Feb. 3, 2011

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Nine Innings with John Anderson

By Phil Stanton

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder

phil@collegebaseballinsider.com @roadtoomaha


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 entire season?

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 2011.


Fourth Inning – How valuable is the experience of reaching the regional finals last year at Cal State Fullerton?

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 the game.


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 Scott Matyas?

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 season?

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.