Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr and former Times intern Logan Marxhausen. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.
•Question: Spring training for the Minnesota Twins began Saturday with pitchers and catchers reporting at Fort Myers, Fla. What’s the thing you’ll be paying most attention to as spring training progresses?
-Dorr: If Justin Morneau is able to play or not. The return to form by the pitching staff is of paramount importance, and one to follow closely. The return to form by Joe Mauer is somewhat expected, and an item to follow closely. But if Morneau is unable to play first base and/or drive in runs in the manner to which the team was accustomed before his injuries, it could be a long season for the Twins. It will also be interesting to see if the free agents the team signed will help the team. More than anything, however, if Morneau and Mauer aren’t productive, none of the other things will matter.
-Marxhausen: I would like to see the Twins prepare better for this season then they had last season. I thought that both the pitchers, as well as batters, started the season flat and unprepared. They did not seem to have any team camaraderie nor did they have any leadership on the field. The starting rotation already appears to be somewhat set with Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn and Scott Baker (offseason addition Jason Marqueis will most likely wrap up the fifth spot). With these pitchers I would like to see more control, with different types of pitches, proper fundamentals/mechanics and confidence on the mound coming into season. There were 33 pitchers coming into spring training to gather some competition amongst the others. It would be nice to see some prominent new faces who are eager to prove themselves receive some quality time during spring training.
-Larson: There are so many uncertainties and questions about this team it’s hard to know where to start. Several productive players are now gone and many unproductive players are back. Starting pitching? Defense, especially in the infield? The bullpen? The manager? Bench players? Fundamentals? The list goes on.When a team loses 99 games like the 2011 Twins did, there are a lot of things to correct.
But, the one thing most paramount to the Twins is the health of first baseman Justin Morneau and catcher Joe Mauer. If the team’s highest-paid players aren’t 100 percent healthy and aren’t able to resemble the players they were a few years ago, well, borrowing from the heavy metal group Metallica, “nothing else matters.”
•Question: The Twins Cities media was abuzz over the weekend with reports that a agreement had been reached for construction of a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings on a site on or near the Metrodome in Minneapolis. Cost was project at approximately $975 million, with the Vikings paying $427 million. 1. Do you like the proposed site? 2. Do you think a deal will be done before the Legislature adjourns in April?
-Dorr: I don’t care much either way about the site. I thought the basilica site was good but the governor caved in on that one way too easily. Reports are that a deal will get done this week and I guess I’ll go by reports from people who are paid to know such things. WCCO Radio reported this morning (Monday) that a deal is expected to get done. We’ll see if that’s accurate or not.
-Marxhausen: There are a lot of positives for the Vikings staying in Minneapolis. They are in the heart of Minnesota, people are familiar with the area and it will continue to bring money to the downtown businesses. On the other hand, Arden Hills has a lot more acreage available, so more room for parking, tailgating and new businesses. I do like utilizing the space where the Metrodome is located, but I feel there is more potential for the Arden Hills site to make a profit. Taxpayers could see more return of their investment if the stadium switched to Arden Hills. It is hot topic right now and with preliminary agreements at hand, I feel the legislature will make sure this proposal is finalized by April.
-Larson: I preferred the Arden Hills site but the Metrodome site is OK. Regardless the site, I don’t see the legislature approving anything this session. Apparently, the Vikings don’t either. The team announced last week that it would be staying in Minnesota for at least another year. This story will continue to drag on and on.
•Question: The University of Minnesota wrestling team won the National Duals Tournament in Stillwater, Okla., Sunday by stopping No. 4-ranked Iowa 16-15 in the semifinals and No. 1-ranked Oklahoma State 18-13 in the championship match. Minnesota was ranked No. 3 in the country going into the tournament and handed Oklahoma State its first loss of the season. Minnesota Coach J. Robinson has had much success since taking over in 1986, with his teams winning national titles in 2001, 2002 and 2003 along with seven Big Ten championships. Where does Robinson rank in the pecking order of University coaches?
-Dorr: Robinson has long had one of the top wrestling programs in the country. I can’t see ranking any U of M coach ahead of him in terms of results in Big Ten and NCAA competition. John Anderson has been there forever in the baseball program and the Gophers have done well, for a northern school. And some of the so-called non-revenue sports, such as track, have good results just about every season. But beating two teams, as Minnesota did Sunday, that have a combined 57 NCAA titles – that might be unheard of. And Robinson deserves the credit for that.
-Marxhausen: Robinson is definitely at the top of the pecking order in my opinion. No one else has been as successful as Robinson nor have they put in the years of service that he has. Not only has he won three national titles along with seven Big Ten titles, but he has also been two-time national coach of the year. He has developed 54 All-America wrestlers, a winning percentage of .738 and is 19 wins behind Wally Johnson for dual meet victories. A coach of Robinson’s caliber does not come to the University enough. If more coaches were like him, the programs would have a stronger foundation to build off.
-Larson: In terms of success and maintaining a highly-competitive program, Robinson ranks at the top at Minnesota. Collegiate wrestling, at all levels, is becoming more competitive every season. There are outstanding wrestlers now competing at Division II and Division III schools who, 10 years ago, would’ve been on the rosters of Division I teams.
Robinson knows how to recruit. His recruiting classes always rank at or near the top in the country. Against Oklahoma State, five of Minnesota’s 10 starters were from state high schools, including heavyweight Tony Nelson from Cambridge-Isanti and 184-pounder Kevin Steinhaus from Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sundburg, who both won their matches. Over half the wrestlers on Minnesota’s current team are from Minnesota.
Robinson must also be a great technician. College matches are often won by one precise move.
Minnesota is fortunate to have Robinson.
•Question: Carl Edwards battled his sport’s best and heavy winds Sunday to win pole position Sunday for the 54th Daytona 500 next Sunday. Who’s your pick in the legendary race that kicks off NASCAR’s 2012 season?
-Dorr: With no races having been run yet this season, I can’t even make a good guess. Eight drivers – Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. – were listed as equal favorites earlier this year. But last year 20-year-old Trevor Bayne surprised everyone by winning as the youngest winner ever. Bayne qualified for this year’s race Sunday with a very fast time. And on Saturday Gordon rolled his car in a 75-lap exhibition. So who knows what is going to happen Sunday? I don’t.
-Marxhausen: Edwards snubbed out Greg Biffle to be at the top of the line for this year’s Daytona 500. Edwards came close to finish at the top last season, only to lose a tie-breaker to Tony Stewart. I do not believe that a specific car has an advantage at any particular race track, but for the past 15 races, 10 of the winners have been Chevrolets. I still feel that Jimmie Johnson has a stronghold on the NASCAR circuit and he is my pick to win the 2012 Daytona 500.
-Larson: I’m phoning a friend on this one. Chad Banks of Milaca has had success on the local summer racing circuit, including at Princeton Speedway. He also follows NASCAR closely.
How much of an advantage is it for Edwards to have pole position?
Banks: Early in the race, it’s a big advantage to be in those first two or three rows. Any wrecks or tie-ups in the first few laps are likely to be in the fourth row on down. Getting into one of those can end a driver’s race. Once those early laps are over, then that pole position isn’t so big – the other drivers have a lot of time to catch up. On dirt tracks I always want to be at the front when the race starts. The races are short and if you can get a quick lead you have a good chance of keeping it.
So, who wins the 2012 Daytona 500?
Banks: My pick would be Kyle Busch, I think this is going to be his year. He’s taking part in fewer secondary events this year and focusing on his racing. It’s his turn to have a big year.
Amazingly, my pick for Sunday’s race was also Kyle Busch.
Banks, by the way, says that after 10-11 summers of racing, he’s not going to race this summer. We’ll see.
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