The Gophers baseballers were loading a bus for a trip to the airport late Thursday morning.
They had played 14 games in 19 days in U.S. Bank Stadium, and now were headed to Colorado Springs to play a three-game weekend series against Air Force Academy.
Coach John Anderson had talked to his bosses at midmorning and “everything was a go.’’
Anderson also was aware of this: “Once the NBA shut down on Wednesday, you knew things were changing rapidly. That was still in the back of my mind when I got the call at 11:30, telling me not to have our team make the trip.’’
The immediate disappointment was doubled for the players. Not only were the Gophers losing a chance to play three games at picturesque Falcon Field, but the hosts had promised a complete tour of the Air Force Academy’s facilities.
The news became more grim later Thursday, when it was announced the NCAA not only was shutting down its winter sports tournaments — they were shutting down spring sports in total because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We had not yet gotten to the bulk of the schedule, and then you’re done,’’ Anderson said. “It’s a lesson in reality for all of us — and a reminder that it’s a privilege to put on a uniform. Never take it for granted.’’
On Friday, the NCAA proved that it can be logical at times. One of its committees recommended that 2020 not count as a year of eligibility for athletes in spring sports.
What must be remembered is there are very few free rides in spring sports. Football and men’s and women’s basketball — abundant scholarships and all financed 100%. Men’s and women’s hockey — full rides and substantial partials.
In baseball, there are the equivalent of 11.7 scholarships for a current roster of 34 players, which means:
Offering another year of eligibility to a baseball player is not the equivalent of offering another year to, say, Gabe Kalscheur, because he missed out on another game or two in the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament.
“Our players spend more to go to the University of Minnesota than they receive in scholarship money to play baseball,’’ Anderson said. “Staying another year in school is more than a competitive decision for our student-athletes. It’s also a financial decision.
“Jordan Kozicky is our only senior, and he’s a fifth-year senior. We offered him a chance to walk on out of high school and he redshirted. He was on his own financially that year, with help from dedicated parents that aren’t rich.
“Eventually, we were able to give Jordan some help, but he’s still paying a lot to go to school. So does he want to go more in debt to reclaim this lost final season with us in 2021? Too early to say.’’
Kozicky has been an amazing success story: out of Minneapolis Southwest, Legion ball in the summer, no showcase events. He was on the long end of long shots and became a utility player of enormous value.
“Jordan has done everything for us, so versatile that we had him working at catcher,’’ Anderson said. “With Jordan’s approval, I was looking at a midweek nonconference game at Siebert Field for him to play all nine positions.’’
That plan is gone, as well as any chance that the Gophers’ overall pitching could catch up with what’s been good hitting to make an underdog run at the Big Ten title.
“We have eight three-game series in the conference,’’ Anderson said. “Max Meyer is our Friday night pitcher, and one of the best in college baseball. We win all those games, then split on Saturday and Sunday … we could have been right in it.’’
Optimistic scenarios are what keep coaches going, and this is Anderson’s 39th season as the head coach.
Except, that “is’’ on Thursday became a “was,’’ and now Anderson joins the rest of Sports World in the great unknown.
One certainty is that the do-over season being offered by the NCAA will have no impact on Meyer, a junior righthander from Woodbury.
He was an ace closer as a freshman, became the No. 1 starter as a sophomore, and he will finish 3-1 with a 1.95 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 27⅔ innings as a junior.
The next time Meyer will be seen pitching in Minneapolis, it figures to be either for or against the Twins.
“The indications I’m getting are that Max will go in the top 15 in the June draft,’’ Anderson said. “If it happens in June. Maybe they’ll push it back. Who knows?’’
Correct. The future of sports on Friday the 13th of March 2020? We know nothing.
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