Eric's Daily Weblog

Moss

I have always liked Randy Moss, even his bad boy act, and this makes me like him more. His unwillingness to pander to the sports press, which insists every sports figure should take their ridiculous questions seriously, and which encourages sports figures to be hypocrites, was fun to watch. "No, I don't play as hard on every play," Moss said, to the outrage of all. His honesty and brashness was too much for the press to bear. 

Here's and even better article

3rd Spring

Looks like we're on our way to the third spring this spring as temperatures look good into the indefinite future after these past couple of cold days. Business has been good at the nursery this spring, and I think the repeated ups and downs get people antsy several times over, which can only encourage repeated trips to the nursery. 

Brother Joe and sister-in-law Kae are doing a great job of whipping the business into shape. I have been helping as needed. 

The Twins have cooled a bit since the hot streak which pushed them above .500 for the first time in a few years. I continue to be impressed by the quality of Molitor's managing, and am starting to appreciate what Neil Allen is doing with the pitching staff.  

In other news, the Minnesota Legislature once again is making sure the end-of-session repeats its annual chaos. Even in a non-budget year, lawmakers seem determined to go to the last minute with big issues unresolved. At that point, sweeping compromises are made which could have been worked out long before and merely tweaked in conference committee. The time for additional scrutiny would make for better laws. However, the prime interest in St. Paul seems to be winning the next election. Legislators are convinced (accurately, sadly) that voters don't watch them that closely and are more interested in handouts in the form of tax breaks than in good long-term policy. It looks like the nursing home funding increase will go through, however. 

I remain convinced that the people get exactly the government they deserve, both nationally and locally. 

Gov. Dayton is insisting upon his universal pre-K education measure. If so many children weren't neglected due in part to their parents having to hold a whole lot of jobs just to pay the bills, I would say they should stay home until they are five. However, when you see what many kids go through at that age nowadays, it might be good for them to have some structure earlier on. Government has to deal with reality, not the 1950s ideals of one-income happy families people cling to out of nostalgia. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Molitor's impact

Paul Molitor's managing style is becoming more evident as we finish the first month of the baseball season. One completely underrated aspect of the game (mainly because you don't often see it on TV) is defensive positioning. Molitor is a student of statistics, and if an opposing batter hits the ball to the right side 90% of the time, he moves his defenders to the right side. What's more, he moves the defenders during the at-bat according to the count. Hesitant to shift defenders early in the count due to the threat of a bunt to an empty spot at third base, Molitor sometimes shifts them only after the batter has two strikes, at which time a bunt isn't a safe play (if you bunt a ball foul with two strikes, you are out). 

Last night against the White Sox, a right-handed batter hit a ball hard up the middle. Brian Dozier, who was shifted to the left, snagged the ball behind second base and recorded the out. In a traditionally-aligned infield, the ball would have been a hit.

At the plate, the Twins are absorbing Molitor's approach as well. Two days ago, Arcia, seeing Detroit's extreme shift to the right, tapped a little dribbler to the empty spot at third base. What would have been an out turned into a hit that barely reached the outfield. A hit is a hit, and three other Twins players bunted for hits that day, and even though the Twins eventually lost, they scored more runs than they would have if they had continued to slash the ball towards the concentration of fielders. 

Statistics show that the most important aspect of winning baseball is simply getting on base. It doesn't matter how you do it. Walks, errors, bunt singles, dribblers, bloopers--all are equal to line drives if you get on base. 

Back to defense: Although there have been too many dropped balls in the outfield, at least the outfielders are throwing the ball back to the infield properly. Robinson has three assists already. You can lead the league with 12 in a season. The Twins have nailed several runners at the plate this season. If that keeps up, opposing third base coaches will stop sending the runners, which is the whole idea. However, if there is a good chance the outfielders are going to let fly an ill-advised throw, the runners will try to score every time. 

On the Twins' side, Tony Glynn has a reputation as an aggressive third base coach. Last night, when the defense of the White Sox let up as if the play was over before the ball was safely in the inner infield, Glynn sent Danny Santana home for an important score. 

Another welcome change: Twins pitchers are being told to make the batters dance a bit. In other words, throw the ball low and inside and let them jump rope. The batter will have that pitch in their mind for the rest of the at bat and won't dig in with such confidence. 

The Twins are still a leaky ship. Their outfielders have to hit. Torii Hunter is in the lineup only for his bat and if that doesn't come to life, his tenure in right field should be short. He is giving up runs with his glove, and that is not enough to make up for his generally smart throws from the outfield.

It is possible that by the end of the season, the Twins will have three new starting outfielders. 

Kurt Suzuki's play behind the plate has been great. He, more than Torii Hunter, is the team leader on the field. 

DH/first baseman Kennys Vargas needs to go to the minor leagues to get his batting stroke back. They have a first baseman named Hicks down at AAA who is batting .360. I hope they swap the two within the next few days. 

Hope?

Good Minnesotans know that to have hope is to open one's self up for eventual despair. However, the recent play of the Twins has been encouraging.

Last night's 3-2 victory over the Tigers was an example: Strong starting pitching from the wierdest of quarters, namely Mike Pelfrey, a strong bullpen performance and some timely hitting from those whose bats have thus far been largely dormant. 

So far, I am impressed with Paul Molitor as manager. He is not afraid to experiment with the lineup, which has so far been dreadful but which is showing signs of waking up. He stretches out the starting pitcher instead of coddling them as if they are going to blow a gasket if they throw over 100 pitches. He is working to get those who are hitting into the lineup (namely Nunez and Robinson) even if they weren't part of the team's plans coming out of spring training. 

The players clearly respect Molitor, and if his approach continues to show improved results, their confidence in him will only grow. He shows Earl Weaver and Tom Kelly's willingness to accept the flaws of each player (as exposed by statistics) and use players only where they are most likely to succeed. 

 

Big spending

With my car falling apart in more ways than I cared to repair, I traded it in on Friday for a new Honda Accord. Wow, is it nice. It drives like a dream. So quiet. 

Little did I know that some of the quiet might be an illusion. Lance informs me that the car has "noise canceling" technology, which means the speakers emit frequencies which actually cancel out the road noise. Bizarre! In any case, I enjoy floating along at sixty and feeling like it is forty. 

Yesterday morning, I went out to find niece Champoo in the greenhouse. I told her I had something to show her. Since she notices everything right away, I thought she would squeal with delight at my new car as soon as it came into view. 

Nope. 

"You buy new car?" she said to me, concerned. 

"Yup," I said, proud as a peacock. 

She scowled. 

"How much?"

I told her. 

"Lots of money!" she said, obviously disapproving. 

Nine-year-olds aren't supposed to be like that. 

 

Twins update

Last night's game featured a pleasant surprise: my least favorite pitcher on the team, Mike Pelfrey, threw harder than he has in years and showed the development of a split-finger fastball, which, when he used it, was unhittable. In the past, the split finger has resurrected many careers and given some mediocre careers a flash of glory--for instance, Mike Scott of the Astros in 1986. The success is usually short-lived, as the split finger places undue stress on the arm, but in Mike Pelfrey's case he had nothing to lose. 

Last night, Pelfrey threw seven shutout innings for his first win since 2013. 

The Twins, along with several other teams, continue to struggle at bat. The team we are watching right now is likely to change in a hurry after May 1 when the young kids down in the minor leagues can be brought up without the team losing a year of control. Byron Buxton isn't hitting at Chattanooga, but Adam Brett Walker is pounding the ball. The present mediocrity in center and left field will not last. Arcia has to learn to hit (or lay off) high fastballs or his promise will fade. Robinson and Schaeffer in center field aren't of major league calibre. 

I am enjoying Paul Molitor's management style. He is more flexible than Gardenhire, changing up the lineup, platooning when needed (that is, inserting right-handed hitters against left-handed starters and visa versa), going with his gut at times, employing drastic shifts in defense, making sensible, if unconventional moves. I agreed with his decision to bring Glen Perkins in to a tie game in the eighth inning against Kansas City the other night, even if it failed. Gardenhire would never have considered such a move until the playoffs, by which time the players were so used to his conservative approach that his sudden unconventionality appeared more as panic.

The Twins will eventually hit the ball, but Molitor is right to keep shaking up the lineup. In time, Terry Ryan will move and this lineup could change.

The bullpen isn't as bad as forecast, with Aaron Thompson, J. R. Graham and Casey Fien showing promise and, more importantly, velocity. Perkins is overrated, but closers can muddle through when they only work a few outs every few days. Eddie Guardado kept us on edge for years with mediocre stuff, but in the end, he got the job done. If Perkins does the same, that's fine. 

Torii Hunter is trying to inspire the younger players. Last night's attempted steal of home was a noble failure. At age 40, you don't try to steal home. I think Hunter's act will wear thin by the end of the year and he should then retire with grace.  

Mauer still isn't what he was. He strikes out too much and his habit of taking strikes right down the middle is getting tiresome, especially with his batting average in decline. When he was a superstar, commentators interpreted his fussiness as genius. No longer. 

Phil Hughes had a good year last year, but that doesn't mean he's the best pitcher of the bunch this year. Somebody else will likely become the ace. Gibson's sinker ball isn't good enough for him to get by with throwing it six inches too high. Trevor May has pitched better than his number show. 

So far, the Twins are a dud up the middle, an area I thought was a strength. Santana and Dozier aren't hitting. Neither is Suzuki, nor whatever short-little-white-guy-with a beard centerfielder they put out there. 

That brings up this whole matter of beards: It is time for them to go. Shave, you guys. HD TV is unforgiving. Casey Fein's attempt at a beard is particularly pitiful. The urban lumberjack trend needs to end. 

 

 

 

Quincy Cat

When Champoo arrived from Thailand, the nursery compound was home to an orange cat named Harold, a once-skittish stray turned lord-of-the-manor by noted animal whisperer, Sister Tracie. When Tracie decided to move out west and take Harold along, a new kitten arrived which Champoo named Quincy. Quincy eventually was given a surname, Cat. 

The Bergeson bunch has long been cynical about the anthropomorphizing of pets. However, Tracie's gifts with animals as well as the importation of a Thai love for pets through Kae and Champoo softened the rest of us a great deal.

Harold's influence on our family became apparent two Christmases ago when Lance sneezed at Mom and Dad's house. 

"Oh, its the cat dander," I said. 

"Cat?" Mom said. "We don't have a cat!"  

"What about Harold?" I said. 

"Oh!" Mom said. "I guess he is a cat."

Alas, Harold did not adjust to his new environs in Idaho Falls. His love for all cars drew him out into the street where he was hit by a car and killed. 

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, kitten Quincy Cat grew into adulthood in a few short months, underwent a difficult spaying, and had worked his way into the family. Quincy learned to scratch on doors to get the to open. She eventually took it one step farther, standing on the back of a precarious lawn chair to paw at the window of the office when she wanted in.

Champoo and Quincy were buddies. When Joe, Kae and Champoo went to Minneapolis for a weekend, Champoo charmed us all by presenting Grandpa with a long, detailed list of Quincy-related chores to perform in her absence. Her list was particularly rich given Grandpa's propensity for leaving long, detailed lists of chores when he leaves.

Grandpa performed his duties to a tee, of course. 

Quincy Cat passed the acid test of acceptance as a nursery cat when she showed an ability to resist bedding down on soft petunia seedlings--a practice which can kill 2,000 tiny plants in one night. Failing that test has proven fatal to prospective nursery cats in decades previous. 

But alas, last night when Lance and I were eating supper in town, a text message arrived from Kae: 

"Quincy die!"

Very sad. I called. Kae couldn't talk and handed the phone to Joe, who reported that Quincy was hit by a car on the highway. They had just buried her in the back yard. 

Poor Champoo! And poor Kae. The rest of us are sad, too. But the real sadness for me is to see a nine-year-old lose a good buddy. 

Baseball's back

Although the Twins have lost their first two games in miserable fashion, it is good to have baseball back. The best news so far is the success of the new pace-of-game rules. Batters must stay in the box between pitches. A clock runs between innings and penalties are enforced if the pitcher and batter are not ready to go when the clock runs out. So far, the average time of game has declined by a whopping 11 minutes.

It is not that people are in a hurry to go home, it is more that the game sort of loses momentum both for the fans and the players when somebody like David Ortiz steps out and redoes his batting gloves between each pitch. When you look at tapes of old games on Youtube, boy did they move. Pitchers got the ball and pitched. Batters stayed in the box. These new rules are great.

I also am happy with the replay rules. It takes the outrage out of the obvious missed calls. With video technology what it is, why not use it? As for the strike zone, so far this season it seems like the umpires are doing pretty well. 

Meanwhile, the Twins pitchers are not doing well at all. Ervin Santana is out for 80 games for a drug suspension. Ricky Nolasco wasn't any good yesterday, and now he is going to go in for an MRI on his elbow. The Twins' bats have been silent. That won't last, but boy, if this bunch doesn't start producing, both on the mound and at the plate (and in the field), it is time to bring up the young brats and let them make their mistakes on the big stage. The Twins have some monstrous talent down in the minor leagues, and if the big team is going to lose, why not take a chance on: 1) Byron Buxton in center field 2) Miguel Sano at third 3) Trevor May and several other pitchers with strong arms.

Frank Viola had a disasterous first two seasons with the Twins. He was 4-10 his first season, 7-15 the second. Then he started reeling off Cy Young type seasons for the rest of his career. Are young players so fragile in the head these days that they can't handle a little failure before they succeed? 

"Like I said"

I am heading into a few speeches in the next few weeks, and it helps to remind myself of speaking lessons learned the hard way over the years. 

•Never use the above phrase, "like I said." Avoid it like the plague. To the person who utters the phrase, it feels like a needed apology for repeating an idea. To the audience, however, it sounds like you are quoting your immortal self. Better to simply restate what you said before in new terms. Speakers exaggerate how much actually sinks in on the first hearing, and assume the audience needs no repetition. The audience, however, is distracted by thoughts of food, the need to find a bathroom, the tickle in their nose, the latecomer poking their head in the side door, and they usually are grateful for repetition, at least if it is decently disguised by new phrasing. No need to apologize for restating an important concept, especially when the apology comes across as its exact opposite.

•Never use the phrase "I will get to that later," or worse, "I will go over that in more detail in a bit." True as it may be, the phrase creates dread in the audience by making it seem as if the speech will go on forever. If you happen to prematurely hit upon a concept you had planned to develop later, develop it now and get it out of the way rather than announce that you are tabling the issue for later in the meeting, thus activating every audience's visceral fear that the meeting will never end. 

•Never, ever read your own powerpoint presentation. By doing so, you remove all hope for a pleasant surprise, which is really what keeps the audience from getting restless. More importantly still, do not hand out a copy of your powerpoint presentation ahead of time and then embark upon a painstaking reading out loud what is already in the hands of the audience. I have been to presentations where the speaker handed out a 46 page copy of the power point presentation, only to take 45 minutes to "go over" the first six pages. I get angry in advance at the probability that the speaker will take as long as needed to finish the next forty pages, ignoring the audience's bathroom needs, hunger issues and attention span deficiencies. Even when the powerpoint-dependent speaker ends on time, I get angry at the lack of planning which gave short shrift to the last forty pages, which were skimmed in the last fifteen minutes.  Or, I wish they'd just let me leave with the handout if all they were going to do was read from it. 

•Never treat questions as a divergence from what you might think is the real mission––finishing the speech as it was prepared. In other words, never say or think, "now, where was I?" after answering an audience question. Instead, treat the question as a needed wake up call to get you back on track with what the audience wants to hear. Questions provide valuable insight into what the audience wants. If a query is truly outside of the realm of your speech, just say, "I don't know," and move on. But if a question merely causes you to jump ahead in your speech, go with it. If you are really prepared and know your stuff, you can surf countless questions with ease. To say "I'll get to that, just wait" is to have contempt for the audience, which, given the "get to the point" question, probably doesn't need or want to hear your entire preamble. 

Of course, the fear in jumping ahead is that your whole speech will dissolve into nothing and you will finish forty minutes before the end of the hour. If you love your topic and know it inside out, however, you can go back and pick up the points you missed, if need be. 

•If the previous speaker eats into your time, be grateful and end at the exact minute you would have ended if you had your entire hour. Brevity is the soul of wit. By taking more than their share of the time and forcing (allowing?) you to be brief, the previous speaker is making you more and more popular simply by comparison––as long as you don't repeat their mistake and instead respect the audience's desire to leave at the long-anticipated hour. If you know your topic, you can get to the pith of it in ten minutes as easily as in an hour. 

Preparation improves improvisation, but improvisation without preparation is the stuff bad dreams are made of. 

 

 

 

 

If's and but's: The 2015 Twins

I won't predict the Twins season, except to say what needs to happen for them to have a good season:

•Right now, the team's strength appears to be its infield offense. Mauer at first must return to old form, which is more likely than not. Dozier at second must simply do what he did last year. Same for Santana at short. Plouffe has to rediscover his power at third. The team is strong up the middle: Suzuki is an excellent catcher, and can hit. Molitor has less tolerance for mental laxity than Gardenhire, so he is giving up on Aaron Hicks, the highly-talented but day-dreaming long-time prospect. They'll fill the hole with a rotating set of replacements until June 1 when they can bring up super-prospect Byron Buxton. 

•By June 1, the team's strength had better be starting pitching or they aren't going anywhere. The present rotation is slightly above average on paper, but has the potential to put in a good year. If one or two starters falter, there is likely help available from the minors, and it might be somebody we've never heard of. The Twins have been slowly stockpiling pitchers, and the system is chock full of good arms. 

•Molitor's approach could pay off. Changing managers gives a team the benefit of the former manager's wisdom, which they have probably thoroughly learned, and the new manager's approach, which should improve them. Molitor is of the Rick Pitino school of coaching, it appears. That is, you prepare, prepare, prepare in every facet of the game, especially those areas in which you are weak. Molitor has a theory that batting practice, which power hitters use to show off, actually harms the swing of sluggers. He is jumping on the talented young Latin ballplayers (Arcia, Vargas, Sano) in particular to discipline their practice time. He used the term "perfecting your craft," which is music to my ears.

Most Hall of Fame players turned manager aren't any good. However, Molitor got into the hall by constantly scrapping, constantly expanding on his considerable natural talent. In other words, he approached the game like most scrappy, good managers did when they played. 

•Molitor wants good defense. Defense slipped under Gardenhire even as the media continued to prattle on about the "Twins' way," which was basically Tom Kelly's insistence on fundamentals. Molitor is going to employ drastic shifts (moving players to where each batter usually hits the ball), which should make the games more interesting, if nothing else. 

•Molitor has put limits on cell phone use by players before games! Gotta admire that.