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Nine Innings with
By Phil Stanton
Experience is so valuable for a coach.
Your team starts 9-16, but you don’t panic. They
bounce back to win regular-season and tournament crowns and
reach the championship game of a regional.
You lose your home field for two months, maybe
for the whole season. But you persevere.
Such are the curveballs John Anderson takes in
stride. He enters his 30th season as the head coach at
Minnesota. The Golden Gophers struggled out of the gate in 2010,
but rebounded to win the Big Ten regular-season and tourney
titles and took Cal State Fullerton to the limit in the
Fullerton Regional before finishing with a 32-30 mark.
Two dozen players return this season, but don’t
have a home field for February and March. Because of a roof
collapse, the Metrodome will not be available. Some games had to
be cancelled, others were changed to road contests. But Anderson
and his long-time staff of Rob Fornasiere (25 years at
Minnesota), Todd Oakes and Lee Swenson (13 years each) will have
the Gophers ready.
Anderson recently took time to answer our
questions about Minnesota baseball.
First Inning – How frustrating is it not to
have a home field for the first two months and possibly for the
It has been challenging and will continue to be.
But you try to control the controlables and that is all we can
do. Our focus is to get better each day, not bitter! We still
get to play baseball each day and that is a special privilege.
Second Inning – How have the players reacted
to becoming road warriors?
They have been awesome and extraordinary seasons
sometimes come from extraordinary challenges.
Third Inning – With 24 players returning from
a team which won the Big Ten regular-season and tournament
titles, is there pressure on this team to repeat?
Pressure is defending our country in war. This is
a new season and different team. We are going to use each day to
prepare for the season and then learn and grow as the season
unfolds. Nothing to repeat, but create our own masterpiece in
Fourth Inning – How valuable is the experience
of reaching the regional finals last year at Cal State
Playing the game at a high level in that
environment is helpful to building your confidence and belief in
one another. Positive experiences are good for the mental map
and now the players know it’s the same game as the first game of
the year, just a different environment. We want to stay
connected to who we are and just do our thing and not look at
who we are playing or where, just another opportunity to play
Fifth Inning – The Gophers started 9-16 last
season before finishing strong. What was the biggest factor in
the team improvement?
Health, the young players got better as they
played more and the older players were patient and helpful to
developing the confidence in the young players. We also quit
focusing on the standings and winning and losing and just worked
on getting 1% better each day.
Sixth Inning – What do you expect from your
pitching staff this season, led by starter TJ Oakes and closer
I expect them to compete and give us a chance to
play at a high level consistently. We have six senior pitchers
and they are experienced and talented.
Seventh Inning – Who will be the key
contributors at the plate and in the field this season?
Nick O'Shea, Kyle Geason, Matt Puhl, Justin
Gominsky, AJ Pettersen, Tripp Schultz.
Eighth Inning – Do you think the new bat
restrictions will have a drastic effect on the college game this
Not really. The good hitters will still hit and
the average ones will be average. The bat won't make the average
ones good to very good. Not going to be lineups with five guys
in double figures with home runs. Pitching and defense returns
to the game as important again. You don't get beat by technology
but by good teams or you beat yourself with walks and errors.
Ninth Inning – What are the biggest changes
you have seen in college baseball in your 30 years at Minnesota?
Calling pitches by the coaches has gotten crazy,
recruiting has changed by all the early commitments and the
winning-at-all-cost mentality continues to grow because of all
the new stadiums, coaches salaries have grown and people need to
win to keep making big money. TV has exposed the game and put
more pressure on coaches to win. The NCAA Championship has also
created more expectations and the pot of gold has grown to where
people need to win.
Extra Innings – How have you been able to keep
your coaching staff together for more than a dozen years?
We work well together, trust and respect each
other. I give them lots of responsibility and ownership in the
program so they feel valued. You win with good people and I have
been surrounded by great assistants. The consistency in your
leadership and the stability it brings to the culture allows for
them to do their jobs well.