Posted by: gravessack | August 31, 2014

The Saints Are Moving On

Minnesota’s lone independent professional baseball team, the St. Paul Saints, has played at Midway Stadium near the State Fair since 1993. This small-town ballpark sported some quirky features, like restrooms were mainly porta-potties and sometimes the Saints let fans sit on the outfield warning track during games. Fans will miss the trains that roll by just beyond left field and watching firefighters train just over the right field wall on an old building. But Midway Stadium was missing something big: sufficient accessibility. The new Lowertown Ballpark, which will open next year, will definitely be an improvement for fans with disabilities.

Yes, Midway Stadium had the basic ADA features: wheelchair sections and access ramps. But the St. Paul Saints have promised greatly improved accessibility features in their new ballpark. In fact earlier this year, St. Paul Pioneer Press wrote a story on several fans who approved the Lowertown Ballpark accessibility plans.

The new field will exceed federal ADA standards for ballparks this size. The ballpark will feature 140 handicap seats and four elevators. In addition, the Saints will use padded folding chairs for more flexible combinations (for example, if two or more friends in wheelchairs want to attend a game together). The Lowertown Ballpark will also have ADA entrances, 10 single-occupant restrooms, a drop-off/pick-up area, braille and color contrasted signage for fans with visual impairments, and signage identifying accessible routes.

Also the stadium will have 180 semi-ambulant seats, which provide more leg room than normal seats and will be on the concourse level. Lastly, the stadium will have a 360-degree accessible concourse that will provide various viewpoints of the playing field. For more information about the accessible features of the new Saints stadium, please click here.

Personally, I love what the Twin Cities is doing with making all the new stadiums and their surrounding areas more accessible for all, but especially people with physical disabilities. For example, I just learned this week that plans are in the works to build a pedestrian bridge that goes across the light rail tracks near the new Vikings stadium to safely allow fans to cross, with elevators on each end. Across town at the Target Field light rail station, the Twins and Minneapolis did an outstanding job on accessibility.

But back to the Lowertown Ballpark: the Saints and St. Paul did their due diligence in making their new ballpark more accessible than other independent baseball parks. Here’s to hoping that Minneapolis and St. Paul become known as one of the most disability-friendly spots in the country. We are well on our way!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | August 9, 2014

An Interesting Few Weeks

It has been a busy few weeks for the Twins. First, the team designated reliever Matt Guerrier for assignment on July 23 and traded first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales to the Seattle Mariners on July 24 for reliever Stephen Pryor. On July 31, outfielder Sam Fuld was traded to the Oakland Athletics for starting pitcher Tommy Milone. The Twins also called up first baseman/designated hitter Kennys Vargas from the minors. That same day, the team signed catcher Kurt Suzuki to a two-year contract extension with a contract option for 2017. Finally, on August 5, outfielder Jordan Schafer was claimed on waivers by the Twins from the Atlanta Braves.

I was not very surprised when Guerrier and Morales left the Twins. Guerrier, who played for the Twins from 2004-11 and was very good, has had recent injury problems and had struggled at times this year. Reliever Ryan Pressly was called up from the minors to replace him. Although I liked Morales and wished the Twins would have kept him, it seemed his signing was only temporary because he is a veteran and the Twins signed him for only one year. I do not know about Pryor, who is currently in the minors.

I really like the Twins trading Fuld for Milone. Milone, who is 32-22 with a solid 3.84 ERA in his career, is considered by many to be a good pitcher and was sent to the minors earlier in the year only because Oakland has so many other good pitchers. He was sent to the minors by the Twins (which I don’t understand), but he should come up soon. When he does, I’ll be very excited to see him pitch.

I also like that the team called up Vargas and signed Suzuki to a contract extension. Vargas is a big guy who has a lot of power, and he showed some of it on August 6 when he hit a long game-winning three-run homer. He has been compared to David Ortiz! It will be very interesting to see how Vargas does in the future.

The signing of Suzuki was good for the Twins because he has been one of the best catchers in baseball this season. He has always been a good defensive catcher, and he is having a career year offensively, hitting .304. He is also supposed to be a great teammate.

Schafer will be an exciting player to watch on a regular basis. He only has a .222 career average but is extremely fast, having stolen 90 bases in his career. He is similar to Sam Fuld but I think Schafer is faster.

Today, August 9, Trevor May, one of the highest-rated prospects in baseball, makes his major league debut for the Twins. Even though the team is not doing very well right now, these players will hopefully help Minnesota return to playoff contention in the near future!

What do you think of the Twins’ recent moves?

Written by: Sam Graves

 

 

 

Posted by: gravessack | June 11, 2014

A Surprise Addition

On June 8, the Twins surprised everyone by signing veteran slugger Kendrys Morales to a one-year contract worth roughly $7.6 million. Morales, who was a free agent, last played for Seattle, where he hit .277 and had 23 home runs and 80 RBI. He has hit at least 15 home runs in three of the past five seasons. Morales will likely be the primary designated hitter for the Twins. He can also play first base, but the Twins will likely want Joe Mauer to play at first.

I love that the Twins made this move. Most of all, signing Morales (which was shocking since the Twins aren’t known for spending a lot of money and were not one of the teams that were expected to sign him) means the Twins are serious about contending for the postseason this year, something the team could not have dreamed of the past three seasons. I was a little worried Morales would be rusty since he had not played in either the minors or the majors since the end of last season before coming to Minnesota. However, Morales is off to a very good start, batting 6-for-13 in his first three games with Minnesota!

To make room for Morales on the roster, the Twins designated outfielder Jason Kubel for assignment, meaning the team can trade him, release him, or send him to the minors. Kubel, who first played for the Twins from 2006-2011 and was very good, struggled in his return to Minnesota this year. I like Kubel, but this move made sense based on his poor performance this season.

It has only been three games, but Morales looks like he will be a very good player for Minnesota. If he continues to do well, I would strongly encourage the Twins to extend his contract past this season!!

What do you think about the Twins signing Kendrys Morales??

Written by: Sam Graves

Posted by: gravessack | May 14, 2014

Get This Guy Out Of Here!

Twins starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey needs to go! He is a horrible pitcher! Although he had a few good starts last year, many of his starts since he joined the Twins at the beginning of last season have been pretty ugly. Last season, Pelfrey’s struggles were attributed to the fact that he had Tommy John surgery the year before. After signing him to a three-year contract this past offseason, he is still bad even though he was supposed to pitch better two years removed from Tommy John surgery. He is 0-3 with a 7.99 ERA this season, which is pretty awful! He also takes a long time between pitches, making him not that fun to watch and probably not that fun for his defense, who has to stand in the field when he pitches.

Pelfrey is currently on the disabled list with a groin injury and will probably rehab in the minors before (supposedly) coming back up to Minnesota. This may be a good thing because pitching in the minors for a little while, combined with the assumption that Pelfrey will be fully healthy when he returns, may get him back on track. I suggest that the Twins see how Pelfrey does after he returns to the majors. If he continues to struggle, the team should send him back to the minors or possibly release him! They could trade him too, but I don’t know how many teams would be willing to get him based on his extremely poor performance so far in Minnesota!

What do you think about Mike Pelfrey? What do you think the Twins should do with him if he continues to struggle?

Written by: Sam Graves 

Posted by: gravessack | April 4, 2014

What’s New At Target Field?

A new season has begun and the home opener is just days away. While the Front Office is trying to improve the performance on the field, improvements to Target Field are also underway. Every year since the ballpark opened in 2010, the Twins have made enhancements to improve the fan experience. News organizations have made a lot of the new foods at Target Field, but there have been other things added for this year that should go unnoticed.

Debuting in May is the “Target Field Station.” It will be more like an entertainment hub, with a large video board and a small amphitheater, which will be used for concerts and plays, among other events. The screen will be used mostly for Twins games and movie nights (it would be cool to watch the Wild in the play-offs there!). Most light-rail train lines and the Northstar line will converge at this station.

As for accessibility at this Hub, the amphitheater has two designated ADA seats (with signage), but the entire ring of front row seating is accessible. The entertainment area has three elevators and there is a seamless connection to Target Field’s promenade. “The upper plaza is completely ADA accessible including surmountable curbs on the Great Lawn”, says Kevin Smith, Senior Director of the Twins. Smith also indicated that there are seven ADA spots in the nearest parking ramp.

Major League Baseball is requiring all ballfields to have metal detectors by the start of 2015. The Twins have decided to start using them in preparation for the All-Star Game this July. This got me wondering: what happens when a power wheelchair goes through the detectors? Smith quickly put a kabosh on that, saying the Twins “will have guards with wands who can assist with people in power wheelchairs.” So, that’s good!

In other non-food upgrades, the Club has installed a grassy berm beyond center field and the trees are back in center field, though the 14 trees have been moved up to the Minnie and Paul level so that players can stop whining. Unlike the Black Spruce trees that were there in 2010, these trees are Spartan Junipers from Hartman Companies of Victoria, Minnesota.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | March 15, 2014

New Catcher Rule Is A Little Complicated To Understand

Starting this season, Major League Baseball will institute a one-year trial catcher rule. The goal of this newly adopted rule is to prevent catchers from being slammed into by baserunners at home plate (remember when San Francisco catcher Buster Posey broke three ligaments in his ankle and a bone in his leg in May 2011 and missed the rest of the season?). But if you dig deeper into this rule, it’s one complicated modification.

Basically, the new rule does not allow a baserunner to go out of his way to plow down a catcher when there is a play at home plate. In other words, a player has to go directly toward home plate and not at an angle so that he hits the catcher. If the runner pushes through with his elbow, arm or hand, he could be ruled out under the umpire’s discretion. If a catcher is blocking the plate without the ball near him, the baserunner will be determined safe. The adaptation also states that a catcher CAN block home when it is impossible to field the ball any other way to make a play. The umpire needs to decide if either the catcher or baserunner violates the rule and make the appropriate call.

To me, the way this new ruling is phrased is very contradicting. At what point can a catcher block the plate? Right now, how I interpret the rule is if the catcher blocks the plate from the runner the player is ruled safe. At the same time, the catcher is allowed to block the plate in order to attempt the tag. What exact point during the play does a catcher have to allow a runner to score? When can the catcher block the plate? For example, can a catcher block home before the relay man gets the ball or does the catcher have to wait until after the relay happens? I don’t have an answer to that critical question.

Some catchers are asking the league for clarification on this rule, according to ESPN. I hope the fans also get some more explanation before the season starts. Luckily, this rule can be reviewed on the expanded replay system. If this gets too confusing or if it does not cut down on injuries, the rule should be revised or scrapped in 2015. To review the full rule, click here.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | March 2, 2014

Instant Replay: Good For Baseball?

This past offseason, Major League Baseball announced it will expand instant replay for the upcoming 2014 season. Instant replay was introduced to MLB in 2008 but was limited to just home run calls. Now, reviewable plays include fair/foul and safe/out calls. However not everything will be reviewable, such as balls and strikes and interference calls. Click here for the details on MLB’s expanded instant replay.

I believe expanded replay will benefit MLB. My only concern is that since baseball games are already too long, replay may lengthen games even more. Still, expanded replay will largely decrease incorrect umpire calls and hopefully eliminate them altogether. Too many games are influenced by incorrect calls, such as the one on June 2, 2010, when a blown call at first base ruined former Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga’s perfect game. There also have been several controversial calls in the postseason, including when Joe Mauer had his obvious base hit ruled a foul ball against the Yankees, where games are extremely important and one blown call can make the difference between a team winning the World Series and being eliminated from the postseason. Click here for more controversial calls.

In addition, expanded instant replay will most likely take a little pressure off umpires to make the right call, especially on close plays. Even though umpires get calls right for the most part, replay will benefit them a lot as well. It will be interesting to see whether instant replay has a positive impact on MLB! I think it will!

Written by: Sam Graves

Posted by: gravessack | February 17, 2014

My Spring Training Analysis

This could be the most intriguing Spring Training in years. With the Twins hoping to put a winning team on the field, finally some patience may be paying off. Ever since slugger Jim Thome left in 2011, the Twins have been down in the dumps. The club finished in last place in 2011 and 2012, and in fourth in 2013. The die-hard fan base grew restless after the Twins extended Manager Ron Gardenhire’s contract in September. But then the Twins made several moves to try to improve this depressing team.

Coming into this Spring Training, the Twins pretty much have the top three starting pitchers locked up for the first time in years. The Twins spent more than $60 million on three pitchers this off-season: Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, and Mike Pelfrey. Nolasco and Hughes should really help the front of the starting rotation, as they can rack up the strikeouts. Hughes had only four wins with the Yankees last year, but has won more than 16 games in a season a couple of times. Nolasco does not have impressive numbers but the Twins think he will be a prime pitcher. I am not sure why the Twins signed Pelfrey, but they think he will be better this year. Other pitchers who will fighting for a spot on the starting rotation will be Sam Deduno, Vance Worley, Kevin Correira, and Kyle Gibson.

The catcher position is all but solidified. The Twins permanently moved Joe Mauer to first base to get him in the line-up more. Days later, they signed free agent catcher Kurt Suzuki as a replacement. Suzuki has a career average of .263 with 67 home runs and brings good catching skills with him. Look for Suzuki to be the starting catcher, with surging Josmil Pinto to be his back-up. In a September stint last season, Pinto smacked four dingers and had a batting average of .342 in 21 games.

There should be two players sharing the Designated Hitter position: Josh Willingham and Jason Kubel. They both have power at the plate when healthy. Willingham had 35 home runs in his first year as a Twin and 191 during his career. Willingham hit only 14 home runs last year due to injuries. During Kubel’s nine seasons in the Majors, he has hammered 139 balls with 551 RBIs. With Arizona in 2012, Kubel sent 30 balls into the stands. Both Willingham and Kubel struggled last season, but look for them to bounce back in 2014 sharing the DH role.

The 2014 Spring Training will feature the Twins two prized phenoms: third baseman Miguel Sano and center fielder Byron Buxton. Sano has been in the Minor Leagues for four seasons and has 90 home runs with 291 RBIs. Sano was named 9th best prospect in 2013 by Baseball America. If he has a decent spring, Sano could easily replace Trevor Plouffe at third. As for Buxton, he was named the 10th best prospect by Baseball America last year. During his first two years in the minors, Buxton has an average of .312 with 17 homers and 97 RBIs. Keep a close eye on the center field battle between Buxton and Aaron Hicks. Hicks was supposed to be the full-time center fielder last year but he struggled at the plate and dealt with injuries. If Sano and Buxton really show off their stuff this spring, the Twins should not hesitate to put both of them in the Opening Day line-up! The Twins need firepower!

It should be a better year if Nolasco and Hughes shine, and if Sano and Buxton get their shot in the Majors. It is time to look toward the future. If the Twins end above the 82-win mark, it will be a great season. Spring Training truly kicks off on February 22 when all players are supposed to report.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | January 10, 2014

Our First Peek At Accessibility Features In New Vikings Complex

As workers continue to prep the Metrodome for destruction and as construction workers poured the first concrete of the new Vikings stadium, I felt like it was time to dig deep to find out how this multi-purpose facility will serve fans with disabilities. Via e-mail, Jennifer Hathaway of Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) said that the MSFA has been working with an accessibility committee since this past spring. Below are the key ADA features of our newest sports complex that will be ready for use in downtown Minneapolis in 31 months.

Features for people with physical disabilities: First and most importantly, the facility will feature more than 650 wheelchair spaces (includes companion spaces) and 16 elevators. The stadium will also have one interior pedestrian ramp. All entry gates will have wheelchair access. The ticket booths and concessions will be at an accessible height of 34 inches. The stadium will have accessible short-term parking use when purchasing tickets or shopping at the team store. The complex will have charging stations at each ADA location and 12 accessible unisex restrooms.

Features for people with visual and hearing disabilities: Assistive listening devices will be made available at each ticket window and will amplify the announcements at the stadium for the hearing impaired. All room and directional signage will have braille. Moreover, ribbon boards will provide closed-captioning and elevators will have controls providing braille/raised characters. Elevators also will have audible signals.

Most of these features go beyond the accessibility of the 2010 ADA standards and the Minnesota Building Code, which is good news. Plus, this stadium will have more than three times as many wheelchair seats than the Dome had. I feel confident about the facility’s accessibility, too, because Mortenson Construction built Target Field, which has proven to be truly accessible.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | January 1, 2014

The Dome Is Slowly Fading Away

Not even 20 hours after the Metrodome’s final event, crews from Albrecht Sign Co. started dismantling the 65,000 seats which fans sat in for 32 years. On January 18, after all seats are removed, workers will begin to deflate the big white bubble. But the real dismantling starts January 20, when workers will start ripping down the walls. That should be a sight to see as crews can’t just blow up the arena as they are starting to build the new Vikings stadium a few yards away. I believe this is the right way to put the Dome to rest – days and days of destruction.

Crews will be destroying the Metrodome in a circular motion; one day a section may be there and the next day…gone. At the same time, construction crews will be building around the Metrodome destruction. By doing this, they will be able to build the new multi-purpose stadium in time for the 2016 NFL season.

There are two memories of the Dome that I will remember because I was at both of these games. On August 19, 2007, pitcher Johan Santana smoked the Texas batters with an 17-strikeout winning performance. Fans really wanted manager Ron Gardenhire to send Santana back out in the ninth inning because he was just a few strikeouts away from the MLB all-time record. I would have liked to see Gardenhire keep Santana in to try to finish, but the Twins had closer Joe Nathan waiting in the bullpen. That was a really fun game to be at.

Almost a year later, on July 31, I was at a game when everything broke loose. After Gardenhire got ejected late in the game, he kicked his hat real high before leaving for the clubhouse. Fans started to torpedo the field with hundreds of hats and baseballs. Former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen removed his players from the field, with the Dome’s public address announcer threatening the forfeit of the game if fans did not stop bombarding the field. Eventually, the game continued with more than 40 fans being ejected. These two memories will certainly be on my mind when the Dome’s days are over.

In the end, the facility was a nightmare for fans with disabilities. Built before the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, the Metrodome lacked a lot of accessibility features. The facility had less than 200 ADA seats and only had two elevators. Also, it had few handicap entrances so I had to go around the stadium just to find one. Sometimes I just gave in and went through the windy doors (you should have seen my face!). Lastly, the Metrodome had tiny concourses that barely fit everyone and food stands blocked people’s paths.

The Hubert Horatio Humphrey Metrodome, which has been a fixture of the downtown Minneapolis skyline for three decades, will slowly fade away into rubble. All the memories – from the Twins two World Series Championships to Brett Favre’s last second heave to win a game in 2009 – will be engraved in our minds. The Dome served the Twin Cities well, but there is just one more thing to say: BRING ON THE WRECKING BALL!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

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