Ex-Gophers model tradition

Tim Klobuchar

The numbers for the Gophers baseball program scream tradition. Thirty-four consecutive winning seasons. Seventeen Big Ten titles. Three NCAA titles.
Last night marked the sixth straight year many of those players who helped carry that winning tradition converged at the Metrodome for the Pro-Alumni Game.
But ironically, these players who have gone on to success at the professional level didn’t have winning this game too high on their priority list.
Their mere presence was what mattered. That players like Paul Molitor, Terry Steinbach and Denny Neagle play in the game every year gives the current Gophers an important history lesson.
“It sends a message to our players that these guys are real people,” Gophers coach John Anderson said. “And it establishes a certain level of responsibility — for our players to keep the tradition and start a new one.”
Of course, once the first pitch is thrown, players on both teams take the game seriously — but players who take it too seriously should beware.
Gophers senior pitcher Tony Felling remembers when then-Gopher Jason Karrmann got ahead of Molitor by an 0-2 count. Felling said that Gophers pitchers, to avoid showing up the hitters, are supposed to feed the alumni hitters a steady diet of fastballs since most don’t swing the bat too much in the offseason. But Karrmann threw a slider, and struck Molitor out.
“He (Karrmann) got his ass chewed by the coaches,” Felling said with a laugh. “Molitor donates so much money to the program, the last thing you want to do is embarrass him.”
Don’t think Molitor doesn’t remember that.
“I just told John (Anderson) I just don’t want to get embarrassed out here,” he said. Then he jokingly added, “I’d hate to have to withdraw my scholarship because someone throws me an 0-2 slider.”
The atmosphere of the game is decidedly laid-back. Neagle, a former Twins and current Atlanta Braves pitcher, was more concerned about his hitting.
“I’ve had three or four hits here in the last five years,” Neagle said. “I want to try to keep that streak going.”
Neagle, in the lineup as the designated hitter, did just that. He had a ground-rule double to left in the fifth inning, after which he doffed his helmet to the fans in mock appreciation.
The game is also a chance for exposure for the Minnesota baseball program. Fans and media have no problems talking with successful ex-Gophers, often chatting with them during batting practice.
The grandson of longtime Twins public address announcer Bob Casey was able to have his picture taken with Neagle and Steinbach.
Casey was once a U’ student, too, graduating in 1950 with a degree, in his words, “in radio communications or whatever the hell you call it.”
John Anderson is a close personal friend of our family,” Casey said. “I’ve always been a follower of Gophers baseball.”
With players such as Molitor, Neagle and Steinbach consistently at the game, it’s easy for the current Gophers to see the Minnesota tradition. The Gophers are impressed that the alumni come back to try and pass on that tradition. Maybe one reason they come back is, even when they move on to bigger things, fate helps bring back Gophers memories.
Late in the 1993 season, Casey was honored by the Twins for his long service. That day Neagle made his major league debut for the Twins, and the first Milwaukee Brewers hitter he faced was Paul Molitor.
Situations like that illustrate to current Gophers to what they should aspire once they leave college. Not that they should change who they are.
“They just love the game,” said Gophers senior outfielder Bob Keeney. “Sometimes with the media and everything, you think of them as just robots. But we get to see them as real people. They don’t mind talking to us.”

Notes: The current Gophers beat the pro-alumni for the first time last night, 9-5. Senior Phil McDermott hit a three-run homer and junior Mark Groebner hit a two-run homer for the Gophers. Sophomore Brad Pautz got the win, allowing three runs over six innings. Steinbach was 2-for-5 with an RBI single, Neagle went 1-for-3, and Molitor went hitless in two at-bats. The attendance for the game was 2,921. The proceeds from the game will go to the Dick Siebert Scholarship Endowment Fund.