The Gophers opened the new Siebert Field on Friday with a performance that honored the ballpark’s namesake, but even legendary coach Dick Siebert knew baseball and snow don’t mix.
With Minnesota’s ace lefthander Tom Windle cruising toward his fifth consecutive complete game, flurries turned to persistent snow, prompting umpires to suspend play with the Gophers leading Ohio State 3-0 in the sixth inning.
The teams will try to resume Game 1 of the three-game series Saturday at 1 p.m., with Game 2 to follow.
“Dick Siebert hated rainouts,” Gophers coach John Anderson said. “We used to put the tarp on seven or eight times before he’d go home. He spent many days like this, and I have too in my career, so it’s probably fitting. It’s Minnesota baseball this time of year.”
The Gophers didn’t have this problem in the Metrodome, where they moved most of their games in recent years, but they’ll gladly take their chances on the weather in their new home.
In pro ball, this would have been an official game after the fifth inning; under Big Ten rules, play is suspended for another day. So the Gophers tempered their enthusiasm about how well they’d played before an announced crowd of 1,161 hearty souls on a 43-degree afternoon.
“It was pretty cool, I guess,” said Dan Olinger, who lined a fourth-inning single for the ballpark’s first RBI. “It was a great atmosphere, I thought. The weather probably kept us in check a little bit, but it’s hard not to get excited with a new stadium opening like this.”
The Gophers donned their bright gold 1977 throwback uniforms — or “banana suits” as Olinger called them — to commemorate the day.
Andy Henkemeyer, who had the last hit at the old Siebert Field — a grand slam against St. Thomas — got the first hit in the new ballpark when he lined a first-inning single to center field.
When Buckeyes center fielder Joe Ciamacco lost a routine fly ball in the snow, scoring the fourth inning’s third run, it was a definite sign things were getting unplayable.
But the Gophers played flawless defense behind Windle on their new Mondo Sports Turf. Windle, who is 4-2 with a 1.31 ERA, continued to bolster his draft stock, holding the Buckeyes to two hits over five innings with no walks and five strikeouts. Anderson said he’ll use another pitcher when play resumes.
“Hopefully we can finish it off [Saturday], but it’s a good start,” Windle said. “We handled ourselves pretty good today. We played with a lot of energy and just played Gopher baseball.”
Siebert would have been proud. He coached the Gophers from 1948 to 1978, winning three NCAA titles and passing along a passion for the game. Jerry Kindall, who played on the 1956 NCAA title team, returned for Friday’s game and talked about the late coach’s influence on his own career.
Kindall played nine years in the majors as an infielder and then won three NCAA titles himself as Arizona’s coach.
“This is a first-rate venue, and that’s what Dick Siebert deserves,” Kindall said. “I played for him and coached under him before I went to Arizona. Up close and personal, I learned all my baseball from Dick Siebert, and I tried to coach the way he did — same signs, same defenses.
“I tried to do it just like Dick, and it worked.”
It was working again for Anderson for five innings. Then Minnesota’s weather imposed its will.