U in Position to Win Big Ten Title
John Anderson turns 63 on Wednesday, and his Golden Gophers can give him a nice birthday present by winning the Big Ten title next weekend.
Minnesota won two of three games from Michigan State the last three days including Sunday’s 3-1 victory over the Spartans. The wins, part of the Gophers’ last regularly scheduled homestand of the year, moved Minnesota to a conference best 16-4 record.
The Gophers are at 7-14 Rutgers starting on Thursday for a three-game series that ends their league regular season schedule. Second place Michigan, 15-5, has three games on the same days at third place Purdue, 14-6.
Before the weekend’s series against the Spartans Anderson had seen enough of his team to offer this compliment: “It’s probably as well rounded—pitching, hitting and defense—as…any of the teams that I’ve had. We’ll see how they finish up.”
This isn’t a team of superstars like long ago when the Gophers boasted a Paul Giel, Paul Molitor or Dave Winfield. There are pro prospects but this team is defined by balance and competitiveness. Saturday Minnesota scored eight runs in the seventh inning for a comeback win over the Spartans.
The Gophers also displayed their fight a week ago today when they completed a series sweep of early season Big Ten title favorite Indiana at Siebert Field. Minnesota trailed the Hoosiers 6-3 in the eighth inning but rallied to win 7-6 in 10 innings. The Gophers hit three home runs in the eighth to ignite the comeback.
In that game Minnesota also got a first inning home run from shortstop Terrin Vavra, the son of former Twins coach Joe Vavra. “He’s probably the best player in the league,” Anderson said of his junior leader.
Vavra benefits from being part of a baseball family that includes older brothers who excelled in baseball. “His baseball IQ is really high,” Anderson said. “He’s talented, don’t get me wrong. But I think the intangibles—the baseball IQ, the work ethic that he puts in, the way he handles adversity and bounces back, and his ability to make the big play— I mean that’s special talent. …”
A 2018 regular season Big Ten title would be the 10th for Anderson who has been Minnesota’s head coach since 1981. His teams have won nine Big Ten Tournament championships. Seven times he has been Big Ten Coach of the Year.
Anderson is one of only three head baseball coaches at Minnesota in the last 72 years, having succeeded Dick Siebert and George Thomas. Tradition means a lot to Anderson and so do people who helped his career. Siebert and Thomas gave him coaching opportunities on their staffs. Giel, as athletic director, hired Anderson as head coach. To this day Anderson keeps mementoes of the three in his baseball binder.
Gopher Baseball Notes
At Saturday’s home game members of the 1968, 1969 and 1970 Big Ten champions, and others affiliated with those teams, were honored by the Gophers.
This is the 130th year of Gopher baseball. The program is the oldest intercollegiate sport at the University of Minnesota.
Like many fans, Anderson would welcome a return to wooden bats in college baseball. He also wants to see collegians use the same baseballs as in the majors. “It would be much easier for people to evaluate kids,” he said. “Much easier for kids to make the jump from college to professional baseball. I wish we’d just all do the same thing.”
Anderson said cost isn’t the obstacle in eliminating aluminum bats, but that Power Five conference coaches are tied into marketing commitments they don’t want to give up.
Wisconsin is the only school in the 14-member Big Ten Conference not participating in baseball. Anderson would welcome the Badgers because the Big Ten could create two seven team divisions.
Anderson spoke at the CORES luncheon last Thursday and he recognized Dick Jonckowski for his 30 years as the Gopher baseball public address announcer. The coach presented Jonckowski with a No. 30 Minnesota baseball jersey.
Jonckowski, who for years has emceed events like the CORES gatherings, is co-authoring a book about his life with Jim Bruton that is expected to be on sale in July. Copies of It’s All about Me will be available, with Jonckowski’s signature, at the September 13 CORES program when Gustavus Adolphus football coach Peter Haugen speaks to the group. CORES (coaches, officials, reporters, educators and sports fans) meets at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Bloomington.