

I barely make it back to my seat in time for the...

Second Period: As sluggish as the first period was, the second starts with a lot of energy. And most of it is coming from the Wild, which leads to...

3:43 - Sheldon Souray goes for hooking. Here's a chance for the Wild to take control of the game with a power play goal. Unfortunately, other than three big slapshots, they don't generate any serious scoring opportunities.

9:30 - I finally hear the Edmonton radio guy make a good point. He explains the Wild's domination on face-offs by pointing out that the Oilers' leading face off winner C Shawn Horcoff is a scratch today. That makes sense.

12:52 - Cal Clutterbuck throws a puck in front of the net from a bad angle. It bounces off a skate and nearly slips by Roloson. Proving once again that in life, as in hockey, sometimes you just have to throw one at the net. You never know what might happen!

14:40 - A good scoring chance for Stephane Veilleux of the Wild as a rebound comes his way. Unfortunately, he has to kick the puck to his stick, and that delay allows Roloson to get in position to make the save. The scoreboard doesn't show it, but the Wild are dominating this period. Wait, the scoreboard actually does show it, since the Wild have a 21-13 edge in shots. Unfortunately, it hasn't translated into goals, which are what count at the end of the day.

15:27 - The Oilers' Sheldon Souray fires a howitzer at Niklas Backstrom. The shot was so hard that Backs couldn't hold it in his glove. It reminds me of trying to catch a baseball that hits you in the palm. It numbs your whole hand and often causes you to drop the ball. Fortunately for Backstrom, his palm remains in tact.

19:00 - The Wild get away with one. Pierre-Marc Bouchard locks up an Edmonton defenseman behind the Oiler net. He loses his stick and his glove in the process and somehow isn't whistled for holding. I fear the hockey gods are going to drop some bad magambo on Butch for that.

19:59 - Edmonton forward Sam Gagner makes a late rush, but can't stop himself from bowling over Backstrom. Apparently that doesn't rise to the level of a penalty. The fist he shoves in Nick Schultz's face after the whistle blows, however, does. So the Wild will start the 3rd period on the power play.

End of the second period: Wild 1, Oilers 1.

Second Intermission: The Wild now run 3 Zambonis during the intermissions. Well, technically it's 2 Zambonis and a vehicle that looks like a Zamboni. The first two are actually tasked with resurfacing the ice. The third vehicle contains the "Target Hot Seats" (Yet another Target sponsorship - with Target Center and Target Field. I know that Target's laying people off, but with all these sponsorship dollars out there, they can't be doing that bad, can they?). Anyway, instead of being a resurfacing machine, the third vehicle allows up to 10 fans to ride around the ice as the real Zambonis do their work. It looks like an interesting vantage point for the fans, even if the ride isn't all that eventful.

Tonight's fan contest is the "Chipotle Challenge". Chipotle is probably the most popular restaurant that I don't like to eat at. What can I say? I'm just that finicky. Tonight's contest requires a couple of fans to identify as many album covers as they can in 30 seconds. The first guy looks at Nirvana, Bruce Springsteen, Journey, Van Halen, Michael Jackson and the Beatles, and gets only 2 right. Not good. The second guy sees Pink Floyd, U2, Guns 'N Roses, Boston, Madonna and the Bee Gees and gets only 1 right. Where do they find these people?! Contestant #1 wins a giant burrito. Seriously? One big burrito? That's all? Oh well, he only got 2 right. He probably shouldn't have won anything!

Third Period: The Wild start the period on the power play. 30 seconds in, Marek Zidlicky puts one off the pipe. Six inches from the lead. Hockey's a wonderfully frustrating game at times.

3:38 - Bouchard gets tangled up with Oiler winger Erik Cole. Cole does a dive that earns a 9.5 from the Russian judge, but Bouchard's the only one who gets penalized. Two minutes for tripping is the sentence, bad karma is the crime. Sorry Butch, but I warned that this might be coming.

4:20 - The Wild score shorthanded! Some nifty passing from Schultz to Koivu to Miettinen who rifles a shot past Roloson on the stick side. Sweet play. The Wild lead 2-1.

7:47 - Wild D Martin Skoula catches a deflected puck right in the mush. Ouch! The refs whistle play dead seconds later, so he must be bleeding. Skoula skates off and heads straight for the locker room.

11:20 - During a TV timeout, they announce that after the game, kids will be allowed to go down on the ice and take a shot on goal. I wasn't aware the Wild did that. It's like the Twins letting kids run the bases after Sunday games. Maybe it's a Sunday thing?

13:56 - Niklas Backstrom gives up one too many rebounds, and Oilers C Sam Gagne finally bangs one home. Assists go to Ladislav Smid and Robert Nilsson. We're tied at two. Dammit. I haven't been to a Wild win yet this year. I was really hoping this was going to be the one!

14:35 - Skoula's stitched up and back on the ice. On his first shift back he gets off a solid slapshot. Must have been some good Novocaine!

19:28 - Bouchard fans on an entry pass at center ice and then proceeds to check the Oiler who steals the puck from him and gets called for holding. The replay shows that it's a pretty weak call. More bad magambo for Butch. Edmonton fails to take advantage in the last :32 of regulation, but will start overtime with a man advantage.

End of regulation - Wild 2, Edmonton 2

Overtime: OT in hockey is 5 minutes of 4-on-4 play. Except in this case, where we have a penalty, so the Oilers will start the period with a 4-on-3 advantage.

0:30 - We get our first "Let's Go Wild" chant of the night. Sadly, I hadn't realized it was lacking.

1:28 - The Wild kill off the penalty. We're back to 4-on-4.

4:00 - Edmonton D Steve Staios falls down giving the Wild a 2-on-1 rush. Eric Belanger makes a nice move, but Roloson shuts down the 5-hole and makes the save. This is actually turning into one of the more entertaining OT periods you'll see.

4:48 - Roloson holds on to a big slap shot from Nick Schultz. Prior to the ensuing faceoff, the Wild call their timeout trying to set up a goal-scoring play of their own. Unfortunately, it doesn't work and time runs out. Time for the...

Shootout: 3 shooters a side. The team with the most goals wins. Here we go!

Oilers' first shot: Sam Gagne gets stoned by Backstrom

Wild's first shot: Antti Miettinen is denied by Roloson.

Oilers' second shot: Robert Nilsson is stopped by a nifty left pad save from Backstrom.

Wild's second shot: Marek Zidlicky tries to go high on the glove side, but Roloson gets a piece of it and deflects it harmlessly over the net.

Oilers' third shot: Ales Hemsky totally rips off Zidlicky and tries to go high on the glove side of Backstrom who copycats Roloson and deflects it over the net.

Wild's third shot: Brent Burns has a chance to win the game on one shot for the Wild. And... he puts it off the pipe. Dammit. Now we trade off skaters til somebody scores and the other team doesn't.

Oilers' fourth shot: Tom Gilbert gets stopped by Backstrom's left pad. Somebody needs to buy that left pad a steak dinner after the game!

Wild's fourth shot: Mikko Koivu goes 5-hole on Roloson and this time Dwayne can't close the door fast enough. Koivu scores. Wild win, Wild win, Wild win!

Final Score: Wild 3, Oilers 2.

Postgame: The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by voice of Gopher hockey, Wally Shaver: 3 - Sheldon Souray, 2 - Mikko Koivu, 3 - Antti Miettinen.

As usual, I head downstairs to catch the "Jacques Lemaire Postgame Press Conference". Jacques comes into the room humming. I guess since the Wild won, that's a good thing.

As we wait for the rest of the reporters to come into the interview room, Jacques breaks out his cell phone and makes a call, during which he speaks nothing but French. Oddly enough, though he speaks English with a heavy French-Canadian accent, he speaks French with a heavy English accent.* Who knew?!

(* - This didn't actually happen, but it would be awfully entertaining if it had, no?)

The press conference itself is fairly uneventful until the end when Pioneer Press columnist, Tom Powers, asks if Jacques thinks the refs should have reviewed a goal by Derek Boogaard which didn't count. It didn't count because Boogard deflected it in a solid 5 seconds after play had been whistled dead. Lemaire looks at Powers with an, "Are you serious?" expression until Powers starts laughing, at which point Lemaire breaks up and the whole room starts to laugh. Not a bad way to finish a fun day at the rink!

And that brings us to the end of Sports Take Running Game Commentary IV. I hope you enjoyed it almost as much as I did.

That's all for today folks. I'm back on Wednesday with some discussion of babbling managers and ratted-out A-Frauds. Until then, stay safe and thanks for reading!

Friday

2-6-09: Notes

Hello again everybody...

We've reached the end of another week, and from what I see from my Facebook friends, it couldn't come soon enough. For those of you who haven't taken the "social networking" plunge, do so with the following warning in mind: it will thoroughly and completely dominate your life.

I'm not saying that in a completely negative sense. Facebook has created all kinds of interesting opportunities for me, but it's highly addictive. One of my favorite writers, John Buccigross, has specifically created a maxim to prevent himself from spending all day checking updates (I included a couple others because they make a ton of sense):

-- Don't spend all day and night on Facebook. It drains your brainpower. Get in and get out.

-- Text and e-mail in complete sentences. Be clear and concise and very specific.

-- Don't send an e-mail on the company computer that includes anything that you wouldn't stand up and yell in the main lobby of your place of employment.

Solid advice from one of the best sports writers you'll ever read. Although I've utterly failed to apply the Facebook maxim. I'm really trying to make the other two work though!

But on to the sports. As I'm sure many of you have guessed, I don't have a ton to talk about today, hence the lengthy preamble. For those of you new to The Sports Take, when I start going off about things like Facebook, it means the rest of the column will likely be a touch short.

So today it's a random Notes column. Several different subjects, none of which I feel deserve a whole column. But I still have thoughts on each, so I'll rapid-fire my way through them. Off we go!

"A quotation, like a pun, should come unsought, and then be welcomed only for some propriety of felicity justifying the intrusion."
- Robert Chapman (1920-2002), American English professor


I think that's the right "Robert Chapman". There were several references on Wikipedia and my quotes page didn't help with the identification. Oh well, if I got it wrong, my apologies to the English cricketer, the conservative Member of Parliament, the U.S. Court of Appeals judge, or the President of the University of North Carolina!

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Okay... on with it already... here are some Notes:

- The streak is over! That's right, the Badger basketball squad finally broke their losing streak with a 63-50 win over Illinois. Thank God. I saw most of the first half, but only caught glimpses of the finish as I was out watching my cousin's band. It was tight back and forth in the early goings, but at about the 10 minute mark of the first half, the Badgers broke out offensively, ran out to a 12-point lead at halftime and never looked back.

Time for them to build some momentum as they head to Penn State over the weekend. That's not a gimme, but it is definitely a winnable game. After a 6-game losing streak, is an 8 game winning streak too much to ask for? Probably. But I'm not losing hope!

- Todd Haley is the new head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. Poor schmuck. He gets "Santonio Holmes'd" in the Super Bowl and now he's got to run that operation?! Oof.

For those of you who need further explanation, Haley was the offensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals prior to accepting this job. And the Kansas City Chiefs have been one of the most woeful franchises in recent NFL history. Consider them the AFC version of the Detroit Lions.

Maybe he's got a shot at turning this thing around. The Chiefs have a new GM who came over from the Patriots, one of the most successful franchises in recent NFL history. And clearly, with the right personnel, Haley can run a potent offense. But Tyler Thigpen is no Kurt Warner. At least not yet. We'll see.

Anquan Boldin doesn't want to be a Cardinal anymore. Maybe KC would be a likely landing spot for him?

- Michael Phelps smoked pot?! Here we go. NBC turned him into an icon during the Olympics, and now we have to tear the icon down. Am I the only one who's seen this movie before? If it follows the pattern, he'll go to rehab, disappear for a while and then come out with a book and make 10-times the amount he stands to lose in endorsements.

What I love about this story was that he didn't get photographed with a little joint. No, the picture shows him sucking on a gigantic glass bong. I mean if you're going to get busted for smoking weed, you should get the most out of it, right?

Let's not feel too bad for Michael Phelps here. Rosetta Stone, Guitar Hero and the slew of other endorsements he's landed can't take their checks back. Sure he's blown a chance at some future income, but like I said, the book deal will cover most of that and then some.

- Soccer star, David Beckham, wants to stay in Italy instead of returning to the L.A. Galaxy. What will MLS do now?

What? You didn't know there was still Major League Soccer? Yeah, no worries. Not many other people did either. Hey, I'm all for the league being successful. But the Beckham experiment might have been the shortest-lived hype in the history of professional sports.

- Kobe and LeBron drop 61 and 52 respectively on the Knicks in the Garden. You want to know why I don't like the NBA much? How about because a marquee franchise has been reduced to a punchline.

Think about it. The only time you ever hear about the Knicks is when somebody scores a bevy of points against them, or when Spike Lee gets in a verbal altercation with an opposing team member.

I can't think of another league where a franchise like this in a major market has been this bad for this long. If any of you can, please let me know. But it's one of many things that makes the NBA look bad in my eyes.

Okay, that's all I've got for this week. Enjoy the (relatively) warm weather over the weekend! I'll be back on Monday, with more Sports Take wonder for you to digest. I think I'm going to the Wild game on Sunday, so there's a distinct possibility that there'll be a Running Game Commentary headed your way. We'll see. Until then, stay safe and thanks for reading!