Archive for Jacob Wandersee

Most Meaningful Athletes in Minnesota History

This is an unprecedented time for those of us who are sports fans. There are no NBA or NHL playoffs starting. There is no Masters Tournament. There was no NCAA Tournament. We are truly in the sports abyss.

Sports talk has gotten pretty desperate. Radio show

s and podcasts are running out of ideas or topics to discuss and sports writers are racking their brains for fun ideas to fill the page.

I wanted to come up with something that has never been done before. I wanted to write about some topics that were so unique, innovative and clever that everyone would be in awe at my brilliance.

I was sitting at home trying to figure it out when suddenly the idea hit me. I swear the room became filled with a blinding light because the “idea light bulb” was burning so bright.

A bracket to determine the Most Meaningful Professional Athlete to play in Minnesota.

I know. I’m amazed nobody has ever thought of this.

I immediately got to work on accumulating the 36 names of athletes who had played professionally in Minnesota in sports history who left a lasting impact on the state. I chose the most famous, skilled, highly regarded, impactful and meaningful athletes I could find and added a few of my own for a personal touch. I also tried to have at least a few players from all five major sports to make it even.

I didn’t want this to just be a popularity contest, meaning the winner would just be our favorite athlete. Being a popular athlete isn’t the only factor in deciding how meaningful a player’s time was while they suited up for the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

I also wanted this to specifically focus on the time that this athlete spent in Minnesota. I didn’t want to reward athletes for their careers apart from Minnesota because that doesn’t matter to us as Minnesotans. I wanted this bracket to reflect how meaningful their time here was – not how they did for other teams.

With those factors in mind, I tried to come up with a system to rank these athletes. During their time in Minnesota, I analyzed how many seasons they spent here, playoff appearances they had here, how many All-Star appearances they had here, how many awards and statistics they achieved while here, how many memorable moments they had, how popular they were and how many Championships they had been a part of. Obviously, this last category was extremely lacking.

After this intensive research, I developed a ranking for all 36 athletes and seeded them accordingly into the four regions of the tournament. The Twins Region, the Vikings Region, the Wolves Region, and the Lynx Region (sorry Wild fans).

Starting on Saturday April 11th, I will be posting four matchups a week on my Twitter account to hold a vote for who should advance. I will post one each day Saturday through Tuesday at 9 am and it will be open for 24 hours.

Each week in the newspaper, I will outline the matchups for the upcoming week along with the results from the previous week. I will also post the updated bracket each week online as well on our Herald Journal Sports Blog page. After 10 weeks, a champion will be crowned as the Most Meaningful Athlete to play in Minnesota.

Without further ado, let’s get into the play-in games.

Twins Region: 8) Ricky Rubio vs 9) Mike Modono

Ricky Rubio: Ricky was one of the most highly anticipated arrivals to the Minnesota Timberwolves in franchise history. The young Spaniard spent 6 seasons from 2011 to 2017 in Minnesota, leading the league in steals in 2013-14 and is still 2nd in franchise history with 747. Rubio is also 2nd in franchise history in assists with 2991 and peaked in that 13/14 season, averaging 9.5 points and 8.6 assists for a 40-42 team, the closest the team had been to .500 since the 2004-05 season.

Mike Modono: Much to the dismay of hockey fans in Minnesota, Modono and the North Stars were ripped away from us, leaving a hockey void. It probably stung in 1999 when the then Dallas Stars took home Lord Stanley’s Cup. Before the move, however, Minnesotans got to enjoy four great seasons from 1989 to 1993, where Modono racked up 31 goals and 47 assists per season starting as a 19 year old. Modono, an All-Star in 1991, was a crucial piece to a team that lost in the Stanley Cup Final and appeared in the playoffs three total times.

Vikings Region: 8) Zach Parise vs 9) Sam Cassell

Zach Parise: Wild fans were elated the summer of 2012 when they brought the Minnesota native in with a large contract. Since then, Parise led the Wild to six playoff appearances, most notably being a part of a franchise record 106 point season in 2016-17. Parise has accumulated 192 goals, good for 3rd in franchise history to go along with 190 assists, good for 8th in history.

Sam Cassell: Cassell’s tenure was brief in Minnesota, just two seasons, but holy moly were they memorable. A 34 year old Cassell came in for the 2003-04 season to team up with Kevin Garnett and Latrell Sprewell and the results were staggering. The Timberwolves finished with a franchise record 58 wins, were the 1st seed in the West and lost in the Conference Finals to the LA Lakers. “The Alien” averaged a career high 19.8 points, 7.3 assists, made the All-Star team for the only time in his career and gave us all the memory of the “Big Balls” dance, where he injured himself in the conference semifinals celebrating.

Wolves Region: 8) Marian Gaborik vs 9) Brett Favre

Marian Gaborik:  Gaborik was the face for the brand new Wild franchise from 2000 until 2009. Starting at the spry age of 18, the young Czech would average 59 points per season when healthy, peaking in the 2007-08 season with 42 goals and 41 assists. Gaborik is still the franchise leader in goals with 219.

Brett Favre:  Favre brought Minnesotan’s perhaps the most memorable season in Vikings football. The longtime rival suited up for the purple and gold to spite the Packers and had his best statistical season at the age of 40. The gunslinger put up 4,202 yards (3rd highest in his career), 33 touchdowns (4th highest) and only 7 interceptions (lowest of his career by 6). His quarterback rating was 107.2 (his second highest was 99.5). That led to 12 wins and a devastating loss to the Saints in the NFC Championship game where players were essentially paid to hurt him… but we won’t get into that.

Lynx Region: 8) Sam Mitchell vs 9) Case Keenum

Sam Mitchell: Mitchell’s case is all about longevity. Sam never had an elite peak or a super memorable moment, but he was here as a solid role-player and leader on a Timberwolves team that made six straight playoff appearances in his 10 seasons with Minnesota. In franchise history, Mitchell is 2nd in games played and minutes as well as 4th in field goals made and points.

Case Keenum: Another quarterback to make the list for only one season, Keenum’s case is based more on memorable moments than on longevity. Signed in 2017 as a backup, Keenum would finish the year 11-3 as a starter, giving the Vikings a 13-3 record and the 2nd seed in the NFC. Case would put up over 3,500 yards, 22 touchdowns and finish with a rating of 98.3, but will be remembered for one play and one play only. It was impossible for me to leave a guy off the list known for the best moment in Vikings history in the Minneapolis Miracle.

Bracket

Vikings Bordering a Full Rebuild

The Minnesota Vikings have had one of the most eventful off-seasons that I can remember. With an aging roster, it seems that the team might have hit their ceiling in the 2019-20 season.

Some tough roster moves on both sides of the ball have had to be made due to the team’s lack of cap flexibility. It seems that we will be cheering for an almost entirely new team this fall and I’m not entirely sure that is a good thing.

At the corner position, the Vikings will trot out two brand new starters, as they have cut Xavier Rhodes to create cap space and let Trae Waynes sign a pricey 3 year $42 million contract with the Cincinnati Bengals. Say what you want about Rhode’s diminishing play and his large contract, but Minnesota now has to replace two starters, who played 7 seasons and 5 seasons respectfully, with brand new players.

Not only will they need to replace the starters, but nickelback Mackensie Alexander and safeties Jayron Kearse and Andrew Sendejo have also moved on to greener pastures. Considering the Vikings are also rumored to have a desire to trade star safety Anthony Harris, this is a rather alarming changeover in the secondary.

The only remaining players from last season are Harrison Smith, Mike Hughes and Holton Hill. Those are some giant holes to fill.

The Vikings also have cut defensive linemen Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen in an attempt to recoup some cap room this season while also letting Stephen Weatherly sign elsewhere. The tackle position was fortified with signing Michael Pierce, but there are still holes in this unit that need to be filled.

In easily the most eventful news for Minnesota, the Vikings finally pulled the trigger on a trade that sent star and disgruntled wide receiver Stefon Diggs along with a 7th round pick to the Buffalo Bills for: 2020 1st round pick (22nd overall), 5th round pick, 6th round pick and a 2021 4th round pick.

Only time will tell if this was a “good” trade or not, but for its face value right now, I am supportive of it. Diggs gave us the Minneapolis Miracle, something that all Vikings fans will remember forever. I believe that this play has created an exaggerated connection of appreciation for Stefon and what he truly is as a receiver.

Vikings fans seem to be hastily forgetting the temper tantrums, the yelling, the helmet throwing, the blaming, the standing in the middle of the field with his hands up complaining, and the difficulty he was to work with. Have fun with Josh Allen, the least accurate passer in the league!

This move, however, is not a move that is done by a team that has Super Bowl aspirations for this season. The haul that the Vikings received for Diggs is nice, but at the end of the day, you are still trading away a 26 year old receiver in his prime who is a top 15 receiver in the league.

With Adam Thielen and Bisi Johnson as the only two real receivers with experience, Minnesota signed Tajae Sharp, a 25 year old receiver that never really made an impact in his time with the Titans. Whoop-de-freakin-do.

To summarize, the Vikings need to replace starters at corner, safety, defensive end and wide receiver. Not only do they need to add starters, but Minnesota desperately needs to add depth at corner, safety, defensive line, wide receiver and the not yet mentioned offensive line, which could use a lot of help.

Sometimes change is a good thing, but sometimes too much change has an adverse effect. The Vikings and GM Rick Spielman have a lot of work to do to get this roster up to snuff. Minnesota almost never bottoms out and I don’t think the team as constructed will do that, but I fear that they might be much closer to a full rebuild than a Super Bowl.

 

Vikings Shock the System

The NFL offseason has provided some much needed entertainment and distraction from the real world. Our Minnesota Vikings have been front and center in this charge and some would argue that it is not for the better.

Whether it is for the better or not, there have been some major changes taking place to the Vikings roster. If you are a passive Vikings fan and don’t pay attention to anything until opening kick-off, you are going to be quite surprised to see some names missing that once seemed essential to the makeup of the team.

First, you’ll notice some names missing on the defensive side of the ball. At the corner position, the Vikings will trot out two brand new starters, as they have cut Xavier Rhodes to create cap space and let Trae Waynes sign a pricey 3 year $42 million contract with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Say what you want about Rhode’s diminishing play and his large contract, but Minnesota now has to replace two starters, who played 7 seasons and 5 seasons respectfully, with brand new players. With virtually no depth to speak of at the corner position, this will be a lofty task for the Vikings to accomplish via the draft and the remainder of free agency.

The Vikings also have cut defensive tackle Linval Joseph in an attempt to recoup some cap room this season. Joseph was another player whose play had fallen off, but it is another player that Minnesota also has to replace with a young player.

In easily the most eventful news for Minnesota, the Vikings finally pulled the trigger on a trade that sent star and disgruntled wide receiver Stefon Diggs along with a 7th round pick to the Buffalo Bills for: 2020 1st round pick (22nd overall), 5th round pick, 6th round pick and a 2021 4th round pick.

Only time will tell if this was a “good” trade or not, but for its face value right now, I am supportive of it. Diggs gave us the Minneapolis Miracle, something that all Vikings fans will remember forever. I believe that this play has created an exaggerated connection of appreciation for Stefon and what he truly is as a receiver.

Vikings fans seem to be hastily forgetting the temper tantrums, the yelling, the helmet throwing, the blaming, the standing in the middle of the field with his hands up complaining, and the difficulty he was to work with. Have fun with Josh Allen, the least accurate passer in the league!

The truth of the matter is that it sucks to trade away a 26 year old receiver who is talented and probably entering his prime. However, there comes a point where it isn’t worth the headache and when a player has made it clear that he wants to leave, sometimes you have to grant that wish.

Consider this: The Houston Texans traded the 2nd best receiver in the entire NFL (wayyyyyy better than Diggs) on the same day that the Vikings executed the Diggs trade. Houston traded Hopkins because he wanted $16-18 million a year, a fair price for an elite receiver.

The details are as follows: Houston trades Hopkins and a 2020 4th round pick to the Arizona Cardinals for David Johnson (a running back who was benched multiple times last year), a 2020 2nd round pick, and a 2021 4th round pick.

In the aftermath of that deal, the fact that Minnesota was able to get a 1st, 4th, 5th, and 6th for someone much worse than Hopkins should leave Vikings fans with a smile on their faces.

The Vikings and General Manager Rick Spielman are being forced to make some difficult decisions. They are attempting to overhaul an aging roster while remaining competitive for a division title. They’ve done a good job of clearing cap space and hoarding draft picks, but only time will tell if they can choose the right players.

Bill Belichek has made a career out of keeping a player until his effectiveness is about to drop off and letting them go, regardless of who the player is. Apart from having the greatest quarterback of all time for 20 years, this is how the Patriots have remained a successful dynasty.

The Vikings seem to be trying to follow this same strategy by letting go of Rhodes, Joseph, Waynes and even Diggs. If executed correctly, the future is bright for our Minnesota Vikings. If it is botched, things might get pretty ugly for the next few years.

Let’s hope that Spielman has some of that Belichek magic in him.

It’s Just a Game

I’ve only been alive for 25 years, so I am not bringing a ton of experiences to the table. I can confidently say that this past week has been the strangest week in my life. I’d imagine that it is right up there for many of us, regardless of our ages.

It escalated very quickly. I was at St. Michael Albertville High School last Thursday to watch the Blake Bears take on the Rockford Rockets in a Section Semi-Final game.

We knew that Covid-19 fears were increasing. The NBA had been developing a plan of action, starting with banning media and escalating it to playing games with no fans.

During a time-out in the 2nd half of the game, I checked Twitter to find that Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert was diagnosed with Covid-19 and that the NBA was going to be suspended indefinitely.

Within a few days, the NHL, NCAA Tournament, MLS, MLB and Minnesota State High School League announced the same postponements, effectively ending all sports in our lives likely until the end of May or June.

Personally, this last week was quite boring for me. There was no NBA on TNT or ESPN or ABC, Selection Sunday was limited to me selecting how many desserts I wanted to have and there has been no relief from the constant and pressing Covid-19 discussions.

Thankfully, two things kept me busy. First, the NFL offseason has been spicey with the Vikings making moves and Tom Brady joining the Tampa Bay Bucs. Second, they replayed a WWE Royal Rumble on USA on Monday to keep me occupied, much to the dismay of my wife who didn’t know what the WWE was.

Obviously it is great to be informed and have up-to-date information on Covid-19 as that can help shape our behavior and keep us collectively safe as a community and country. However, I think this past week has shown us just how important sports are to many of our lives.

It starts with the high school level. Student-athletes, coaches and communities were elated to continue advancing in the playoffs, a dream many of them have had since they were young. This dream was ripped away from them and is something that they will never get back.

Sports are also a huge industry in our country. They provide jobs at stadiums and news outlets. They provide entertainment and reach a vast number of people across the globe. They provide a distraction from our realities, which would be welcomed right about now.

Sports also motivate us to be better. Athletes motivate us to keep grinding, to keep working out, to keep running and lifting and oftentimes to be better people.

Over the years, I’ve heard so many people say “it’s just basketball, a stupid game, why does it matter?”

This past week should prove to everyone just how important sports are to our culture. Whether you are a professional or amateur athlete, a coach, a parent or a fan, sports provide us with so much and this is glaring in a time where they can provide us nothing.

I recommend taking to Youtube and watching some old games of your favorite sport or team. So far, I have watched game 6 of the 2008 Finals where the Boston Celtics crush the LA Lakers as well as game 6 of the 2000 Finals where Kobe and Shaq win their first title by beating the Indiana Pacers.

For you football fans, maybe it is watching the Minneapolis Miracle again to serve as a nice pick-me-up.

Either way, I encourage you to stay vigilant and to keep a positive attitude. This is going to be a weird couple of months to say the least, so let’s hunker down, watch some classic games, and look forward to the day when our favorite sports are back again.

 

The End of the Season is Never Easy

My third season of coaching high school basketball as the Varsity Assistant at Watertown-Mayer has come to a close and I can confidently say that the end of the season is never easy.

Nothing in sports will ever compare to the feeling as a high school senior, knowing you just played your last high school basketball game. The idea that this sport, which you dedicated a large portion of your 18 years of life to, is over is an overwhelming thought in the moment.

You think about your friends and how you’ll never celebrate a big road victory with a chaotic bus ride. You think about how you’ll never quite feel those same competitive juices again. You think about how your friends, family and community will never watch you play again.

However, it doesn’t get that much easier as a coach, at least for me.

Every season, our season ends earlier than I am hoping. By that I simply mean that I never want it to end. This year was no different.

There are many reasons to become a coach. First of all, it is great to get to know the kids and form relationships. It is rewarding to work with these student-athletes every day for almost 4 months and learn about what makes them tick.

It is also enjoyable to watch them grow, both as players and people. We work on their post skills, shooting, defense and  basketball IQ while also working on their discipline, character and maturity. After players graduate through our program, it is rewarding to see how far they have come.

Coaching is also a complex and entertaining puzzle. I thoroughly enjoy analyzing a group of players and trying to devise a plan on how we can be the most successful as a team. Spending time scouting opponents doesn’t feel like work, even if it is deep into the night and I need a couple of coffees the next day to stay awake. The game strategy is a fascinating aspect to coaching that keeps me interested every day.

After beating Brooklyn Center this past Thursday, a rematch with the Blake Bears was waiting. We had lost to Blake earlier in the season and really wanted to avenge that loss and advance further into the playoffs.

The game was a hard fought, back-and-forth battle from the tip-off to the final buzzer. The boys played hard, they executed the game plan and we had a chance to win all the way to the end. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t our day and we fell short in a three point loss.

I believed that both of our final 3-point attempts to tie the game were going in and I felt the sudden dread and sadness when neither shot found the net. Watching Blake celebrate the win is enough to rip your heart out.

After congratulating the opponent, I began wandering to the locker room with our team as we realized the reality of the situation and our emotions started to show.

In the locker room, I realize that I will not get to coach this outstanding group of young men again and for the third year in a row, a slight tear is in my eye and my throat closes up, leaving me unable to speak.

I am thankful and appreciative for every second that I get to coach high school basketball and am proud of Cale, Devyn, Ethan, Pat, Sam, Tadlock and Will, just like I am of each senior class, for representing Watertown-Mayer and being a tremendous group to coach.

 

Major League Baseball has a Major Problem

In the middle of February, there usually isn’t a ton happening in sports. The NBA and NHL are in the back half of their regular season, the NFL is dormant and MLB teams are reporting for Spring Training, normally a boring occurrence in an average year.

This year, however, is a little different.

For those of you who might still be unaware, the Houston Astros have been caught in an elaborate, team wide, multi-year cheating scandal. The scandal involved using cameras to steal signs, so hitters could know what pitch was coming next.

The scandal also is likely to have included players wearing buzzers on their bodies, as they were being fed a morse code message telling them what pitch was coming.

This scandal was leaked with the promise that the players involved would be granted immunity, a stipulation that makes very little sense to me. Three of the coaches involved have been fired and suspended for various lengths, but that has essentially been the only punishment doled out.

The reality is that the Astros won the 2017 World Series, cheating the entire way. They were rewarded with a trophy and the fame, money and prestige that comes with that. Jose Altuve won the AL MVP award that season, an award clearly tainted by having a distinct advantage.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has been nothing but incompetent during this period. When it comes to the discussion of taking away the trophy or MVP award, Manfred said “The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act.”

He is essentially saying that winning a championship and playing with integrity don’t matter…. Tough message to the public from the spokesman of the league. Nothing gets fans excited for a sport like saying the leagues championship and playing fair isn’t important.

Astros owner Jim Crane has also been downright embarrassing. In the same news conference, Crane uttered the following statements. “I want to say again how sorry our team is for what happened. I want to repeat this will never happen again on my watch.” Followed by: “This didn’t impact the game. We had a great team. We won the World Series.” How out of touch with reality can one be?!

Crane isn’t the only one being wishy-washy with their apologies. Almost every player that was involved has apologized for their actions, but have not been remorseful. They don’t think they should be punished or that the title should be taken away.

Basically, they are sorry they got caught.

Other MLB players around the league aren’t taking the lack of punishments very well. Players have spoken up in a big way, saying things like: the Astros need a beating, this scandal is worse than steroids, the title doesn’t hold any value and the apologies are a disgrace.

I’m running out of space, but if you are bored, there is a plethora of data that you can look at directly correlating to this scandal. But let’s look at one local example.

Twins infielder Marwin Gonzalez batted a career high .303 in 2017 for the Astros by over .20 points, hit a career high 23 home runs, knocked in a career high 90 RBI’s (39 more than his previous career high).

Because of his inflated stats due to cheating, the Twins signed him to a 2 year, $21 million deal, money he certainly wouldn’t have earned had he batted .250 with 13 home runs and 50 RBI’s like he had previously done. This is essentially fraud.

Baseball already has a shrinking audience for many reasons. Add in a three year, super in-depth cheating scandal where none of the players are punished or remorseful, the management doesn’t regret it and the commissioner does nothing about it, and baseball has a serious problem on its hands.