Twins pitcher Cole De Vries can recite the proud history of the Gophers baseball program, including the 24 Big Ten titles, the three NCAA championships (1956, 1960 and 1964) and two eventual Hall of Famers (Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor).
But when De Vries pitched for the Gophers from 2004 to 2006, he never had warm feelings for old, dilapidated Siebert Field.
“You’d come on the field, and you’d kind of be a little disappointed because you didn’t feel like the facility lived up to the tradition,” De Vries said at this week’s grand opening of the new Siebert Field. “So now, I’m really happy for these guys. They finally have a facility that represents what this program is all about.”
For 32nd-year coach John Anderson, the long, hard wait finally is over. The Gophers will play Ohio State at 3 p.m. Friday, in the inaugural game at the new ballpark, for which Anderson first began pushing in the early 1990s.
Anderson and Molitor helped raise $7.5 million to get the new ballpark built. They’re still looking for about $1.5 million more to add lights, an indoor hitting facility and a canopy for the grandstand. But, the park already is perfectly suited for day ball.
“Common sense should tell all of us that if we’re going to have a Division I baseball program, that we needed to have a Division I, first-class facility for them to play in,” Molitor said.
The old Siebert featured natural grass. The new, 1,420-seat park has Mondo Sport Turf covering the entire field, except for the clay pitcher’s mound and dirt circle around home plate. The infield is painted reddish brown, so it looks traditional, but it’s a turf surface designed to keep maintenance to a minimum.
“We wouldn’t be able to play out here on Friday if it wasn’t for the turf,” Anderson said. “Ten days ago, there was 10 inches of snow on this field and three inches of ice. We got the snow off and the ice was here, but the turf absorbs the sunlight because of the color and the texture.
“We were worried about where the water was going to go when it melted, but as soon as the frost got out of the ground, the water disappeared into the system.”
The drainage system should help decrease the amount of rainouts, too.
“We were told you’d have to have a monsoon not to be able to play,” Anderson said.
With its condemned seating areas and faltering field, the old Siebert became practically unplayable toward the end. It bothered Anderson because the park’s namesake was his mentor, Dick Siebert, who always strove to have baseball played the right way.
Built in 1971, it held its share of big moments, but the Gophers moved all but a handful of games to the Metrodome in recent years. They returned to the old ballpark for one final goodbye last May 1, defeating St. Thomas there 9-2.
Gophers left fielder Andy Henkemeyer, who hit a grand slam in that game, watched the old ballpark’s demolition and new ballpark’s construction from a nearby Dinkytown apartment.
“The Metrodome was wonderful, being able to have warm 70-degree weather the whole time,” he said. “But it’s going to be nice to be on campus again and get a lot of fans here.”