The Minnesota Golden Gophers baseball team started 2011 the same way the Minnesota Vikings ended 2010:
After the Metrodome collapsed under a December 12th blizzard, Gophers head coach John Anderson could only utter, “Uh-oh, now what?”
His 30-year tenure at the University of Minnesota certainly suggests he’s got coaching down, but that didn’t get him any grace from Mother Nature.
“I’ve spent 30 years watching the weather, trying to predict what’s going to happen," Anderson says. "This was a little more unpredictable, but still related to the weather. The weather got us again.”
Anderson is now preparing for a season, which starts next week, without a true home game. And he’s preparing for a few defeats where there might have been victories.
“Trying to put together a schedule, find venues and not diminish [player’s] experience to a large degree; it’s easier said than done sometimes,” Anderson says. “Because of [the collapse] we’re going to lose some games, it’s just the reality of the whole thing.”
The silver lining is the Gophers will be returning 24 players who won both the Big Ten regular-season and conference tournament titles. Playing without a home turf is just an added challenge they must overcome.
“The way I have put it in perspective is we can’t expect much sympathy from other teams in this area,” says first-team All-Big Ten first baseman Nick O’Shea. “Everyone has to deal with the whole weather issue; the only difference is the fact we weren’t able to prepare for it.”
History suggests the team’s time in the Dome is invaluable, not only because it wins about 80 percent of the time, but also because of the ideal conditions the place offers for player development during the winter.
“When you have a month in the Dome, to practice and play, you can’t help but get better,” Anderson says.
Alternate home sites are being discussed, including a possible deal with the Minnesota Twins to play outdoors at Target Field, although those details have yet to be ironed out.
In the meantime, travel costs will be ramped up in order to send the team down to Tucson, Ariz. for the 28th annual Dairy Queen Classic in March -- an event normally held at the Metrodome.
But even the chance to play in warm weather will have its drawbacks, according to senior pitcher Phil Isaksson.
“It will be nice to get out of here and all the snow, but also it’s going to be hard with classes and stuff, too,” says Isaksson, an All-Big Ten second-teamer.
“You don’t want guys falling behind in class,” he says, “because when it comes to postseason time, if they’re not keeping up, they’re not eligible for tournaments. It is fun but at the same time, you got to keep up with your stuff.”
The excuse is there, but the Gophers don’t intend to take it.
“We can either use this adversity, and a really odd and extraordinary situation, to turn this season into a real special one,” Anderson says, “or we can use it as an excuse to say, ‘Well, the Dome roof collapsed.’”