Pro sports reduced to sprints

John Gilbert

New logo for the Washington Redskins?

We have turned the coronavirus into a major and long-running problem for our country, and it’s impossible to project for how long it will change the way we live. It is possible that while we’re waiting for something approaching normalcy to return, this might be the new normalcy.

It is fascinating to observe how people react to the frustrating attempts to keep the COVID-19 virus down.

Staying home is the best way, they tell us. Avoiding crowds of people when you do go out is another, they say. And wearing a face mask when you go out, anywhere, is another. That shouldn’t be too difficult, but apparently it is, for some folks.

The recent upsurge in the number of people being stricken with the disease has made sane people realize that the July 4th holiday and usual celebrations collaborated to hit us all.

We were so eager to go back to “normal” during the holiday weekend that crowds gathered, in bars, on beaches, in stores and in other places where too many people got together with apparent abandon. And the majority were not wearing masks, or worrying about “social distancing.”

The virus obviously has hit the sports world hard. We are heading for the weirdest summer of professional sports we’ve ever witnessed, with Major League Baseball just getting organized and planning to start a curtailed, 60-game season in another week. The National Hockey League and NBA are still sorting out how they’re going to make the transition from the early ending to this past season and preparing for the next one.

Our Minnesota Wild have an intrig-uing situation in the NHL, where they were left just on the outside of qualified playoff teams when the virus shutdown hit and stopped everything. But the Wild had a lucrative opportunity to still make it, because they had played fewer games than their top foes, giving them the old cliche of “games in hand” that needed to be played to at least let all teams finish with the same number of games.

So the Wild, one of the hottest teams in the NHL when play was interrupted, will be scheduled into the unique playoff picture to take on the Vancouver Canucks in a best-of-5 series. The winner will join other preliminary winners to advance to the first round of Western Division play-offs.

The question marks are plenty, but they are similar for every team in the NHL. Can red-hot players resume their status immediately? Can the tight teamwork necessary for making a spirited run at the playoffs connect right away – or at least sooner than Vancouver’s?

The games will be played with all Western teams gathering in Vancouver and all Eastern teams in Toronto, where there will be two or three games a day while all the preliminary rounds are conducted. And, there will be no fans allowed. That means no blowing a game with the knowledge that you can go home to recover in the next game.

Toronto and Vancouver are fantastic cities, with great hockey tradition. And they were selected carefully, we’re told, just in case any of us hockey fans might tend to suspect that the old Canadian domination of the NHL are still in full effect.
The satellite television revenue should blow the lid off all previous money-making by the league.

After the best-of-5 series, the next round and all succeeding rounds will be best-of-7, right on through the Stanley Cup finals.

In my humble opinion, the NHL would have been a lot wiser to schedule all series as best-of-5, up to the final, which could be best-of-7. That way, we could get the Cup decided before Thanksgiving, just in time to start the new season.

We in Minnesota can be enthused because the Wild have a solid and mobile defense, balanced forwards, and the very good goaltending tandem of Darren Dubnyk and former UMD star Alex Stalock, who took over for Dubnyk and actually won the No. 1 goalie job. We can’t be certain if he will begin play in the same position, but regardless, the Wild should be set better than most teams with the ability to  be comfortable regardless of which goalie is in the nets.

Return of Formula 1

Auto racing got started with NASCAR running some no-fan events, and the world’s premier motorsports attraction – Formula 1 – got underway last Sun-day with the Austrian Grand Prix.

Formula 1 is the most elite, and most expensive, style of motorsports because where NASCAR or Indy Car run formulated engines that are virtually the same in all cars, Formula 1 allows amazing and very expensive creativity among its engineers.
Mercedes, which has had the handle on things the last few years, with Lewis Hamilton and Vallteri Bottas the threats to repeat as 1-2 runners.

Bottas grabbed the pole, then the starting lead, and never trailed, winning the race which was, again, played to empty seats all around the twisting course in the Austrian hillside. Max Verstappen went out after 11 laps, disappointing all those who were hoping the Red Bull lead driver would thrill his legion of fans.

Sebastian Vettel also had trouble, being hit by another car and winding up 10th, but his Ferrari teammate, Charles Leclerc, made a spectacular bid in the closing laps to take second. Lando Norris brought his McLaren-Honda in third to make his first podium, and he would have been second except for Leclerc’s brilliant pass.

Hamilton was fourth, having been issued a 5-second penalty after a crazy weekend that saw him speeding in the pit lane, and later allowing his Mercedes to run out a little wide on a tight right-hand turn, just as the brilliant day of Alex Albon was completing a dazzling outside pass. Hamilton’s left front caught Albon’s right rear, sending him spinning off the track in the closing laps.

Albon finished 13th, behind Vettel, who was 10th.

The encouraging thing about the race is that Bottas, Hamilton, Verstappen, Vet-tel, Leclerc, and the previously unknown Lando Norris will all be among the favorites for the next race, the Styrian Grand Prix, this coming Sunday, and the Hungarian Grand Prix the following weekend, as Formula 1 tries to catch up for the lost time of the first half of the season.

Miguel Sano

Twins called contender

We worry a lot whenever the Twins are designated as a contender, but in the upcoming 60-game season, where else can you put them? They have strengthened themselves mightily by adding Josh Donaldson, always a steady power hitter under pressure, who should be a vital part to support a lineup that set the all-time Major League record for home runs last season.

Trouble is, the Twins haven’t yet found a way to have someone monitor Miguel Sano, the big and bulky third baseman who is shifting to first to make room for Donaldson.
After an unbelievable assortment of problems that have knocked Sano out of action every season, it should have been predictable that when he showed up for the belated team gathering last week, Sano would be found to have Covid-19. Maybe he’s OK, and will just have to sit in quarantine for two weeks. We’ll see.

At any rate, those fans who get weary of a 162-game Major League baseball season can rejoice in the spirited 60-game sprint we can witness this summer.

(B)eat those spuds

One of my favorite accompaniments to a big dinner is to have my T-Bone, or walleye, or BBQ’d ribs, joined on the plate by a neat little group of redskin potatoes. I like every kind of potato, but redskins are my favorite.

And so it popped into my weird mind this week, that with all the politically correct monitors appearing to be provoking the Washington football team into changing away from its arbitrary and humiliating nickname of Redskins, with the Native American head-dressed head as a logo – maybe we could get them to replace the logo with a platter of small, red potatoes. And with that as a logo, we could call them the “Washington Redskins.”