Posted by: gravessack | March 21, 2017

Special Olympics World Winter Games March 21-26

Special Olympics logoEvery two years, people around the world cheer on athletes in the Olympics and Paralympics. There is another major international sporting competition, the Special Olympics World Games.

Athletes from these Games participate in Special Olympics, an international organization that offers many athletic programs, as well as health and wellness programs, to people with intellectual disabilities. As with the Olympics and Paralympics, the Special Olympics World Games occurs every two years and alternates between Summer and Winter Games. However, the location is not the same as the Olympics and Paralympics.

This week, March 21-26, the Special Olympics World Winter Games, held in Austria, will be broadcast on ESPN2 and ABC, as well as online at WatchESPN and on the ESPN app. Each night from March 21-24, the Games will be shown on ESPN2, WatchESPN and the ESPN app from 5:00-6:00 p.m. CT. On March 26, (the Games are only shown at 2:00 a.m. on the 25th), a recap of the Games will be shown on ABC, WatchESPN and the ESPN app from 1:00-2:00 p.m. CT. Click here for more on the TV schedule. A video livestream is also available here (scroll down on page). Spanish broadcasts can be seen on ESPNDeportes. However, these will only be shown at 2:00 a.m. on March 22-25 and March 27.

Two athletes from Minnesota, Camilo Meija and Meghan Gartzke, are at the Games as part of Team USA. Both athletes compete in alpine skiing. Click here for more on Camilo and Meghan. Good luck to them and all the other athletes!

In addition to watching the livestream, don’t forget to tune in to ESPN2 starting at 5:00 p.m. today, March 21! Thank you to ESPN and ABC for broadcasting the Games!

Written by: Sam Graves

Posted by: gravessack | March 19, 2017

More Rule Changes Coming To MLB

Ever since Rob Manfred became commissioner before the start of the 2015 campaign, Major League Baseball has introduced a couple of rules. MLB started changing a year before Manfred took over as replay reviews were introduced to help umpires. Last year, they implemented the two-minute between innings rule and the controversial slide rule. Starting next month, you will see some small but noticeable changes to speed up play, which Manfred takes to heart.

The most radical change is when teams want to intentionally walk batters. For decades, pitchers would have to throw four balls out of the strike zone to initiate the walk. That is going away. Instead, managers will signal to the home plate umpire that they want an intentional walk and then it will be granted. Supposedly, this will bring down pitcher’s pitch counts while saving some stamina. In Manfred’s mind, the rule, which will take away the possibility of an odd play if the ball misfires, will speed up the game.

MLB wants the replay system to be a faster process, and they have a rule for that now. The replay review will have three extra steps to speed it up because some replays lasted longer than eight minutes. The first change is that managers will have only 30 seconds to request for the play to be looked at. Secondly, managers will be able to ask for a challenge through the 7th inning. Lastly, there will be a light guideline in which umpires get just two minutes to make the correct call.

A third rule change actually has been a rule and will make the third base coaching box actually necessary now! MLB is asking coaches to stay in their designated areas until the ball is in play. They want umpires to be more strict this year at keeping coaches where they are supposed to be. With the implementation of base coach helmets a couple of years ago, this rule is just another safety mechanism.

The one rule that was discussed and not issued for 2017 was a 20-second pitch clock, which would create some awkwardness, in my opinion. That timer would immediately start as soon as the pitcher gets the ball back from the catcher. I feel that wrinkle would be too extreme and should never be part of MLB, although they are experiencing with the system in the minor leagues and Manfred wants it in the big leagues one day!

The new laws of the game, which were approved on March 2, are not game changers, but I am a little surprised by the no-pitch walk rule. I do not understand why pitchers cannot throw four easy pitches to the catcher and if they think they are saving pitchers’ arms, those are soft tosses that should not even be counted as real pitchers. Twins broadcaster Bert Blyleven always says pitchers are the best players on the field. Apparently, MLB does not think so, as they want pitchers to save energy for “real” pitches. With the other rules, it will be nice for faster reviews and it will be great to see the coaching boxes be used again!

To read more about the new tweaks, click here. Please tell us what you think of the changes!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | March 11, 2017

Adapted Sports Around Town

Starting in 7th grade to graduation from high school, students with disabilities can participate in a couple of varsity sports. These include adapted soccer in the fall, floor hockey in the winter, and softball and bowling in the spring. When the big day comes to graduate, parents and students may wonder what sports opportunities are out there for them, since there are just a few collegiate adapted sports out there. I have gathered some options below, both recreational and competitive.

One recreational program for athletes with disabilities is the We Love To Play program held at Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute. This 28-week pick-up style sports extravaganza, which was founded in 1995, follows the adapted athletics high school pattern and gives adults the chance to continue to play the sports that they enjoy. We Love To Play rotates between football (typically just for a few weeks), soccer, floor hockey, and softball from September – May. The typical cost for this program is $3 per week. Click here to learn more about this fun activity.

For those looking to be on a more competitive team, power soccer is a great option. Even though there are a few recreational teams, most power soccer athletes are looking for an intense outlet. The power soccer season is usually 10 months long, cumulating with national tournaments in June. Teams usually travel to play games to rack up the required twelve games needed to make Nationals. This is a great sport if someone wants to learn strategy, communication, pass and shoot a ball, and compete at a high level. Power soccer even has a 10-team World Cup every four years or so. Cost depends on where you play. To learn more about power soccer, click here.

Athletes who have better fine-motor skills might be interested in power hockey. Power hockey is essentially hockey for power chair users. The players who have enough strength to hold a stick and have an easier time maneuvering their chairs play as forwards. The ones who have more severe conditions have their sticks taped to their chairs and play defense. Players need to move a whiffle ball down a court and shoot it on net. Minnesota has its own league, which will run from May to September this year. Like power soccer, power hockey also has Nationals, which is called the PowerHockeyCup, taking place in July. The cost in Minnesota is $40 per season. To find out more about the Minnesota division, click here.

Disabled athletes who really want extreme action should try wheelchair rugby. Wheelchair rugby is for people who have severe disabilities but still can take hard hits and enjoy fast-paced action. Wheelchair rugby combines basketball, handball, ice hockey, and rugby. The point of this game is force through the defense and cross a goal line to score a point. According to usqra.org, anything goes, except for “slapping, hitting, punching, gouging out eyes, biting off ears.” Wheelchair rugby might be the most rough adapted sport out there. This sport is part of the Summer Paralympics, which occur every four years. The cost of this sport is dependable on where you play. To learn more, click here.

These are just a few adapted sports options. Just make sure that you do research in order to choose the appropriate sport for you or your child. For more on adapted sports and to find helpful links, click here.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | February 26, 2017

2017 FIPFA World Cup Schedule Debuts

The schedule has been released for the biggest adapted sporting event this summer! Last January, the Federation Internationale de Powerchair Football Association awarded the United States the World Cup. Since then, a lot of fundraising has taken place in preparation for this summer. With the schedule release, the World Cup is just under 130 days away!

On February 23, the Draw was held at the U.S. Soccer headquarters in Chicago to determine the seedings and the two pools, with the United States being the number one seed. The two pools align like this: in Pool A, we have the United States, Denmark, Japan, Argentina, and Uruguay. In Pool B, there is England, Ireland, France, Canada, and Australia. Each team will get four games in pool play, with the last two days of the event being the knockout rounds. “Pack your sunscreen, pack your sunglasses, and be prepared to witness the most beautiful game on earth,” said Karen Russo of the United States Power Soccer Association (USPSAat the announcement.

Power Soccer, which the sport is called in America, is an adaptive sport for youth and adults who need wheelchair assistance most or all of the time. The game has two 20-minute halves, with two 5-minute overtimes if necessary. Two teams of four players try to maneuver, pass, and shoot a 13-inch ball with metal guards between goal posts. There are certain rules that make the game fair for athletes, although they can be controversial at times.

The World Cup will be held at the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, Florida, which holds up to 8,000 spectators, from July 5 – 9, 2017. The first game will kick off July 5 at 7:30pm CT with the United States taking on Denmark. According to Russo, the World Cup will be televised on Livestream via Power Soccer Shop, fipfaworldcup.org, and via the USPSA website. Additionally, there has been some push to get NBC to cover this event, although no breakthrough has occurred yet. More broadcast info will be made available in the coming months and we will definitely pass it along.

Here is the schedule for the FIPFA World Cup this July, released by the Federation

Here is the schedule for the FIPFA World Cup this July, released by the Federation Internationale de Powerchair Football Association on February 25.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | February 20, 2017

Let Us Do The Outfield Shuffle

Other than the catcher and pitcher competitions, the Twins must assess the outfield options when full-squad workouts get revved up this week. The club believes that they have an idea on who will be the starting three outfielders, although some of them struggled at the plate last year. So, the bosses brought in two veteran players who will compete for a spot. In all, there will be eight players competing for four or five outfield slots on the major league roster. The outfielders must be better in 2017, and thankfully, Miguel Sano won’t be in the mix, as he has all but solidified the third base role.

The most likely outfield combination that will start the season is: Eddie Rosario in left, Byron Buxton in center, and Max Kepler in right. Those players have proven in recent years that they are ready to take the next step, albeit some struggles still show. After having 16 assists in his rookie year, Rosario had just 10 last year. The 25-year-old has a .292 career batting average with 17 triples. Twins minor league phenom Buxton has had a rough start to his career. When he came up in 2015, he looked lost at the plate, totaling 44 strikeouts in 46 games. Buxton showed some improvement last year, resulting in 19 doubles and 38 RBIs. He has proven to us that he has great speed and has the skills to be a great center fielder. Meanwhile, Kepler broke into the major leagues last year like a hungry chimpanzee going after a fresh banana. One of the other young hopefuls, Kepler steamrolled through 113 games, averaging .235 with 17 home runs and 63 RBIs. The 24-year-old also had 9 outfield assists last season. You are probably wondering if these three will be the starters, who is vying for back-up roles?

Looking to secure back-up roles are newcomers Drew Stubbs and J.B. Shuck, both non-roster invitees. Stubbs, who played for Baltimore last year, is an eight-year veteran. During his first 6 years, Stubbs had decent power numbers, although he has eight home runs in 2015 and 2016 combined. He also has a batting average of .244 and 283 RBIs, while racking up 39 outfield assists. Shuck, who has been around the league for five years, has very poor numbers. The 29-year-old has a career .251 batting average with just 8 home runs and 80 RBIs. Shuck also has 18 career outfield assists. I feel that Stubbs can secure a role on this team, yet there are more players who could take away Stubbs’ spot.

The dark horses that could squeak past Stubbs are Robbie Grossman, Danny Santana, and minor leaguer Daniel Palka. Grossman and Santana have spent some time in the big leagues, while Palka has never reached the majors. Grossman has been in the majors for four years, playing for Houston for the first three, and has averaged .254 while adding 100 RBIs. Santana has been with the Twins for three seasons and has been used as an utility player. He is listed as an outfielder this spring. He started off hot in 2014, hitting .319 in 101 games. However, the last two seasons were a disappointment, as he recorded just 35 RBIs. Palka has spent four seasons in the minors, with one of those in the Twins organization. The 25-year-old has immense power, as he has 94 home runs, and has racked up a .268 BA. One of Palka’s downsides is his 540 strike outs. If I had to guess, Grossman and Santana will lead this pack, while Palka falls behind due to his strikeouts.

The crowded outfield competition will begin Friday as the Twins take on Tampa Bay in Fort Myers in their first spring training game! It will be exciting to see who comes up on top, and if my predictions hold true. All we know is the Twins need three solid guys to roam the outfield, and I’m sure the players will be tested harder this spring then in years past.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | February 13, 2017

Twins 2017 Season Preview

Spring training has arrived! All Twins pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to camp today, February 13. The first workout will be February 15 and the first game will be February 24. It’s an exciting time to be a baseball fan!

As you all know, the Twins have been through a LOT since the start of last season. The team finished 2016 with its worst record in franchise history. The team shook up management after former general manager Terry Ryan was fired in the middle of last season. Minnesota has made several changes to its coaching staff and roster throughout the off-season. Below are some of my thoughts (and predictions) on the 2017 Twins:

Though the Twins may trade second baseman Brian Dozier at a later date, I am very happy he was not traded this off-season. Trading Dozier, who hit 42 home runs last season, would essentially mean Minnesota has given up on 2017, since Dozier was by far the best offensive player last year. If Dozier has a good first half of 2017 and the team doesn’t, expect trade rumors surrounding Dozier to resurface.

I am very interested to see how the team does under new Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine. Falvey last worked for the 2016 AL champion Cleveland Indians and Levine for the 2016 AL West champion Texas Rangers. Falvey and Levine seem to understand the importance of analytics in baseball today, something Terry Ryan did not.

Perhaps the biggest question facing the Twins in 2017 is starting pitching. Last year’s starting rotation was awful. Jose Berrios needs to be better this year after not getting even close to living up to high expectations last season. I expect Phil Hughes to be better now that he is healthy. Kyle Gibson also needs to be much better than last year, as he is crucial to the team’s future. Click for more on questions facing the Twins as the team heads into spring training.

I predict first baseman/designated hitter Byung Ho Park will have a bounceback year. Park, who struggled and was injured last year, was designated for assignment February 3. He was sent to AAA Rochester after clearing waivers. If Park stays healthy, he could have a breakout year.

Although I hope the Twins will win the division in 2017 (and the World Series!), that is not being realistic. My realistic prediction is that the Twins will win 75 games in 2017, about 15 games better than last year, and will finish fourth in the AL Central with an outside chance of finishing third. I think the pitching will keep the team from having a better year. Hopefully I’m wrong and the Twins shock the baseball world in 2017! Anything can happen! After all, the Cubs did win the World Series last year!

What do you expect from the Twins in 2017?

Written by: Sam Graves

Posted by: gravessack | February 11, 2017

The Likely New Catcher Duo

Between 2004 and 2013, the Twins’ catcher situation had no worries as Joe Mauer was a reliable backstop. When Mauer took a series of foul balls off the facemask, he started to have concussion and vision problems. Then-General Manager Terry Ryan took no chances, moving Mauer permanently to first base, starting in 2014.

Since then, the Twins have been trying to find a young catcher to replace him. Former Twin Kurt Suzuki did a decent job for three years as he was on the All-Star team in 2014. Last off-season, Ryan traded starting center fielder Aaron Hicks to the Yankees for catcher John Ryan Murphy, which produced horrendous results. Soon after new leaders took the helm, they let Suzuki sign elsewhere, and found two new catchers who could have some different and much-needed strengths.

Jason Castro, who signed a three-year contract worth $24.5 million November 30, is the front-runner for the starting position. Castro’s ability to frame pitches is what intrigued GM Thad Lavine. He can get strike calls from umpires more than other catchers in the league. In fact, Castro had 96 strike calls last year that were not strikes. An All-Star in 2013, the 29-year-old has spent six seasons with Houston, batting .232 with 62 long balls and 212 RBIs. Castro has thrown out 26% of base stealers throughout his career. Castro led the National League in having the least passed balls by a catcher in 2014 with 11. The Twins would like him to get comfortable with the pitching staff and learn the inaccuracies of pitchers.

To compete with Castro, the Twins booked Chris Gimenez on a Minor League deal with a Spring Training invite January 19. The 34-year-old is an eight-year veteran who has very average numbers. Playing for four teams, Gimenez has a .218 batting average, 15 home runs, 66 RBIs, and 33 doubles. Gimenez only has thrown out 24% of base stealers during his time behind the plate. Twins’ Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey might have played a role in his signing since they knew each other in Cleveland. Gimenez is expected to compete for a back-up catcher role among a slew of hopefuls, including Murphy.

The Twins really needed to get the catching predicament shored up, and adding these two is good progress. Murphy, who hit a measly .146 with 3 RBIs in 26 games last year, and Triple-A Rochester’s Mitch Garver might be dark horses to earn a spot if they perform decently this spring. In just a couple of days, the quest to finding the top two catchers in the organization begins! Keep an eye on Castro and Gimenez as they will be the ones leading the pack and getting most of the playing time.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | February 5, 2017

Twins Sign A Reliever, Cut Byung Ho

At this point last year, Twins fans were excited at the possibly of adding a 40 home run hitter to the line-up. A year later, those hopes have went completely caput, and keeping Brian Dozier now looks like a fantastic decision. The Twins needed relief pitching, which they got this week. While adding pitching, they made a somewhat surprising cut to free up space on the 40-man roster. The move could be deemed controversial, but a necessary one to improve the club.

The Twins announced that they inked veteran reliever Matt Belisle to a one-year, $2.05 million contract on February 2. Belisle is known to eat up innings, as a bridge from the starting pitcher to the set-up man. The 36-year-old was drafted by Atlanta in 1998, however was traded to Cincinnati five years later. Belisle debuted in 2003, where he went 1-1 with a 5.19 ERA in six appearances for the Reds. Earlier in his career, Belisle started some games, but transitioned to the bullpen in 2009. His best year in the bullpen came in 2011, while pitching for Colorado. Belisle had a record of 10-4, racking up 58 strikeouts, while recording a 3.25 ERA that year. Pitching for four teams, Belisle has a career record of 49-55 and an ERA of 4.20. Belisle is known to be hard-working, and the Twins hope that he will bring his skills with into a bullpen that needs help.

With the addition of Belisle, the Twins designated Byung Ho Park for assignment the same day. The Korean slugger came to Minnesota with high hopes, and his first season in the Major Leagues ended in disappointment. Park made the team in 2016 in hope of providing power to the line-up. While he showed his skills with 12 home runs in 62 games, Park had just a .191 batting average while striking out 80 times. Because Park looked so bad, he was sent to Triple-A in July and never returned due to his poor performance and season-ending wrist surgery. Park just could not get used to the pitching in America, and it was painful to watch sometimes. Nonetheless, when he connected, the ball went far! Park is not expected to get picked up on waivers, so he is expected to remain in the Twins system. If Park does get picked up, General Manager Thad Levine could release him.

There is your Twins update for the week. Enjoy the Super Bowl today (go Falcons!). Remember once the game is over, we can turn our attention to baseball. Spring Training starts February 13 in Florida!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | January 29, 2017

Meet The Newest Twins Pitchers

When General Manager Thad Levine took over, he knew quite well in order for the Twins to improve, fixing the starting pitching must be priority number 1. Obviously, we all knew that the new leader had to take some time analyzing what the Twins had, but fans’ curiosity peaked when December passed without a pitcher signing. Eventually, he had to do something to keep his promise, and on January 11, the Twins struck deals with two starting pitchers.

The most notable signee that day was Ryan Vogelsong, a 17-year veteran in the league. He was a decent starting pitcher until he was beaned in an eye last May by a Colorado pitcher while batting. Although he returned in August, Vogelsong won just three games in 2016, while finishing with a 4.81 ERA. The 39-year-old won the World Series with the San Francisco Giants in 2012 and 2014, while recording a 3.86 ERA and 6 strikeouts in his appearances. Pitching for two National League teams, Vogelsong has a 61-75 career record, while collecting 900 strikeouts. Because of his eye injury and age, the Twins should be careful with him. With that said, Paul Molitor and Pitching Coach Neil Allen should slot Vogelsong in as the 5th starter, if he earns it.

The Twins also signed Nick Tepesch, who is still trying to gain his ground in the Major Leagues. Tepesch signed with the Texas Rangers in 2010 as a 21-year-old. Three years later, he made his debut with the Rangers, posting an 4.84 ERA in 19 appearances, with 17 of those being starts. Then in 2014, Tepesch had just 56 strikeouts with 5 wins. Tepesch missed all of the 2015 season when he experienced inflammation in his elbow and barely pitched last season for the Dodgers. Tepesch would not make an ideal choice for a starter or even a bullpen guy, so I would advise the Twins to start the 28-year-old in Rochester. He just has not shown any consistency in his pitching to show he is ready for the big leagues.

Both Vogelsong and Tepesch will be at spring training starting February 18 on minor-league deals, so their signings are not risky if they perform poorly. It is great that Levine is giving the two a chance, but I really hope our new head honchos will provide the coaching staff with more experienced pitchers. With the signings of catchers Jason Castro and likely back-up Chris Gimenez, hopefully our pitchers will have better support behind the plate this year.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | January 23, 2017

Target Center Renovation Currently An Accessibility Nightmare

I have been to Target Center, home of the Minnesota Timberwolves, three times in the past month. Target Center is currently being renovated and renovation will continue through summer 2017.

Target Center, which was previously pretty inaccessible (especially with just one small elevator that goes to the different seating levels), is even more inaccessible due to the renovation. Currently, there is no good wheelchair drop-off zone. While there is technically a drop-off zone, it is on 6th Street, near 2nd Avenue (click here for more), which is basically on the opposite side of the arena from where the drop-off zone normally is on 1st Avenue. I would think Target Center would be able to figure out how to have a drop-off zone closer to the main entrance! Also, there appears to be little information online on Target Center accessibility.

Since Target Center has always been pretty inaccessible, the renovation must address the issue of accessibility! According to one Target Center employee, three elevators will be added over the next few months. In addition to the arena adding elevators, Target Center should increase the size of the elevators so multiple wheelchairs can fit without it being cramped (Target Field’s elevators are good in this way). The drop-off zone issue will hopefully be fixed once the renovation is complete. I have contacted a Target Center Guest Services representative about accessibility issues the renovation will address but have not received a reply.

Although accessibility will likely continue to be a problem throughout the renovation, Target Center will hopefully be more accessible than ever before once renovation is completed!

Written by Sam Graves

Older Posts »

Categories