Archive for Jacob Wandersee

The Professional Sports Landscape 20 Years From Now

What will the professional sports landscape look like 20 years from now? I’ve been pondering this question lately as a lot of the sports we know and love are experiencing drastic changes. I thought it might be fun to think about what is going to change, what will be the same, and how the major sports will rank in popularity.

For the sake of organization, we will look at them from what I perceive will be the least popular to the most popular. Let’s take a look, shall we?

5. MLB. It is kind of sad to see the MLB continue to dip in popularity. The league as a whole has seen a decrease in TV ratings as well as attendance year over year and the future could be tough for professional baseball.

In 2018, there are fewer and fewer people who want to sit still for a 4 hour game with so many other viable forms of entertainment available. Just imagine how much more we can do with our time in 2038? America’s game will not disappear, but it’ll be the least popular professional sport.

4. NHL. For those of you who know me, I don’t really care about the NHL or hockey in general. However, I am not ignorant to its popularity. Attendance has been steady year over year around the league and I don’t really think things will change.

The games are exciting to watch, don’t take too long, and their playoffs are potentially the most exciting of the professional leagues. The NHL should remain healthy in the next 20 years.

3. MLS. The skeptics will come out like wildfire for this one. Soccer is a very polarizing sport and people have been claiming it will sweep over the US for like 30 years. Although it definitely hasn’t done any sweeping, it has taken strides to increase in popularity. They are up to 23 teams currently and are likely to continue growing.

If you need some local evidence, look at the 20,000 seat stadium our Loons are building over in St. Paul. It has been an uphill battle, but in 20 years the MLS will finally be brought up in the conversation of relevant professional sports leagues.

2. NFL. This is where some you might think I am a heretic, but I encourage you to keep reading. America’s game is in some deep trouble. As doctors continue to learn more about concussions, players will continue to make educated decisions about when to step away from the game. The NFL continues to react by trying to make a very violent game safer.

Let’s be honest, we watch football because the violence. We enjoy when a linebacker smacks a receiver trying to catch the ball across the middle or when a lineman crushes a quarterback. As the game continues to become “safer”, the version of football that we all know and love will start to fade into our memories.

The biggest positive for the NFL is that they only have a 16 game schedule where every game counts. However, will fans care if there are 16 games that hardly resemble the game they grew up loving? It will take time, but the NFL is going to decrease in popularity, and potentially cease to exist.

1. NBA. Last but not least is the NBA. Although I am a basketball guy, this thought is not based on my love of the game, but rather on trends and facts. Last season, the NBA experienced an 8% increase in it’s nationally televised games. They also broke their total attendance record for the 4th straight season.

In 2018, this proposition seems crazy because the NFL is still the alpha-dog when it comes to sports entertainment. However, the NBA is a full on entertainment league that is growing rapidly. The regular season can drag on, but the playoffs are always exciting.

The NBA also has the most marketable stars of any league that helps boosts its popularity in the Twitter-age. Players have enough power to be able to make decisions for themselves, allowing thrilling off-seasons full of crazy signings, trades, and combinations of players that are intriguing to watch.

In 2018, saying the NBA will be more popular than the NFL is a laughable proposition. But when the NFL resembles flag football more than tackle football, the NBA will be there to take its place.

Reality Check: NFC North Edition

I have been reading and hearing a lot about a topic in the NFL that is sure to grind the gears of Vikings fans everywhere. Potentially the most prominent example being that Colin Cowherd has the Packers winning the division at 11-5 and the Vikings finishing 2nd at 9-7.

Now, this may be taken for a grain of salt because Cowherd of Fox Sports has become a sensationalist commentator on sports. He also just a few short months ago predicted the Vikings would repeat as NFC North Champions, so what caused him to change his mind?

The answer is nothing tangible. The biggest (and honestly one of the only) reason Cowherd and Packer fans everywhere believe they have a chance is because of Aaron Rodgers. Seriously try to have a legitimate conversation with a Packer fan, check your watch right as you start, and I can guarantee you that Rodgers will be mentioned in the first five seconds (along with all of those championships that happened over 50 years ago). They also will mention how cheap of a hit Anthony Barr put on Rodgers last year (which it wasn’t).

Having one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the league is definitely a net gain. Trust me, I am not undervaluing Rodgers. But I like to look at more than just a single player, especially in a game like football where so many players need to be relied on to find success.

For example, what about the 22nd ranked defense exudes brilliance? What about a very shaky and inexperienced receiving core breeds confidence? What about a 34 year old rehabbing from a broken collarbone?

If we take a look at the Vikings against the Packers position by position, the edge on most of them would be in the Vikings favor.

Now, I really am not a biased writer. Yes, I obviously cheer for the Vikings, but I am a realist and skeptic. Any season can be derailed by a critical injury (see the 2017 Packers) and the Vikings were fortunate to avoid any major defensive injuries in 2017. However, they did find a way to have the 10th best scoring offense in the league despite losing Sam Bradford, Dalvin Cook, Stefon Diggs for a stretch and a couple O-Line members throughout the season.

Defensively, they were 1st in the NFL only allowing 15.8 points per game and 275 yard of offense per game. They also set a NFL record for 3rd down conversion percentage. Basically, teams found very little success against the Vikings (except for the NFC title game, but let’s not get into that). Minnesota lost nobody critical to the defense and added Defensive Tackle Sheldon Richardson to the mix as well as 1st round pick Mike Hughes. Barring (no pun intended.. Okay fine pun intended) no major injuries, we will likely find the Vikes at the top of the list for defense in 2018.

Now, the nature of the NFL is that anything can happen. Kirk Cousins might not fit in great, new Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo may struggle in his first OC job, the O-Line could get some injuries and things could fall apart.

The way I predict a season is by thinking about it in terms of percentage of outcomes. So, if the 2018 season were to be simulated 100 times, how many would the Vikings finish ahead of the Packers? These are the numbers that come to mind for 1st in the division with 100 simulations (entirely made up “data”).

Bears: 1 (this might be generous). Lions 24 (Stafford is good). Packers 30. Vikings 45.

The Packers will obviously be better than last season since Rodgers is back, but I’ll take my chances with the 10th best offense and the best defense in the NFL.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

This title can be used for virtually all of Minnesota sports at any given time. That is just the life that we know as sports fans. However, for the first time in a while, we are talking about the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The fanbase was put through 13 playoff-less seasons. We (or more accurately just me and few others) had to watch players like Craig “The Rhino” Smith, Luke Ridnour, Alexey Shved, Michael Olowokandi, Ryan Gomes…. You get the idea. The Wolves weren’t exactly a fountain of talent in those 13 seasons.

Then came hope. Flip Saunders returned and he brought with him a couple 1st overall picks that gave this team a purpose. Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns represented something this fanbase hadn’t seen since the Western Conference Finals in 2004 with Kevin Garnett leading the way.

That hope blossomed, developed, and was nurtured by a coveted and respected coach in Tom Thibodeau. He was even able to parlay a work in progress of Zach LaVine into a top 15 NBA player in Jimmy Butler.

After finishing last season 47-35, making the playoffs, and seeing some real talent on the floor, things were looking up for the Wolves. There were still problems to work out, but for the first time since 2004, there was hope.

Unfortunately, Minnesota fans are used to what comes next. We have heard for a while that there has been some unrest among the players and coaching staff. Issues like Towns and Wiggins being upset with the coaching style, Butler questioning the work ethic of Towns and Wiggins, and Butler and Towns trying to get Kyrie Irving in a trade involving Wiggins, just to name a few. These aren’t exactly team chemistry building activities.

Things seemed to have settled down until the recent headline: “Jimmy Butler not willing to sign a contract extension with the Timberwolves. Seeking to join Kyrie on an Eastern Conference team.”

It is difficult to know to what extent that everyone in the organization is unhappy. However, reporters don’t just make these things up in their spare time and there are some clear issues that need resolving.

On top of this, the Golden State Warriors have now assembled the best roster in NBA history, LeBron joined the Lakers in the West, and the Rockets have mostly kept together a team that should have beat the Warriors had Chris Paul not gotten hurt (which is kind of an oxymoron. Chris Paul is always hurt).

Basically, the second that we think it is all coming together, it is all falling apart. Now it sounds like Thibs is going to spend the season trying to convince Butler to stay, which might work due to their strong relationship. We also can hope that Wiggins and Towns, who are only 23 and 22 respectively, will take positive steps this season that prove to Jimmy that they can win here in Minnesota.

I will still enjoy watching the Wolves play this season. In any given year in NBA history, there are only 3-5 teams that can realistically win the title and the Wolves were never going to be one of those teams this season.

It was the Celtics and Lakers in the 80’s, the Bulls and Rockets in the 90’s, the Lakers, Spurs and Pistons in the 2000’s, and the Heat and the Warriors in the 2010’s… Maybe someday it’ll be the Wolves turn. We are only two steps behind.

It’s a Cruel, Cruel Summer

Things are not shaping up how your Minnesota Twins would have liked. They surprised everyone last season by finishing 85-77 despite another postseason loss to the Yankees. They had what seemed to be a great young core of Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios that were trending in the right direction and there was plenty of optimism for the 2018 season.

They also were able to add some veterans like Lance Lynn, Fernando Rodney and Logan Morrison that were thought to be pieces that would help them get over the hump to 90 wins. As of June 28, basically halfway through the season, the Twins find themselves at 34-42, 8.5 games back of the Cleveland Indians, and wondering where it all went wrong.

There are plenty of people to blame for the lackluster season. Actually, virtually everyone on the team (and at Single A) is to blame for this boring, cruel summer.

First, there is only one player batting over .300… and it isn’t like there is a pile of people batting just under .300 either. Here are some averages of our everyday starters: Joe Mauer – .256, Brian Dozier –  .221, Max Kepler – .216, Logan Morrison – .189. Look out defenses – 1 out of every 5 times we will make you pay!

This doesn’t even include Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, who with each passing day are looking more and more like failed “top” prospects. Sano and Buxton were batting .203 and .156 respectfully (or if I am being honest, not very respectfully) for the Twins in their limited time at the major league level. Buxton has a decent excuse, as he can’t seem to shake off a toe injury after being rushed back too soon.

Sano, however, was sent down to the Single A in Fort Myers to hopefully rediscover his swing. A combination of a lack of confidence, a historically bad strikeout rate, and weight concerns have caused the once promising center piece and former All-Star to look like a shell of himself.

How’s Ervin Santana pitching this year by the way?

Another problem for the Twins is that they don’t have many enticing tradable assets. Dozier is playing out the final year of his contract, so any team who trades for him knows that he might only be a rental. Plus, the market isn’t hot for a “home run hitting” rental with a .221 average and only 11 home runs. They could maybe try to trade Fernando Rodney to a contender who is a closer short, as he has started to find a groove as of late, but that won’t garner much in return.

There haven’t been many bright spots this season. The surprise of the year is Eddie Rosario, who leads the team in batting average, home runs, RBI’s, hits, and virtually every batting category. Eduardo Escobar also has been great, as he is batting .288 and leads the MLB with 33 doubles. Lastly, Jose Berrios and good ole Kyle Gibson have been respectable starters.

At the start of the season, if Kyle Gibson were one of the only bright spots for the Minnesota Twins, I would have assumed that it was a cruel joke. Unfortunately for fans of the Twins, the cruel joke is on us.

As always, feel free to send me an email at jwandersee@heraldjournal.com any time during the week if you have a topic, opinion, observation, or snide remark for me.

Wolves Botch Draft Again – A Reflex

I wrote this on Thursday, so I did not know at the time how the draft went for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Stating that the Wolves botched the draft yet again is just a reflex at this point.

It does seem like the Wolves did a solid job last night. With the 20th pick they grabbed Josh Okogie, a Georgia Tech guard who has the ability to be a 3-and-D guy. With their second round pick, they were able to steal Ohio State Forward Keita Bates-Diop. Both guys have styles of play that fit great with the current NBA structure, so although it is way too early to tell, it seems that the Wolves did the best they could with their picks.

Often, the best teams in the league are built on draft success and it only takes drafting the right star to become a prominent NBA team for many years (see Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Karl Anthony-Towns etc).

For a recent example, take a look at the Golden State Warriors. Most people get angry when you talk about the Warriors, since Kevin Durant, a top 3 player in the league, joined the 73-9 Warriors and have won the past two NBA titles.

However, the Warriors built their team through the draft and won a title without Durant. In 2012, they drafted Draymond Green in the 2nd round at 35th overall. In 2011, they drafted sharpshooter Klay Thompson 11th overall. Lastly, in a year that Wolves fans vividly remember (and have been trying to forget), the Warriors drafted two-time MVP Stephen Curry 7th overall.

I can’t be the only one to remember exactly where I was on that fateful night. I was at my cousin’s house and we were thrilled to have the 5th and 6th overall picks. This is not common in any sport, especially in the NBA, where two top 10 picks can turn around the fortune of a franchise immediately. My cousins and I pleaded with our TV that one of the two picks be Steph Curry. We looked up at the sky and prayed. We promised to change our ways forever if this draft just worked out once for us, because they historically didn’t.

With the 5th pick, we watched David Stern announce that the Timberwolves selected Ricky Rubio, point guard from Spain. A young and promising guard, it was hard to be super upset about this pick. Minnesota needed point guard help and Rubio could maybe answer that call.

Now, we assured ourselves that Curry would be next. “We need the shooting. They don’t really play the same position necessarily, so they can play together. Rubio is the passing guard and Curry is the shooter.”

With the 6th pick in the 2009 draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves select: Jonny Flynn, guard, from the University of Syracuse.

Our hearts sunk immediately. Upon missing on the best shooter in NBA history, twice, the Wolves managed to select two non-shooting point guards with two top ten picks.

That is the worst it has ever been, potentially for any team in history. Teams have missed on amazing players many times. One example is Sam Bowie (Who?) going 2nd overall to the Portland Trail Blazers. Some guy named Michael Jordan went 3rd overall to the Chicago Bulls. You know how that story played out.

But nobody has missed on back-to-back picks in the catastrophic way that your Minnesota Timberwolves did.

In the Wolves defense, it has been better in recent years. The Wolves traded for Jimmy Butler on draft night last season, using players we drafted in Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn. They also have traded a disgruntled Kevin Love for the 1st overall pick in 2015 Andrew Wiggins. Lastly, the drafted some guy named Karl Anthony-Towns 1st overall in 2016.

Last night seemed to continue this new trend of draft success. They needed to add some shooting, defense, and bench depth and seemingly did so with Okogie and Bates-Diop. Or they can invest in a time machine, go back to June 25th 2009 and do what every other NBA franchise would have done.

As always, feel free to send me an email at jwandersee@heraldjournal.com any time during the week if you have a topic, opinion, observation, or snide remark for me.

Sportsmanship At Its Finest

When you watch sports on TV, you don’t always witness the best behavior. For example, in the NBA there are characters like Draymond Green who berate officials constantly and swear at opposing teams excessively. In the NFL, we can watch guys like Ndamukong Suh purposely step on people and any number of players can always be seen taunting.

Basically, professional athletes are not always the best example of good sportsmanship. Last week, a local high school baseball player showed all of us just how to handle one of the biggest moments in an athlete’s career.

Mounds View High School’s Ty Koehn was pitching in a section final game against Totino-Grace. The game was seemingly in hand with two outs in the last inning. Totino-Grace sent up Jack Kocon to the plate, a player who just a few games earlier had the game winning hit against Mounds View. Kocon also happened to be lifelong friends with Koehn.

After throwing strike three and sealing the trip to the State Tournament, the Mound View players jumped up and sprinted to the mound in jubilation, as anyone in that situation would do. Kocon’s head fell as he knew his high school baseball career was over.

Instead of celebrating with his teammates, Koehn headed straight to home plate. He even had to shrug off a teammate to get to Kocon, who he locked up in a strong embrace. According to multiple interviews, he told him that he loved him and reminded him that their friendship was more important than any game.

Let’s take a second for some self-reflection. How many of us could honestly say we would have done the same thing in that situation? That moment, a state tournament trip hanging in the balance, is what every high school athlete dreams about. You pour your heart and soul into the game for nearly your whole life. The natural reaction is to rejoice at the accomplishment of your team. Even if I had just struck out my father, I can guarantee you my instant reaction would be to celebrate as my emotions ran wild.

Instead, Koehn did what very few of us could do. He was there for his good friend to let him know that it would be okay. After consoling his friend, Koehn then was able to celebrate with the rest of his teammates.

If you haven’t seen the video online, it is worth the watch. All of the local media outlets picked up the heartwarming story as well as many national outlets like ESPN. Koehn even received many interview requests, but insisted that Kocon also be on camera. Another sign of a true friend.

We all take sports too seriously sometimes. At the end of the day, sports are there for our entertainment, to create lasting relationships, and to learn life lessons. Koehn reminded us all of the life lesson that winning isn’t always the most important thing.

As always, feel free to send me an email at jwandersee@heraldjournal.com any time during the week if you have a topic, opinion, observation, or snide remark for me.