MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota baseball coach John Anderson had lunch with one of his best former players, Dan Wilson, before a ceremony to formally break ground on the new Siebert Field.
"When I was leaving, they were talking about this," Wilson told Anderson, the head coach of the Gophers for the last 31 seasons.
Wilson left Minnesota in 1990, before a 14-year major league career spent mostly with the Seattle Mariners. The work for Anderson and his program has finally paid off, with the start of this privately funded $7.134 million project, which began Monday with a shovels-and-hard-hat event for donors and fans at the decommissioned ballpark on the north edge of campus. The new 1,400-capacity facility will be built on the same site, with additional grassy berm seating along the base lines. There is potential for expansion, including a locker room and indoor hitting facility, in the future.
"It feels awesome," Anderson said, before tearing up when talking about his memories at the now-unusable ballpark.
The Gophers have used the downtown Metrodome as their primary home stadium in recent years due to the deterioration of Siebert Field, which opened in 1971 under the name Bierman Field. Former head coach Dick Siebert, who was Anderson's mentor, died in 1978.
Wilson joined famous former Gophers players Paul Molitor and Glen Perkins, among dozens of others on a sunny Monday afternoon. Twins chief executive officer Jim Pohlad, whose family's $2 million gift spearheaded the fundraising drive two years ago, was also in attendance.
"I thank former players and the baseball community for being patient," outgoing director of athletics Joel Maturi said. "It has not been easy. But it is now the beginning of a new era. Over these 20 years there has remained one constant, John Anderson. It is my hope that one day we play at Siebert Field, at Anderson Park."
The Gophers hosted NCAA regionals in 1974, 1977 and 2000. They last advanced to the College World Series in 1977, which was Molitor's last season at Minnesota before he was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers to launch his Hall of Fame career.
Molitor spoke of hoping to "recreate some of that magic from 1977" by one day hosting another regional. If Stony Brook, a northern school in New York about half of Minnesota's size, can make the College World Series this year then the Gophers believe they can again too.
"We're talking about a college baseball facility, which is kind of down the food chain, so to speak, but we've had people committed to it and people who believe college baseball has its place here at the University of Minnesota and we want to see it continue for generations to come," Molitor said.