When you look at the field leaders of the Twins and Gophers baseball teams, it’s amazing to think they are former college teammates who first met over 43 years ago in Paul Molitor and John Anderson.
Anderson had the Gophers sitting in first place in the Big Ten standings entering the weekend and ranked No. 15 in the country according to Baseball America.
Meanwhile Molitor, the 2017 AL Manager of the Year, has turned the Twins’ season around after a horrid stretch in which they lost 13 of 15 games. With a three-run ninth inning to beat the Angels 5-4 Friday, they stood at 16-18 going into Saturday night’s game in Anaheim, Calif.
Anderson was a pitcher for the Gophers in 1974-75 before an injury derailed his playing career. Coach Dick Siebert kept Anderson on as a student coach.
Anderson recalled the first time he met Molitor on the Minnesota campus in the fall of 1974.
“Paul was a freshman and I had transferred here from Hibbing Community College. That was the first time we met,” Anderson said. “Then we were teammates here at the university through the 1977 season, when he left and signed with the Milwaukee Brewers.
“Our friendship, and connection, a lifelong friendship started here at the university and has continued. When I was named head coach here in the fall of 1981, Paul reached out to me and said that he’d do anything he could to support the program and assist me.”
That 1977 squad was the last one at Minnesota to advance to the College World Series. Molitor was named an All-America as he hit .325, stole 20 bases and scored 35 runs.
Molitor played for the Gophers from 1975 to 1977, making the All-America team in 1976 as well. He finished his career with a .350 batting average and then-school records in runs (112), triples (11), hits (159), home runs (18), total bases (254), RBI (99) and stolen bases (52).
“We continued our friendship over the last 40 years here. That friendship has grown into a situation where we’ve become close friends and supported each other in our endeavors and our careers,” Anderson said. “Paul has given back a great deal to this baseball program and the university.”
Molitor stayed connected
Anderson has put together an incredible run of success with the Gophers, including 10 Big Ten titles, with a potential 11th this season, and over 1,200 wins.
But the Gophers have often needed their former players to step up and help with fundraising, and Anderson talked about Molitor’s help.
“That’s how our friendship has grown over the years, I think, is basically through the baseball program. He followed our program and I continue to stay in touch with him as he’s playing professionally and had some connections in the offseason,” Anderson said. “Obviously the old Pro-Alumni game we used to have at the Metrodome — when he was living in Toronto and Milwaukee he would come back for that event and we’d have different opportunities throughout the course of the year to connect.”
Anderson continued: “I think really from Paul’s standpoint it was his desire to stay connected to the university and the baseball program and support it in any way possible. He always told me that if he could help to reach out to me and, ‘If I can’t I’ll say no. And if I can I’ll say yes.’ ” Honestly, he has very rarely said no any time we have asked him for some kind of help and support.”
Success is no surprise
While Molitor has had some ups and downs as the Twins manager, Anderson said when the Twins made the hire after the 2014 season, he had no doubts it was the right one.
“So many of the little things he picks up on so quickly, I was always amazed when I was around him [at the U],” Anderson said. “After he finished playing, and before he got back involved with the Twins, he would come out and watch us practice or watch us play games.
“I would always tell him, ‘Tell me what you see.’ And I was amazed at some of the things he picked up on that most of us wouldn’t even think about in terms of his baseball IQ and what was going on out there between the white lines.”
Still, Anderson said that what is going to continue to make Molitor a great manager is that he can connect with the players and the front office on a personal level.
“I think he has done a fantastic job in the Twins organization with the teams he has had, of really building a special clubhouse and the chemistry in that clubhouse and building a winning culture there,” Anderson said. “I think that’s a big part of managing in Major League Baseball in the 21st century, your ability to connect with people and build quality relationships. He is awesome at that.”
• Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck said that while the team will have more depth this year, that doesn’t mean it will have more experience. “We have nine total scholarship seniors, which is not a lot. We have to rely on our youth, our inexperience, and our depth is going to be full of young guys to really provide that type of boost for us.”
• Fleck has 11 verbal commitments for the Class of 2019, a class that ranks No. 15 in the country, according to 247sports.com. That’s third in the Big Ten behind Michigan (No. 8) and Ohio State (No. 9).
• Fleck talked about how the Gophers need to get more players into the NFL, noting they have had only 13 picks over the past 13 drafts: “We have to up that. That’s one of the reasons I came here. We haven’t had an offensive lineman drafted in 12 years.”
• Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph said he is excited about new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo. “The success that he’s had with tight ends that he’s been around, it’s exciting,” Rudolph said. “We have a ton of playmakers on offense and he’s mentioned multiple times that he’s going to get the ball in everybody’s hands.”
• Gophers baseball coach John Anderson on Eli Wilson, the son of former Gophers and major league catcher Dan Wilson: “Last year he shared the [catching] duties with Cole McDevitt, and I think another big story line here with regards to how well we’ve pitched has been Eli Wilson’s development behind the plate. He’s much stronger than a year ago. He calls the game for us. We do not call pitches. He has done an incredible job of handling the pitching staff.”
• Torii Hunter Jr., the son of the Twins great, played football at Notre Dame but is now making a name playing baseball in the minor leagues for the Angels. Hunter Jr. entered Saturday hitting .284 with 20 runs and nine stolen bases is 28 games for Class A Burlington.