Mark McGwire had Big Mac Land, Barry Bonds drilled “splash hits” into McCovey Cove, and now, the Gophers have a name for Kendyl Lindaman’s frequent home run landing spot, too.
They call it “The Wall of Linda.”
It’s the east wall of the new Gophers football facility, which opens in January and already dominates the view at the softball stadium, like the B&O Warehouse at Camden Yards.
The Gophers call Lindaman “Linda” for short, and named the wall after her because they keep watching the freshman catcher from Iowa launch rockets that sail beyond the left field fence and carom off the football facility.
“She hits the ball harder than anybody else I’ve seen,” Gophers coach Jessica Allister said.
The 5-10 Lindaman is only 18, but Wednesday she hit her 16th home run, breaking the Gophers single-season record which had stood since 2003, when Jordanne Nygren smashed 15.
Allister’s team ranks No. 4 in the country at 45-3, heading into Friday’s home game against Purdue. The Gophers have a constellation of stars, led by senior pitcher Sara Groenewegen, who is 23-2 with a 0.54 ERA.
And now they have a catcher in Lindaman, who is batting .413 and leads the Big Ten in home runs, on-base percentage (.568), slugging percentage (.860) and walks (42).
Allister first saw Lindaman play as an eighth-grader for Ankeny Centennial High School at the 2012 Iowa state tournament.
“Someone said, ‘You’re going to see the best hitter in Iowa,’ ” Allister said, and sure enough Lindaman hit a home run that day. “Crushed it,” Allister added.
Lindaman went on to set Iowa’s high school home run record (71), despite scaring teams so badly they walked her 220 times.
Since arriving at Minnesota, Lindaman has earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors six times. She bats third in a batting order featuring three previous Big Ten Freshman of the Year honorees: Groenewegen, third baseman Danielle Parlich and right fielder Maddie Houlihan.
Beyond Lindaman’s offensive prowess, she’s become instrumental defensively at a key position. Groenewegen spent her first three years with the Gophers pitching to Taylor LeMay, who was named the Big Ten’s top defensive catcher last season.
Allister was a catcher herself at Stanford. Last fall, with LeMay graduated, the coach told Lindaman she needed to get better blocking balls in the dirt if she wanted to catch.
One of Groenewegen’s most potent weapons is her changeup, which tantalizes hitters before diving to the ground. Even with all the strikeouts (9.7 per game), her catchers sometimes still need to corral the ball and throw to first base for the out.
“Linda’s done a great job,” Groenewegen said. “I’m able to trust her fully behind the plate, and as a freshman, I think that’s a huge thing, her just being fearless and saying this is my position to lose.”
Lindaman also has shown she can handle stretches where opposing pitchers give her almost nothing to hit. In last week’s 12-inning victory at Wisconsin, for example, she tied a Big Ten record with five walks.
“I dealt with it probably for most of my high school career,” she said. “It was challenging, but I really think it helped me to know what’s a strike and what’s not. Especially here in college, I have great hitters behind me, so I don’t have to worry about not scoring.”
Lindaman committed to the Gophers in 2014, following her sophomore season of high school, and right after Allister led Minnesota to its first NCAA Super Regional at Oregon.
The Gophers returned to the NCAA tournament the past two years, and barring an upset, this group has the potential to become one of the nation’s eight teams that host a Super Regional.
The Gophers started the year with 19 consecutive victories, all on the road, and now have a 16-game winning streak heading into this weekend’s Purdue series.
“It’s incredible,” Lindaman said. “I knew coming in, each year, it could continue to get better, and they have been getting better every year. But this is amazing.”