A new baseball park in the Lowertown area of St. Paul was gathering momentum early in this decade. The supporters were interested in adding Gophers baseball as a tenant to go with the Saints.
Gophers coach John Anderson took a look at the St. Paul option earlier, but ultimately was opposed to moving his team off campus. Hamline took the opportunity to become a college tenant in the Lowertown ballpark.
Anderson continued his determined fundraising for a new Siebert Field to replace a structure that had fallen into disrepair. The Pohlad family came up with a substantial donation and a bare-bones structure opened in April 2013.
CHS Field debuted in April 2015. It turned out to be such a spectacular park that I was in the group that found itself saying: “Anderson messed up by not bringing the Gophers to St. Paul.”
It is now four college seasons later and count me among those who now see Anderson’s wisdom, for this reason:
There is a real question as to how much value the university’s athletic administration places in baseball.
Joel Maturi, noted for his interest in nonrevenue sports, was replaced by Norwood Teague as athletic director in 2012. Norwood’s interest in nonrevenue sports was minimal, and then he was gone. Beth Goetz was the interim, and Mark Coyle arrived and has stayed busy changing coaches and worrying about Richard Pitino and Phil Fleck.
The new Siebert Field still was incomplete as a facility when the Gophers won the Big Ten regular-season title in 2016. They missed the NCAA tournament in 2017, and then came back with the best club since the late ’90s (and perhaps longer).
The 2018 Gophers, Big Ten regular season and tournament champions, wound up as the 14th seed in the 64-team NCAA tourney. That gave them a chance to host a regional for the first time since 2000, thanks to both 40-plus wins and the new Siebert.
The Gophers were playing their first full Big Ten series at Siebert a month ago vs. Indiana. I went to the Saturday game and there was a revelation:
Anderson had to keep the Gophers on campus. For baseball to thrive, or even survive, there had to be a tangible investment in the sport for the university administration and the public to appreciate.
In the madness of building sports facilities in the Twin Cities, none has been done better for the money than Siebert Field. The cost is roughly $8.5 million, now that a hitting facility — the Glen Perkins Family Performance Center — has been added at the top of the third base grandstand.
A crowd of 2,291 squeezed in Friday, and watched a first-class collection of Gophers put a 10-1 whuppin’ on overmatched Canisius.
Eric Decker was here with his 2½-year-old son. Decker was an all-time great as a Gophers receiver, and also played baseball for Anderson. He’s enough of a baseball fan to have given sizable financial support to the ballpark back home in Cold Spring.
“I’ve seen the new Siebert before, but this is my first time seeing a game,” Decker said. “I think it’s great. And I had a walkthrough of the new facilities [Athletes Village] right next to us. Those are unbelievable.”
Winter’s refusal to leave reduced the Gophers’ opportunity substantially to play here. This was only the 10th Siebert game of 2018, but with the splendid night, the gorgeous field, the fans on top of the action …
This was the night Anderson and his longtime assistant, Rob Fornasiere, imagined as they fought the good fight to give Gophers baseball a proper on-campus home.
“First of all, I would like to thank all the fans for showing up tonight,” Anderson said. “It was a great atmosphere … It reminded me of 1977, when we hosted the regional and had people hanging from trees around the stadium.”
This was true. Fans climbed two large trees behind the grandstand at the old Siebert to get a better look at Paul Molitor and the other Gophers who would make the program’s fifth and last trip to the College World Series.
“I told Rob in the dugout, ‘We tried to get it done for 15, 20 years; now that we’re here with this ballclub, with the fans all here, let’s not do something to mess it up,’ ” Anderson said. “I love this ballpark. I love the way the fans are so close. And, yes, I did get a bit emotional taking it all in.”