Last Saturday, with the Twins in the midst of winning three of four games against Cleveland at Target Field, manager Paul Molitor was in a hurry to finish postgame interviews so he could go to Siebert Field to watch his former teammate and close friend of 44 years, John Anderson, manage the Gophers against UCLA in an NCAA baseball regional tournament.
The Gophers beat the Bruins then and again on Sunday to advance to their first super regional since 1977, when Molitor was a first-team All-America shortstop and hit .325 as a junior. Anderson was named the team MVP as a student manager after his playing career was cut short because of an arm injury.
That Gophers squad was the last to reach the College World Series. This weekend in Corvallis, if the Gophers can defeat Oregon State — the No. 1-ranked team in the country, according to d1baseball.com — in a best-of-three series, they will return.
When the Gophers and Twins played during spring training, Molitor said Anderson told him he thought the Gophers would have a good team this season, with some stellar young players.
“John talked to me early down in Florida about how he had some really talented young pitchers that were freshmen that could develop,” Molitor said. “He thought his core of players were going to be guys that not only worked hard but do the little things that helped them win: play defense, run the bases, learn how to situational hit. When I watched them [Saturday], that’s what they did. They caught the ball really well, they were aggressive on the bases and they put the ball in play.”
Molitor also mentioned the great home-field advantage the Gophers enjoyed last weekend. He was a crucial fundraiser, along with Anderson, for the major renovation of Siebert Field.
“I think playing at home was a big plus,” he said. “I think that’s what John envisioned the new Siebert Field to be like, when he went through all of the work that he did to make sure it was completed. The atmosphere was great, saw a lot of people through many generations of Gophers baseball. As far as the team, you could tell they had the mentality that they weren’t going to be denied.”
Iron Ranger, city kid
Molitor recalled the start of his relationship with Anderson at the university.
“John came in as a pitcher from Up North on the Iron Range and I was a city kid,” he said. “We hit it off in the beginning. John was a hard worker who didn’t get much of a chance to play college baseball, but made contributions by helping out any way he could. I have been a tremendous supporter of what he has done with the program. He’s not only concerned about putting a good product on the field, but he’s certainly taking care of those young men that have come through, a tremendous graduation rate.
“The relationship that he has with his players through the many decades speaks about the character that John has. I couldn’t be more happy that this season has turned out the way it has with him having a chance to advance to the super regional, winning both the [Big Ten] conference and the tournament. … I just have a lot of respect for him, and I wish him well this weekend.”
Molitor praised Anderson for continuing to help the Gophers at the end of his playing career.
“John wanted to find a way to stay connected to the team without actually being a player,” he said. “I think they ended up terming it ‘student manager.’ I think it was in ’77 when the players voted John our most valuable player, even though he wasn’t on the field, because he did so much to help our team. He certainly was part of the morale and everything that went into having a successful season.”
What did Anderson do?
“He was one of those guys who did a little bit of everything,” Molitor said. “I saw him take care of the fields. I saw him help run errands for players. Being a guy who always had an encouraging word for everybody. He did whatever he could to try to make everybody on that team better.”
Molitor was asked about Anderson’s ability to instruct, on and off the field.
“I think that his track record proves that he is a great teacher,” Molitor said. “Not only making guys better players, but if you speak to a lot of people that played for John and have gone on to be successful in other avenues in life, they’ll point to the direction and guidance that John gave them in their time at the university.
“He’s a very patient man. I think he tries to find the best in anybody he comes across. He tries to highlight building on things you’re good at as opposed to dwelling on things that are negative. He just has a very positive outlook each and every day about trying to serve the guys that he’s had a chance to coach at the university.”
Molitor said this year also provided a great send-off for assistant head coach Rob Fornasiere, who has worked with Anderson since joining the program in 1985 and will retire at the end of this season.
“Rob is … going out on a high note,” Molitor said. “He wasn’t there when I was there, but I have gotten to know him really well over the past 30 years. He has been John’s right-hand man. He takes care of a lot of the logistics of practice and making sure things are organized. Very knowledgeable about the game, and similarly to John, he has had the kids’ best interest at heart over everything else.”
Fornasiere recruited Patrick Fredrickson, the Big Ten Pitcher and Freshman of the Year, who also was named the National Freshman Pitcher of the Year on Wednesday by Collegiate Baseball.
Fredrickson, a 6-6 righthander, is from Gig Harbor, Wash., about 40 miles southwest of Seattle.
He was ranked the No. 4 prospect in Washington as a senior and earned All-State honors but wasn’t heavily recruited, so he sent a video and e-mail to the Gophers staff.
Fornasiere watched him pitch three times in July of 2016 before Fredrickson visited the U. He signed with the Gophers that November.
The other top starter for the Gophers this year is Reggie Meyer, who has an 8-3 record and a 2.62 ERA in 16 starts and has pitched a team-high 103 innings.
Meyer and Fredrickson led the Gophers staff to a 3.04 team ERA, the eighth-best mark in the nation, and they’ll play important roles if the Gophers are to upset Oregon State this weekend.
Meanwhile, Meyer’s older brother, Ben Meyer — a former Gophers pitcher himself — was called up by the Miami Marlins on Wednesday and will most likely pitch out of the bullpen.