Baseball starts, NHL resumes

John Gilbert

Tony Drissy wins the Cotham Memorial.

If it’s the last week in July, it must be time for Major League Baseball to start up, followed immediately by the start of the National Hockey League playoffs. What a bizarre year!

We are looking for big things from the Twins, who will play one exhibition game against Colorado, then go to Chicago to face the Cubs once, and get serious by taking on the Chicago White Sox in a real series. Real, that is, if you don’t think fans in the stands are necessary to make baseball real.

With the Covid-19 shutdowns all over the world, however, we are fortunate to have real ballgames in real stadiums, brought to us by real broadcasters – even if they won’t be at the games, but will be back at Target Field, watching the game on satellite just like you and I will, and giving us their take on what we’re watching.

But the Twins are loaded, adding to their record-breaking home run forces with the acquisition of Josh Donaldson, who will play third base, giving Miguel Sano a better chance to stay healthy by moving to first base full time.

If the pitching staff’s young lions come through, the Twins could be a force in the shortened 60-game season, which turns the marathon baseball season into a sprint.

The Minnesota Wild also will be starting up next week, facing Col-orado on July 29 and then starting an incredibly interesting playoff structure that begins in Edmonton for the West and Toronto for the East.

The way it’s set up, it is like one final week of a hotly competitive regular season, which was halted by the virus pandemic in early March. This way, all teams within striking distance of the 16-team playoffs will be allowing those fringe teams – like the Wild – a chance to make the field.

So after the long delay and a short gathering, the teams begin play with three games a day next Saturday.

The Wild will be paired against Vancouver in a best-of-5 series that starts with games on Sunday, Aug. 2, and then Tuesday, Aug. 4, and then gets a little crazy in order to get in all the games in the shortest possible time.

We will all be tuned in for those games on satellite from Edmonton. The series with Vancouver should be swift and exciting – especially if the Wild’s new official coach, Dean Evason, finds his new line combinations can produce goals on a consistent basis.

We trust the goaltending and defense, and up front, Evason tried a first line of Eric Staal centering Kevin Fiala and Jordan Greenway and liked the early chemistry. Staal has become the team’s best forward, and we all were amazed by how Fiala, a late acquisition in this still unfinished season, blossomed suddenly.

Fiala looked like something of an add-on, maybe a fourth liner, and then suddenly he scored, and I can’t recall any player making a more complete turnaround, often being the best player in game after game, with spectacular plays, deceptive skating and stick handling, and firing the puck into the net. The Wild need scoring desperately, so the more youthful observers can be excused for getting so excited over Fiala’s play and calling him the team’s top forward.

When Evason took over for Brian Boudreau, he gave Fiala a chance, built his confidence, and can take credit for turning him into a positive force who is capable of leading the Wild from mudpack to the role of contender. Especially in a season like this.

Playing with Staal, Fiala makes a potent 1-2 punch, and if Greenway, the team’s biggest forward, can emerge and play with physical force, he could complement that line and wind up scoring more than anybody has anticipated.
If the Wild can get past Vancouver, they go into the actual 16-team Stanley Cup Playoffs after all the teams play to determine seeding.

We have no idea who the next opponent would be. I am convinced that ageless Mikko Koivu, still the captain, will be the best fourth-line center in hockey and that alone gives the Wild a large boost. And if Zach Parise can get on one of his famous hot streaks, the sky is the limit.

A word of caution, however: The Vancouver Canucks are an up-and-coming team, with some impressive young players, and they are fun to watch by an adoring fan base – which will be absent during the games in Edmonton.

The point is, the Wild are in position to knock out the Canucks immediately, but Wild fans should also be aware that their season extension could be over within one week.

We will trust UMD’s contributions to help the Wild get by, with goaltender Alex Stalock, and giant defenseman Carson Soucy, who had by far the team’s best plus-minus statistics playing behind the flashier names on the top two units. Completely healed for the restart, Soucy could be a major force stopping opponents and getting the puck out of the zone.

So we go from zero sports to the rush of interest in TV-only for the start of Major League Baseball and the climactic conclusion to the unended NHL season, all in one week’s time.

Amy Ruman, 2nd in a stylish Corvette.

Races come and go

Weird scene at BIR for the Trans-Am a week ago. We enjoyed the unique everybody-in-free atmosphere as BIR owner Kristi Copham put on an amazing show. The Trans-Am’s two 100-mile features were the prime attraction a week ago Sunday, but all the rest of the road-racing classes were in action too, and a full schedule of drag racers competed on the adjacent strip.

What surprised me is that with all the media attention the race’s unique social-spacing plan had – fans entering free, then staying in their cars and watching the races from there – the media coverage was strange and sparse.

I saw tiny film clips on Duluth television sports Sunday night, but I saw nothing in the Minneapolis Star Tribune listing any results, after columnist Pat Reusse made his debut to the track for a highly entertaining column, in which he took a ride around the track with Kristi Copham. Then, nothing. Nobody covered it, and the paper apparently didn’t even have a call-in arranged.

Same with the Duluth News-Tribune, although that paper was caught up in the adjustment of dropping from seven days a week to two, and their Saturday-Wednesday print schedule made it easy to overlook a Sunday race.

Meanwhile, your intrepid Reader reporter-columnist-photographer had a great time at the track, although getting results met with a somewhat terse “they’ll be online,” when I asked. I tried online several times before succeeding. 

Then came one of my favorite pastimes, which is shooting photos of events I cover.

When I tried to submit them to the Reader, they wouldn’t go! So after wasting several hours in that futile attempt, we ended up with just one, a pretty good action shot of the top two Trans-Am2 drivers going through the fastest corner side by side. Then, nothing.

Several days later I noticed that when I went to charge my camera battery, the tiny disc that stores the shots was ajar. That caused my photos to become videos, which wouldn’t transmit properly. The camera also has a switch to delete all those photos I’ve moved to my computer, and the only good news is that I found the automatic delete was foiled by the partly disconnected disc. So, better late than never, I’m sending in a few more to show a spinout by Scott Borchetta that led to a restart on which Mike Skeen pulled away to beat Thomy Merrill, with Dylan Archer – son of Bobby Archer, one of Duluth’s legendary Archer Brothers team stal-warts now transplanted to Texas.

Also, a couple shots show second-feature winner Tony Drissy’s Camaro, who won handily for his first victory of the season, while Amy Ruman was second in a stylish Corvette, and Simon Gregg was third, driving a Jim Derhaag Racing Camaro.

The reason for reconnecting with that race is that there has been no other print coverage around here except from the Reader, and since the race, BIR has announced that its huge NHRA Nationals in mid-August have been canceled, along with another NHRA victim of the pandemic. An advance warning is that we won’t look for coverage of that event, either. Even in the Reader!