The frustration level among major college baseball coaches located in a northern climate is such that there are suggestions that two College World Series would make sense: one for teams in the east and north, and another for teams in the south and west.
John Anderson completed his 38th season with the Gophers a week ago when they went 3-2 in the Big Ten tournament to finish at 29-27. Baseball teams were banned from the ZygiDome in February and March due to preparations for the Final Four, meaning the Gophers' non-conference schedule opened with 18 road games – in Arizona, Texas, North Carolina and Washington state.
There was also an opening Big Ten series played at Penn State, before the Gophers played their first game at Siebert Field:against Augsburg on March 27.
The Gophers played mostly first-class opponents in that first month of road games and their record was 5-13 when those journeys were complete. That meant the only option for reaching the NCAA tournament was to either win the Big Ten’s regular season in runaway fashion or win the conference tournament.
There’s a good chance that all those travels reinforced Anderson’s belief that both North and South College World Series is an idea to strongly consider.
It’s also understandable that Anderson’s frustration level over the Southern and Western advantage – both in kicking off their schedules on home fields in the middle of February and luring recruits from the north (including Minnesota) – would be considerable:
He's had many Big Ten titles and strong teams, but never a trip to Omaha for the College World Series as the head coach. A year ago, the Gophers won both the Big Ten regular season and tournament, won a first-ever regional at the new Siebert Field, and still had to go to Corvallis, to face eventual champion Oregon State in a super regional.
Don’t bring up the Gophers’ three national championships – with the namesake, Dick Siebert, as the coach in 1956 (Ike’s second term), 1960 (JFK) and 1964 (LBJ) – as examples it can be done.
There were 30 percent as many competitive programs and not nearly the number of baseball edifices across the south and along the West Coast built to support winning programs. I mean, Maine used to go to the College World Series.
The last team with a northern climate to win a CWS was Ohio State in 1966. The 1973 Gophers, with the great Dave Winfield on the mound, were the last Big Ten team to come very close.
The disadvantages faced by softball teams from the north is similar: weeks of non-conference road games, and few home games. One advantage in fast-pitch is that when teams do take warm-weather trips in February and March, they can routinely squeeze in two games in a day with their fast-moving, 7-inning contests.
Throw in a week earlier start to the season, and that’s why coach Jamie Trachsel’s Gophers were able to play 31 road games (including a three-game Big Ten opening series at Maryland) before playing a first home game at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium on March 29.
The Gophers played 11 home games (with a weather cancellation) in the Big Ten, and then went 5-0 while hosting a regional and a super regional to gain entry in their first NCAA Women’s World Series.
The Gophers went 0-2 vs. UCLA and Washington and were the first team out of the double-elimination tournament. Florida became the other 0-2 team when it was pounded 15-3 by Alabama in a game stopped by a mercy rule.
Insulting Kendyl Lindaman, the slugger who was late transfer from Minnesota to Florida for this season, seemed to be a popular exercise for commenters on sports sites in the Twin Cities. The guess here is that a majority of those taking shots had never graced Jane Sage (as the Gophers call it) to watch a softball game.
The lack of home games – 16 out of 58 played before the trip to Oklahoma – was mentioned to the players in Saturday’s postgame press conference.
Maddie Houlihan, a senior playing her last college game, said: “I think you get used to it when you’re a northern [team], knowing your first six weeks are going to be on the road. I think that makes coming home more special. We had some amazing home weekends this year that I think some of us will never forget.’’
Houlihan started 235 (of 236) games for the Gophers in four seasons, and 59 of those were played in her home stadium.
Here were the dates for the home openers for the other seven teams in the WCWS: Washington-March 8; UCLA-Feb. 15; Arizona-Feb. 15; Florida-Feb. 12: Alabama-Feb. 22; Oklahoma State-March 1; Oklahoma-March 1.
And, to repeat: Minnesota-March 29.
What do you think about that, coach?
Trachsel, in her second Gophers' season, offered her semi-wry smile and said:
“This is such an amazing atmosphere, such an amazing event. And one of the best things about the Gophers being here is that it’s hard. And it will be hard the next time, when we come back.’’
That’s some sweet softball music, right there.