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Spring 2002
Spring 2002

Front Row Seat

Eric Nelson and Chris "Boomer" Berman discussed the contraction, a new Twins ballpark, and the Vikings.

Coaches Corner
The lost art of throwing a baseball is where Gopher Coach John Anderson starts. Anderson's advice to young players and coaches: keep it simple.
Q&A: Doug Mientkiewicz
Twins' first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz takes a position on everything from contraction to getting dirty in the grass to winning the division.


Front Row Seat
Berman lowers the boom on contraction

by Eric Nelson-WMIN-AM 740 Fastbreak Sports
Spring 2002
Eric Nelson caught up with ESPN's Chris "Boomer" Berman at Super Bowl (XXXVI) in New Orleans. They discussed the contraction, a new Twins ballpark, and the Vikings.
Q&A: Chris Berman, Sports Anchor ESPN
EN: What are your thoughts on Major League Baseball trying to contract the Twins?
CB: The Twins had a great year last year. The people showed up. The Twins are a big part of the fabric of Major League Baseball. They should be playing baseball in 2002 and years beyond. That's easy for me to answer. The Twins don't belong in contraction.
EN: Do you think Minnesota needs a new ballpark?
CB: The park (Metrodome) has been a joke for baseball forever. Hefty bags, all those wonderful teams that won in '87 and '91 and they played in a Hefty bag. We can do better than that.
EN: What are your thoughts on Mike Tice being named Vikings coach?
CB: I've known Mike "Miami" Tice for awhile and I'm glad that he got the job. He's very capable and he will be a tough guy. I love what Denny [Green] did up there. Look, I don't know that anybody could've steered that ship right last year. I mean the events you guys lived. You start with Korey (Stringer) passing away and your wide receiver deciding when he wants to play. I don't know what Denny could've done considering all the other things. He takes a chance on a guy like (Daunte) Culpepper, all the good things that he did, to have him booted out. It's unfortunate because I don't know that anyone else would've had that sort of record over a 10-year span.
EN: What was your opinion regarding Randy Moss' comments on playing hard when he feels like it?
CB: If that's what he felt, he should be ashamed of himself , forever.
EN: Do you wish you could take more sports-related trips to Minnesota?
CB: I think back to the Super Bowl (XXVI). The city did a great job. I love the place. The people are great. Last year I didn't have a Twins game, I could've, but I don't do games every week anymore. I was kind of bummed that my Wednesdays didn't turn out to be a Twins game at home. Obviously it's been ten years really since there's been a big need for us to go in there for big games late in the year. I was warmed by it. Those were some fun times when the Twins were in the World Series.
EN: If the Twins win the World Series, would Bud Selig still try and contract the team two days after a victory parade?
CB: Let's hope we don't come to that. A Twins-Expos World Series, I'm all for it-eh.
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The lost art of throwing a baseball is where Gopher Coach John Anderson starts.

by Dave Washburn
Spring 2002

Gopher Coach John Anderson's advice to young players and coaches: keep it simple. Twenty years of coaching one of the nation's top baseball programs has taught John Anderson a thing or two about coaching. Mainly, if you keep things simple like teaching how to throw and catch the ball, your job can be a lot easier. "We don't spend time trying to outsmart people, or out coach people." says Anderson, "Some people think there are all these great schemes, but it all comes down to executing the fundamentals."

Simply throwing and catching the ball is one of the most important, and least practiced, fundamentals. Anderson is somewhat surprised at the lack of throwing ability that some of the new players in his program show when they arrive, "I think that it's the thing we probably teach the least, and spend the least amount of time on, but it's the most critical part of the game."

Yet, Anderson doesn't really blame the players, because, "Everybody loves to hit, and everybody loves to play, but playing catch is boring." To put it simply, according to Anderson, "Baseball is a game of catch, and it's very important if you want to keep climbing the ladder. More people are eliminated along the way because they can't throw." Anderson continues, "The outfielders play catch with the infielders, the infielders play catch with the other infielders, and the pitcher plays catch with the catcher. The whole game revolves around your ability to catch the ball, and throw the ball."

The Gophers coaching staff dedicates a lot of time to just that area of the game. The first twenty minutes of every practice is set aside to work on throwing and the mechanics of throwing. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of sore arms the first few weeks of practice. But in time, the players get used to the workload. And that's how the baseball Gophers spend most of their practice time. Anderson would rather work repeatedly on the basics, than on fancy defensive shifts that rarely come into play. "Every day we spend time on the five fundamentals; throwing, fielding, hitting, base running, and bunting, and we try to pay attention to the little things that make a difference."

"Talk to your kids, ask them questions, get them involved. Ask theiropinions about how they think things are going."
- Coach John Anderson
Beyond the ability to catch and throw, Coach Anderson feels that good defense plays a major role in having a successful team. A lot of that has to do with the pace of the game and the players' ability to focus on the game. "My classic example of that," explains Anderson, "is when a pitcher walks the first three guys to start the inning, and then finally on the fourth guy, he throws the ball over the plate, the batter hits it to the shortstop, he kicks it, and the pitcher gets mad at the shortstop, and I tell him 'Don't get mad at him, you put him to sleep!'"

Like most coaches and players, Anderson prefers pitchers who work quickly, "There's nothing worse than a slow paced game. That's when you lose concentration." But there are things you can do to keep from getting distracted. Anderson's advice to players: if you're in the field, try to think ahead, and anticipate what you need to do if the ball is hit to you, and if you're on the bench, watch the pitcher, see how he's getting people out, figure out what pitches he's throwing for strikes, and what kind of move he has to first. "To some people, the game of baseball is boring," says Anderson, "but in my opinion, it's really not. Because the situation changes with every pitch, and most people don't understand that."

In order to stay in tune defensively, the Gophers utilize their two most popular practice drills. The first is known as the "Florida State Drill", named after an idea they stole from the Florida State baseball program. The staff divides the team into three groups: hitters, runners, and defense. Then they create situations they would like to practice at that time. Coach Anderson explains, "We try to practice situations that happen the most. It's one of my favorite drills, because it really incorporates all of the fundamentals of the game." he adds, "You really find out who has the instincts to play." It also gives the staff an opportunity see where the players' strengths and weaknesses lie, as well as the opportunity to have "teaching moments", because they can stop at any time to work with the players.

The other drill is sometimes not as popular with the players. It's known as the "27 outs drill". This is a very basic defensive drill, where one of the coaches fungos balls to the defensive players until they make 27 consecutive outs. This may seem easy, but try it sometime. The coaching staff usually uses this drill as an incentive for batting practice, and if the team is struggling defensively, "Some days we just don't get to hit." says Anderson.

The Gophers offer both summer and winter baseball camps, and they spend a lot of time working with younger players. On an individual level, coach Anderson has some advice for those players: be patient, work hard, and try to avoid the 'microwave athlete' syndrome. "A lot of kids come to camp and think that in five days they can become the next Kirby Puckett." says Anderson, "They see the product of great athletes on TV or they go to the ballpark and watch, but they're not familiar with how hard people work to get to that level." One thing he would like young athletes to keep in mind, is that most professional athletes have great natural ability, but they work hard every day to improve that ability and stay competitive. Along with hard work and patience, he suggests that young players decide what it is that they want to do and stick with it for a while. "We tend to give up too easy in our society, because there are so many choices." adds Anderson, "Kids think, I'll try this for a while, and if it doesn't work out, I'll go do something else."

On the flip side, Anderson doesn't think you need to be a specialist at an early age, "If you want to be a good player, understand how much work it's going to take, but have some balance in your life. Don't just [practice baseball] all the time. Take some time each day and put some time into [baseball]. When it's over, it's over, and go onto the next thing. We're not asking people to give 24 hours a day to become a better baseball player."

Coach Anderson has a few suggestions for youth coaches as well. "I think that like most coaches, I enjoy the teaching aspect of the job." But Anderson notes that he's not the only one teaching, "I've learned more lessons from players that I've coached, than I've taught." He would like to see coaches spend more time talking with their players, and listening to what they have to say, "Talk to your kids, ask them questions, get them involved. Ask their opinions about how they think things are going." Anderson feels that most players have a pretty good idea of what their strengths and weaknesses are, and what they need to work on. He adds that as a coach you also need to be consistent, "Kids these days are very observant, and very aware of what's going on. You better be consistent with what you really say you are, and what you're all about, because if you're not, they're going to pick up on it." He also feels that one of the most important things a youth coach can do to be successful is to lower expectations, and try to take some of the pressure off the players. Keep in mind, that if the players don't enjoy themselves, they probably won't be back next year.

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Q&A: Doug Mientkiewicz

Interview by Wally Langfellow
Spring 2002

Twins' first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz
We caught up with Minnesota Twins' first baseman and Gold Glove winner Doug Mientkiewicz, who takes a position on everything from contraction to getting dirty in the grass to winning the division.

MS: What's been more frustrating; not knowing if the Twins were going to exist, or the uncertainty of where you personally might end up?
DM: I felt that most of us would find jobs. The fact that we couldn't play together again and that we finally got this thing going in the right direction was tough. If they did contract us, we weren't going to be able to play with Torii and Corey and Jacque and all those guys together again. That was the hardest part for us.

MS: Having such a good season last year must have made the whole contraction issue an even tougher pill to swallow.
DM: If anything, we gave ourselves some time. I think if they tried to do it the year before they would have thought, 'who cares, it's fine.' Then we had the season we had last year, and they were saying 'why are you going to contract a team that contended for 5 out of 6 months?' They say timing is everything- we picked the best time to have the best season in a long time.

MS: What do you think of Bud Selig?
DM: (chuckles)....From a player's standpoint [from one] of the contracting teams, he's not the most favorable person in my life right now. I also understand that he has a job to do, to try and make baseball better. I think his way of doing it is wrong. I think there's other ways around it. But, I 'm a big stand-up guy, I think if you screw up you need to stand up and say you screwed up and if he does that, then I'll live with it.

MS: What about Carl Pohlad?
DM: I think it's the same situation, he's got a job to do. He's got to supposedly look out for his family. If he wants his money, he should sell [Twins] it to another owner and do whatever he can to help us out. I know that the Pohlad family has helped the Twins out a lot, but I also understand the Twins have helped out the Pohlad family. You pat each other on the back. If he doesn't want the team anymore, he should sell it to somebody who does.

MS: Does it upset you that Terry Ryan has been hamstrung by contraction and has been unable to make any major moves?
DM: That's the hardest part, he couldn't be GM. We're not the only ones in this situation, the Marlins are in the same predicament we are. And the Expos, I don't see them making many moves either. Florida is right onthe verge of being a very good team, they only need a few more pieces.

MS: The one thing the team did do in the off-season was hire Ron Gardenhire to replace Tom Kelly. What do you think of Gardy?
DM: I think that Gardy is one of the better people in baseball. I tell my wife all the time that the hardest part to having Gardy as manager is the fact that we lose him as a third base coach. I think he's the best third base coach in the big leagues. Obviously you want to be a manager over a third base coach, and Gardy has put in his time, he's well-liked by the players. I think it's a good change of pace.

MS: Describe the difference in playing in one of the new retro-parks, like Jacobs Field or Arlington, as compared to the Metrodome.
DM: The Dome is a miserable, miserable atmosphere. I just don't like playing inside. I 'm an old bad guy who likes to get dirty with grass and everything. But, I also understand from our fans' standpoint, they spend six months inside, the last thing they want to do on a nice summer night is watch baseball indoors. Especially when we're not playing that well. The Dome is not a fun place to play inside, but on the other hand, we have one distinct advantage: the noise. If that place is packed and it's loud, it's a really tough place to play, but we're used to it. I can't imagine what it's like at Vikings games, I haven't been to one. The Dome is crazy when there's a lot of people in there, it's definitely a tough place to play for visiting teams.

MS: Do the Twins have the pieces to win the division, or better yet, a World Series?
DM: There's no doubt in my mind that we definitely have the team to fight for the division, but we have to stay healthy. For so many years, people looked at the Central as a one-team (Cleveland) division, and I think they might fall to 3 or 4. Yeah, they still have Thome and all those guys, but the team to watch is the White Sox. You look at their team from 1 through 9 and they've got 20 to 25 homerun guys with a couple 30 homerun guys in there. They've got young pitchers coming out of every which way and they've got really good young arms. To me, they're the favorites in our division. Look at Detroit, they've gotten a lot better and Kansas City is trying to get better. I think it's just definitely between us, Cleveland and Chicago. But, I don't think Cleveland is going to be our problem this year.

MS: What's up with Corey Koskie saying he'll donate one percent of his salary toward a new Twins stadium?
DM: We tried that with a weight room, and we're going to try that with a stadium too, I guess. We're doing everything we can do to try and keep the team in Minnesota, we enjoy it there. We want to stick together and we're willing to do anything. We tried to give some of our salaries so we can get a weight room in the Metrodome. We don't have a weight room there. We go to other parks and they've got million dollar weight rooms. We're not asking for a million dollar weight room, we just want room where we don't have to elbow each other when we go in. We're trying to do everything we can to stick around.
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