Posted by: gravessack | November 14, 2015

Star Tribune Special: Analyzing Disability Issues

The Star Tribune recently published a five-part series on the services for and treatment of people with disabilities in Minnesota. The series talked about low wages, group homes, sheltered workplaces, intimacy, and other issues. It also offered a look at other states, especially Vermont and its more progressive approach to employing people with disabilities.

In my opinion, each article exaggerated the problems a little, but at the same time delivered some good points. The first write-up was the most interesting to me. It talked about workplaces that are created exclusively for people with disabilities. While sheltered workplaces can be good for the disabled, some workers that should be in more competitive jobs are only in the sheltered setting because that is where they can get support they need. Furthermore, most workers at these places get paid below the minimum wage.

According to the first article, Minnesota is below the national average in placing workers with disabilities in competitive jobs. There are reasons for this that include timing, transportation, type of job, and the accommodations that people need. Personally, I tried finding a place to work by doing customized job carving but both efforts evaporated due to the fact that companies weren’t hiring and because of lack of available resources. I believe Minnesota should try something like Vermont, but keep sheltered workplaces for people with severe disabilities. Vermont has shown that they have success at job carving, as 40% of people with intellectual disabilities in that state have competitive jobs, compared to just 13% in Minnesota.

I have never seen a major newspaper cover this topic so extensively. I am glad that the Star Tribune tackled this issue because improvements can now be made to the system in Minnesota. Click here to read this amazing series of articles. Please feel free to fire away with comments!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | November 4, 2015

Season Ending Notes

After a nine-month campaign, the baseball season has ended. Several teams will look at this year as a resurgence and other teams, not so much. One of the teams that surged is our Twins as they finished in second place in their division. Below is a bow-tie to wrap-up the season.

  • A World Series Champion has been declared! On November 1, the Kansas City Royals, led by Ned Yost, provided the knockout punch as they cemented the New York Mets four games to one. The Mets’ two key producers failed to show up. Closer Jeurys Familia blew all 3 of his save chances, surrendering 3 runs. The key to the Series for the Royals is that they had to control second baseman Daniel Murphy, and they did. Murphy, who had been sizzling throughout October, fizzled in the World Series, hitting just .150 with 7 strikeouts. Throughout the playoffs, the Royals kept coming from behind, including three times in the final series, as they scored 40 runs in the 8th inning or later. As soon as you thought Kansas City was out, they found a way to win with sneaky plays and clutch hitting. Royals catcher Salvador Perez, who was named World Series MVP, averaged .364 with 8 hits and 2 RBIs. The key moment came during the last game when starter Matt Harvey was sent back out for the ninth. Harvey gave up one run and Familia gave up the tying run on a slick base running play by Kansas City. Three innings later, the Royals scored five runs and won their first World Series in thirty years!
  • On October 26, longtime Twin Torii Hunter announced that he was retiring from MLB. Starting in 1997, Hunter played 19 seasons in the majors. Hunter was a team leader wherever he ended up. Playing for three teams, Hunter’s career totals ended up like this: .277 batting average, 353 home runs, 498 doubles and a slugging percentage of .461. Hunter, who is 40, made 5 All-Star Games and racked up 9 Gold Glove Awards. Hunter will be remembered as the one who leapt over Miller Park’s wall at the 2002 All-Star Game to rob Giants’ slugger Barry Bonds of a homer. He had many other memorable catches as well. Good luck in retirement, Torii!
  • Former Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire wanted to get back to managing in 2016, but it won’t be with a Major League team. Gardenhire, who has a managerial record of 1,068-1,039, was a finalist for the San Diego job. However, Padres General Manager A.J. Preller decided against Gardy and hired Andy Green for the job instead. That leaves Gardenhire pondering his future once more.

That leaves us with no baseball for 5 long months. Did you enjoy the season? Please chime in!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | October 31, 2015

Extreme Makeover: Center Field Overlook

Ever since Target Field opened, the Twins have added something new to their ballpark every year. To recap some enhancements that the Twins have made: two new video boards in right field, heaters on the upper deck concourses, installed a restaurant, called Barrios, in left field, and added grass just beyond the center field wall. The 2015-2016 off-season will be no different as the Twins announced October 26 a stunning overhaul to center field that will be completed by the start of next season. Just above the black batter’s eye, the club is adding multi-layered sections, called Minnie and Paul’s and the CATCH. Naturally, I wondered what accessibility in each new section will be like.

The upper level will be known as Minnie and Paul’s, referencing the large iconic sign that sits right above that space. The section will feature a pub with high tables, large canopies and a bar with Minnesota-style food and beverages. Minnie and Paul’s will cover 1,300 square feet of empty space. According to Kevin Smith, Twins Senior Director of Communications, this area will be very much accessible. A portion of the drink rail that faces the field will be at wheelchair height and concession stands at Minnie and Paul’s will have lowered spots for fans in wheelchairs to purchase food and drinks. One other ADA feature that Minnie and Paul’s will have is “ADA height tables with high top tables in the seating area which will be under a canopy in that spot,” says Smith.

Just below Minnie and Paul’s will be a suite-style lounge called the CATCH, named after Kirby Puckett’s 1991 World Series Game 6 catch. The CATCH, which is a 120-person area for season ticket members, will have tapas-styled food, beverages, couches, and photos of famous Twins catches. The facing of the CATCH will be made of limestone, looking at the pictures. Smith informed this area is also wheelchair accessible by having “designated wheelchair seating areas provided at front low drink rail.” Like with Minnie and Paul’s, the CATCH will have spots at the counters that are at appropriate height for wheelchairs. Fans with mobility impairments can access both the CATCH and Minnie and Paul’s via “adjacent elevators,” Smith explained.

During the announcement, the Twins said the renovation will cause Target Field’s overall capacity to go down a bit, but it is still unclear by how far. There were just 2 small sections above the batter’s eye, which will need to be removed. I love that the Twins are changing that area of the stadium due to the fact it will create more handicap seating and those two sections will improve the look of the six-year-old ballpark. And, sorry guys, Smith said that there will be “no trees to the best of my knowledge.” To learn more about this project, click here.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | October 24, 2015

111th World Series: Kansas City Royals Vs. New York Mets

The 2015 MLB World Series matchup is all set. It will feature two teams that have not won the Fall Classic in a very long time. The Kansas City Royals will engage in a fierce best-of-seven game battle against the New York Mets. Both teams will be looking to end 30-year droughts, so the Royals and the Mets will be playing hard! This will be the most interesting World Series that baseball has had in a while.

The Royals finished the regular season with a 95-67 record. They enter the World Series having defeated Houston in the NLDS and Toronto in the NLCS. The primary strength of the Royals is their outstanding bullpen, led by closer Wade Davis. Davis has a 0.00 ERA in 5 postseason games and has 3 saves. He finished the regular season with a phenomenal 0.94 ERA and 17 saves in 69 games! Davis would have had many more saves but he only became the Royals closer towards the end of the year when former closer Greg Holland got injured.

On the non-pitching side, look out for Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar. After hitting .307 with 16 home runs during the regular season, Cain is hitting .275 with a homer this postseason. He also has outstanding speed. Escobar, who captured the ALCS MVP, is hitting .386 this postseason! Both players play incredible defense.

The Mets, who finished the regular season with a 90-72 record, clinched the National League pennant when they completed a four-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS on October 21. The Mets dominated the Cubs throughout the series, never trailing in a game. The Cubs’ hot bats, which were apparent in their Division Series, fizzled fast, making way for New York to move on. The Mets bullpen was dynamite in the first two rounds, with closer Jeurys Familia’s stellar performances. In 8 appearances this postseason, Familia has an ERA of 0.00, resulting in 6 saves with 6 strikeouts.

The Royals must watch out for Mets’ slugger Daniel Murphy. Murphy has been outrageously good, as he is in the midst of a historic playoff run. Starting in Game 5 of the NLDS, Murphy has hit a home run in five consecutive games, which is a MLB postseason record. Murphy, who was named the NLCS MVP, has a .421 batting average with 16 hits and 7 home runs through two rounds. He’s unstoppable!

Making his World Series debut is ex-Twin Michael Cuddyer. Although Cuddyer mostly pinch hit for the Mets and looked mediocre in the outfield during their playoff run, it is still great to see him make it to the World Series. During the postseason, Cuddyer has hit just .125 with one hit and 2 strikeouts. It will be interesting to see how the Mets use him going forward since he has been struggling a bit. The Mets will be looking for their first title since 1986.

Click for a position-by-position look at the series. My (Sam’s) prediction for the series is the Royals will win in 6 games. It will be close with the Mets’ very good starting pitching, but the Royals’ lineup and bullpen depth, speed and defense will help Kansas City win its first World Series since 1985! Catch the first game of the Fall Classic this Tuesday, October 27, at 7pm on FOX, live from Kansas City.

Written by: Michael L. Sack and Sam Graves

Posted by: gravessack | October 18, 2015

New International Handicap Symbol: Good or Bad?

Since implemented in 1974, a handicap symbol has been plastered around the nation in places to designate accessibility. The symbol consists of a stick figure sitting rigidly upright in a stick wheelchair, mostly with a blue background. The sign can be found on parking spots, vehicles, handicap doors, restrooms, stadiums, arenas, and in other areas to mark accessibility. The symbol is recognized internationally as the symbol of access. News came out this week that the symbol may be bound for a tweak in the near future.

The old handicap sign is very well-known to people around the world. Some groups like the current symbol because it does not discriminate against people with severe disabilities and you can use your imagination with the current symbol. The sign, that has been used for more than 40 years, has been acceptable to many groups in that it shows someone just sitting up, like everyone does in a wheelchair.

Started as an art project, the new symbol is being recognized as a sign of the future. More purple than the former, the new logo features a more bold figure in a wheelchair in a racing position, as the figure is leaning forward. The sign kind of is going for a more athletic feel, perhaps reflecting that more people with disabilities are getting active.

Although New York adopted the new symbol last year and more states could do so soon, some backlash has occurred. The Federal Highway Administration has decided not to use the symbol for signs and pavement markings. Also, the International Organization of Standardization is against the new signifier because of the old one’s recognizability. Some people do not like the revamped sign because it is focused on the body and may imply prejudice to people with more serious disabilities.

Despite all the pushback, I am still rooting for a modernized handicap sign. However, I do not think this new design is the one. As hard as it sounds, we need a sign that reflects all people with disabilities. Below is the old sign compared to the new version. We would love to here your opinion of the new ADA symbol! To read more about this issue, click here.

On the left is the original handicap logo that has been around since 1974. On the right is the modernized symbol that cold be the future of accessibility.

On the left is the original handicap logo that has been in use since 1974. On the right is the modernized symbol that could be the future of accessibility.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | October 14, 2015

Twins 2015 Pitching: Better, Not Great

2015 was considered by many to be a successful season for the Twins. After 4 consecutive seasons of 90 or more losses, the Twins went 83-79 and finished in second place in the AL Central. A big reason for this turnaround was better pitching, especially by the starters. Even so, the Twins finished just 19th in MLB in ERA in 2015 and allowed the third-most hits of any team.

The starting pitching took a significant hit just before the season began when Ervin Santana was suspended 80 games for drug use. Still, with pitchers like Kyle Gibson and Mike Pelfrey (who pitched surprisingly well the first half of the season), the starters pitched fairly well in the first half. In the second half, Pelfrey struggled (again). Santana also struggled for a while soon after returning. though he had a strong finish to the season. Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco, two of the Twins highest-paid pitchers, were injured, ineffective or both throughout a big portion of the season. One starting pitching bright spot was the performance of rookie Tyler Duffey.

The bullpen was just decent. Glen Perkins was outstanding as closer for the first half of the season, but struggled in the second half. Trevor May, who began 2015 as a starter, was effective once he was moved to the bullpen. Kevin Jepsen, who was acquired at the end of July to be the setup man for Perkins, ended up replacing Perkins as closer and was very effective. However, many of the other pitchers in the bullpen were just OK.

A few predictions for how the Twins pitching will look in 2016: Pelfrey, who is a free agent, will be released and the Twins will start Santana, Hughes, Gibson, Duffey and May. The team might start Nolasco or Tommy Milone instead of May, but indications are the team might want to return May to the starting rotation. As for the bullpen, Perkins should have at least another shot of returning to his role as closer. If he is the closer, Jepsen should be the setup man.

Whatever happens, despite the improvement over the previous four seasons, the Twins must get better pitching to make a deep run in the playoffs!

What do you think the Twins pitching will look like in 2016?

Written by: Sam Graves

Posted by: gravessack | October 11, 2015

Why Was Chase Utley Safe At Second?

There was a play in baseball October 10 that I have never seen before. The play was so strange that moments after it occurred, some people were baffled by the call and some were crying out for a rule change.

During the 7th inning of Game 2 of the Mets-Dodgers series, Los Angeles’ Howie Kendrick grounded a ball to New York’s second baseman Daniel Murphy. Murphy tossed the ball to shortstop Ruben Tejada to get the force out at second base. However, Tejada missed the bag with his foot when he was trying to get out of the way of Chase Utley’s slide. Utley slid directly into Tejada’s leg and missed the bag. While Tejada, who broke his leg on the play, was on the ground, Utley ran into the dugout since second base umpire Chris Guccione called him out. To summarize, neither player touched second base.

After a review, requested by Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly, the umpires determined that Tejada indeed missed second base and granted Utley the base, even though Utley missed it. How can a player be called safe without ever touching it? It boggles my mind! After the game, MLB Chief Officer Joe Torre gave reporters an explanation as to why Utley was safe: “The fact that he was called out meant he didn’t — he’s not required to touch second base once he’s called out. So when the play was overturned, he gets awarded second base on that.” That specific play sparked the Dodgers to a big inning, winning the game and tying the series at one game a piece. Still confused? Me too!

In search of an answer, I sent a question about the play to the Twitter world. MLB Beat Reporter Rhett Bollinger replied: “He {Utley} was initially ruled out by the {second base umpire} so he didn’t have to touch the base. Weird part of replay rules.” However, I am still not sure how Utley was given second. Maybe it is like the tie goes to the runner rule. To see the play, click here.

Because of this play and Pittsburgh third baseman Jung Ho Kang’s September 17 season-ending injury, some players and managers want a change in the take-out slide rule. Runners can now slide to try to take out the fielder that is trying to turn a double play. There must be a rule change to keep fielders safe. Maybe make runners slide directly into the bases, instead of going after the vulnerable basemen. Here’s an article about why it is time for a change to increase player safety.

Feel free to tell us your opinion of the take-out slide!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | October 5, 2015

Twins Season Ends With A Thump; Hope For The Future

The Twins needed three wins against Kansas City to have a chance at making the post-season; they got none. During the October 3 game, one at-bat proved to be the dagger. With the Twins down 5-1 in the 9th inning, they had the bases loaded. Manager Paul Molitor desperately sent up pinch-hitter Kennys Vargas to try to tie the game. However, Vargas never swung the bat, watching the season of surprises fizzle to a close. A day later, the Twins season ended in a 6-1 thrashing in which starter Ricky Nolasco lasted less than 3 innings.

Overall though, most media personnel considered the season a success. The Twins, who hit 156 long balls with a team average of .247 this year, finished with a 83-79 record, good for securing second place in the AL Central. After a stellar first half of the season with a record of 49-40, the Twins couldn’t keep up, eventually falling two games below .500 on August 19 before frantically trying to rebound at season’s end. They almost did, falling short of a Wild Card spot by just 3 games. We also saw a lot of rookies succeed for the Twins that has made us excited for future years.

At various points during these past seven months, our club called up several youngsters that are supposed to be our future team. Eddie Rosario, Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, and Max Kepler all got the call. The two prospects that really made a difference were Rosario and Sano. Rosario homered in his first Major League at-bat in May, en route to a .267 batting average with 13 home runs, 15 triples, and 11 stolen bases. Rosario also led the Twins in outfield assists with 16.

When Sano was called-up from Double-A in early July, we weren’t expecting much. Sano turned out to be probably the Twins MVP during the second half. In 80 games, the rookie slugger smacked 18 home runs and drove in 52 runs, resulting in a .269 average. The downside of Sano is that he strikes out way too much; 119 this year. On the flip side, when Sano connects, the ball is gone.

The number one MLB Prospect got some playing time this season, although he struggled while up here. Buxton played in 46 games this year, adding up to a .209 average with 27 hits and 2 homers. Buxton could not get acclimated to Major League Baseball because he sprained his thumb and missed 4 weeks just two weeks into his career. On the flip side, veteran Torii Hunter had a pretty good season, although he slumped some when the Twins needed him most. Hunter played in 139 games this year, averaging .240 with 22 home runs, 81 RBIs, and 125 hits. After the last game, Hunter told the media that he will probably retire but will keep his decision disclosed, probably into January.

The Twins displayed good, fun baseball once again. There’s a glimmer of hope under Molitor. Hey, it’s Molitor’s first year managing and he drove the Twins to a winning record for the first time since 2010. With Kepler, who got his first MLB hit on Sunday, the other rookies, and Molitor’s first year of managerial experience behind him, the Twins should be better next year. All-in-all, the Twins proved to us that winning baseball in Minnesota once again could be just around the corner!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | September 7, 2015

Lookin’ Different

Labor Day signifies the start of the home stretch of the MLB season and when playoff races really get going. During the first five months of the baseball schedule, teams have been trying to position themselves for the final push to the post-season. The result: several teams could clinch who have not played into October recently. Here are four teams to keep an eye on this last month.

  •  The Houston Astros have not made it to the playoffs since 2005, when they lost to the White Sox in the World Series. Since 2007, the Astros have had a losing record 7 out of 8 years. Additionally, the club went three consecutive seasons with 100+ losses. But something happened this year, their third year in the AL. Currently, Houston is sitting atop of the AL west, 2.5 games up on Texas, with a 75-63 record. This year, Houston starter Dallas Keuchel, who is in contention for the Cy Young Award, has been dominant. Keuchel, who has won 17 games, has struck out 185 with a 2.29 ERA. With a lot of good hitters, look for Houston to make the party.
  • The Toronto Blue Jays, who currently sit in 1st place in the AL east, have not made the post-season since 1993. The Blue Jays were the World Series Champions that year when they beat Philadelphia. During this 23-year drought, Toronto has had a dreadful record only a couple of times. Toronto just had bad luck with the Yankees dominance and were hovering 10 games below and above the .500 mark 22 of those years. Toronto has been on a roll since the Trade Deadline, when they added Troy Tulowitzki and David Price. The Blue Jays are ready to make a serious run in October.
  • The Chicago Cubs last play-off berth was in 2007, as they lost to the Dodgers in the first round. Thanks to the controversial call in the 2003 NL Championship Series, the Cubs have not made it to the World Series since 1945. The Cubs have won the World Series twice which occurred way back in 1907 and 1908, both against Detroit. Thanks to new Manager Joe Maddon and their host of young talent, the Cubs hold the second NL Wild Card spot, up 8.5 games on Washington. The Cubs’ 79-57 record could be contributed to rookie third baseman Kris Bryant. Bryant, who is 23 years old, has jolted the Cubs this season, hitting .267 with 23 home runs and 86 RBIs in 127 games. If the Cubs can clinch, I believe they can do some damage come post-season.
  • The last time the New York Mets made the playoffs was in 2006, when they lost in the NL Championship Series to the Cardinals. The last World Series celebration for the Mets came against Boston in 1986. In 9 years since making it to October, the Mets finished below .500 6 times. The Mets, who made a drastic turnaround this season, currently sit in 1st place in the NL East with a record of 76-61. All-Star pitcher Matt Harvey has guided the Mets this year, posting a 2.60 ERA while striking out 158, resulting in a 12-7 record. Mets’ General Manager Sandy Alderson also added slugger Yoenis Cespedes at the Trade Deadline to add more power to the line-up. The Mets could make some noise in the playoffs, but will have a tough time getting around some teams.

Moreover, we will have Kansas City and Pittsburgh, who recently broke their own post-season drought, in the playoffs. Then, our hometown team is just a game and a half back of a playoff spot. Here’s a safe prediction: if St. Louis can lose in October, MLB will see a new champion that has not won in a LONG time!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | September 3, 2015

Our New Shutdown Bullpen

Do you see the similarities now in the Twins bullpen versus the dynamic trio in the Kansas City pen? I am starting to see one! The Royals have created a bullpen no team wants to face when down late, in Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and closer Greg Holland. Those three pitchers have combined for 42 saves, 163 strikeouts, and 38 runs scored against them during the last three innings this season. The Royals set-up guy, Davis, has an unheard of ERA of 0.99 for the season. Meanwhile, Manager Paul Molitor and Pitching Coach Neil Allen could form their own concoction in the backend of the bullpen.

It took a player coming back from suspension and a couple of injuries, but the Twins might have found the perfect bullpen order (barring injuries). The set-up should look like this when everyone is healthy: Glen Perkins holds the lead in the 7th, Trevor May shuts the door in the 8th, and then let Kevin Jepsen put nails and locks on the door in the 9th. Teams must have a great bullpen to compete in post-seasons, especially a one-game do-or-die Wild Card game the Twins are aiming for.

When Perkins rebounds from his various ailments, he should be the 7th inning man. After a stellar 28-save first half, Perkins has mightily struggled, racking up a total of 2 blown saves in 6 opportunities while surrendering 10 runs since July 12. Moreover, since the break, Perkins has an ERA of 6.92. However, when the Twins moved him to the 7th inning, he regained his mechanics and composure, earning 2 strike outs in his previous outings. The thing is, Perkins can’t be reliable right now in the closers spot, and the 7th inning is a good place for him when he comes back.

Ever since Ervin Santana came back from his suspension, May has been relegated to the pen. The Twins have tried May everywhere, but his final destination should be the 8th inning. May’s ground ball and strikeout ability makes him a perfect fit. When May pitches in the 8th inning, he has a 2.08 ERA with 19 strike outs and just 3 walks in thirteen innings. The Twins should be wise and keep May in that role since he is dominant in the 8th.

Jepsen, the lone Trade Deadline addition, has been dominant after his first appearance with the Twins August 2. While relieving a couple of games, Jepsen has been taking over the closer’s role for Perkins. Jepsen has been perfect closing games recently, totaling 5 saves, an 0.00 ERA, 8 strike outs, and opponents are batting .115 in the 9th inning (7.2 innings). Needless to say, if the Twins have any chance of making the playoffs, they must keep Jepsen in the closer’s role even when Perkins returns in about a week.

The Twins have won 10 out of their last 13 games basically because of relief pitching. In the end, the Twins have a chance of making the playoffs. Our bullpen isn’t as good as the Royals, but comparisons can now be made. Hopefully, the coaches see what I see in the bullpen, and make adjustments when everyone is healthy again.

Written by: Michael L. Sack


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