John Anderson's 39th season as the Gophers baseball coach in 2020 was like none other. The worldwide pandemic took over this countryand the schedule was stopped on March 12, with the Gophers at 8-10 and not having played a Big Ten game.
Anderson's 40th season in 2021 also was like none other, both for the schedule and woeful results. The Big Ten decided its pandemic restriction for baseball and softball would be to start on the first weekend of March and play only conference games.
The Gophers had a brief COVID-19 shutdown and missed two weekends. They managed to play 37 of the scheduled 44 games. They finished 6-31, nine victories behind Purdue, the 12th-place finisher in the 13-team league.
Anderson's contract had expired. After decades of success, he didn't want to leave it like that, buried in last place. Athletic director Mark Coyle had a men's basketball coach to hire, and a political brouhaha to deal with caused by eliminating sports, and it took until June for Anderson to get a new two-year deal.
That delay did not mean Anderson could put on hold an unpleasant task.
"I had never told a player that wanted to return that he could not do so," Anderson said. "I laid out to many players that they were not going to get to play much, or pitch much, the way our roster was coming together, but I'd never had to say, 'We don't have room for you.'
"With the limit of 38 on the roster, and the extra year granted by the NCAA from the pandemic, I had to do that with six of our guys."
Plus, when your team has gone 6-31, and there are 2,200 baseball players in the Division I transfer portal, you have to dive into that talent pool.
Assistants Pat Casey and Ty McDevitt scoured the portal every day. They were able to land five transfers, all pitchers.
And what was the main source of last season's collapse? Check out this:
The team ERA in 2018 when Anderson's Gophers lit up Siebert Field by winning a regional, with Max Meyer and cohorts, was 3.18. Three years later, from the sub-basement of the Big Ten, the team ERA was 8.09.
"We still had those small-groups guidelines when we started practice last January," Anderson said. "Finally in February, we were able to have a couple of intrasquad scrimmages in the dome [U.S. Bank Stadium].
"I saw pitchers throwing the ball over with good stuff. We had some pitching injuries, but I didn't see this coming … not at all.
"Not everyone, but as a whole, we got knocked around in a few games early and stopped throwing strikes. We had pitchers that lost confidence. And there were no midweek nonconference games to put them out there and, hopefully, to find themselves again."
Anderson was asked if there was a memorable meeting with McDevitt and Casey, his lead assistants, on the importance of shaking up the roster and taking another look at how to get the most from players?
"No meeting like that was required," Anderson said. "They were as upset over what had gone wrong as I was. Everyone knew we had to change some things."
That started with pitching, obviously. The five transfer pitchers are Will Semb (Iowa), Joe Hauser (Arizona State), Aidan Maldonado (Illinois), Richie Holetz (Nebraska Omaha) and Randon Dauman (St. Louis). Hauser also is a potential shortstop.
The 10 freshmen include six pitchers. Seth Clausen, a righthander from Bettendorf, Iowa, was among the most impressive pitchers in fall intrasquads at Siebert Field.
A year ago, there were big hopes for freshman George Klassen, and then his elbow popped and he underwent Tommy John surgery.
Sam Ireland was limited to 37⅓ innings last spring. He's now healthy. Anderson talked about Ireland and Jack Liffrig, a lefty who provided the minimal pitching highlights last season, as starters to lead this staff of newcomers.
He also mentioned J.P. Massey, a 6-foot-5 righthander. He's now a senior and Anderson hopes this normal season — after two years of pandemic dysfunction — will allow him to make full use of a "great arm."
That's 21 pitchers on a 38-player roster, and 11 are new.
"We saw a lot of pitching options this fall,'' Anderson said. "Give us healthy arms with these guys, and we'll be competitive in the Big Ten again next season.''