Baseball hosts Hormel Classic

by Anthony Maggio

Defending Big Ten Baseball Tournament champion Minnesota hoped its offense would propel the team to early non-conference victories, but so far it’s only struck out.

The Gophers are 0-6 this season heading into this weekend’s Hormel Foods Baseball Classic.

Florida Atlantic, Alabama and Tennessee will make the trip to the Metrodome, rounding out the tournament field. Minnesota faces the Blue Wave on Friday at 6:30 p.m., the Crimson Tide on Saturday at 1:30, and the Volunteers at 3:00 on Sunday.

All three are quality opponents, meaning the Gophers must work for their first win of the season.

“We definitely need a win so we can get some confidence building,” junior Luke Appert said. “Obviously we’re playing three tough teams again, so if we can get a win or two out of this tournament we can get some momentum and try to roll with it.”

The Gophers have started the season 0-6, with three losses coming to defending national champion Miami. But head coach John Anderson said this is nothing new for his squad.

“I’ve been doing this for 27 years,” Anderson said. “It’s easy to get caught up in wins and losses and I think it’s a little unrealistic to expect us to go out there and play at a high level of baseball. At this time of the year we’re technique strong but game weak.”

The Gophers are having trouble with consistency thus far, partly due to their practice routine.

The carpet at the Metrodome will be the fourth different surface Minnesota has played on in three weeks.

The Gophers work out indoors at the football practice facility. In both of the teams series’ this season, they’ve played outdoors in Louisiana and Florida.

Minnesota is also battling inexperience. There are only five seniors on the roster and the three-man pitching rotation consists of two sophomores and a junior.

At the plate, the Gophers lost 36 percent of their total scoring and 34 of the teams 58 home runs last season with the departure of Jack Hannahan, Josh Holthaus, and Kurt Haring.

Starting pitchers Mike Kobow and Ben Birk have also moved on in pursuit of major league careers.

“We miss those guys,” Anderson said. “They were great leaders, they were great players. They saw the big picture really well. They understood the stuff that went on early in the year and understood why it was happening more than the younger players do.”

Appert and senior Jason Kennedy have taken on the vacated leadership roles.

Kennedy currently leads the team with a .450 batting average, two home runs, and 10 RBI. More importantly, however, he is showing his younger teammates the ropes.

“I definitely took it upon myself to be a leader on this team,” Kennedy said. “But I’m definitely not doing it by myself, it’s a team effort for leadership.”

As Minnesota looks to improve, it must keep its focus on consistent play rather than wins and losses.

“We don’t have spring training,” Anderson said. “This is spring training for us, but it counts in our record.”

Minnesota posted a 20-13 non-conference record last season en route to a four seed in the NCAA tournament.

But with every loss, the Gophers are hurting their chances at a fifth-straight tournament berth.

A victory or two this weekend could get them back on the right track.

Anthony Maggio welcomes comments at [email protected]