Baseball seeks alternative to Siebert

Baseball’s dilapidated stadium has become an urgent priority for athletics officials.

While the University continues its drive to return football to campus, another Gophers team could be headed off campus.

The baseball team might play in the Metrodome next year because Siebert Field is crumbling, largely from lack of maintenance, University officials said.

“The current stadium – what’s left of the stadium – is collapsing,” baseball coach John Anderson said. “The concrete walls have deteriorated. It was finished in 1971 and over the course of time, with Mother Nature and the weather, it’s falling apart.”

University officials said they are talking with the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission and the Minnesota Twins about the possible move. The Gophers baseball team already plays several games a year at the Dome.

The facility’s availability will depend on the Twins’ 2005 home schedule. Dennis Alfton, director of operations for the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, said he should have a preliminary schedule in June.

Alfton said the commission will work with the University to bring more baseball games to the Dome.

“I think it’s very feasible that we can have Gophers games around the Twins’ schedule,” he said.

Even if the Gophers could not play their entire schedule in the Dome, they would most likely play most games there, Athletics Director Joel Maturi said.

“It’s going to be a hard way to run a program,” Anderson said, “but it’s the best alternative we have right now.”

Maturi said he does not know how much it would cost to play in the Dome full time. Alfton said the Gophers would only have to pay event-related costs.

The University is also exploring other off-campus facilities, including Midway Stadium in St. Paul, home of the St. Paul Saints.

The baseball team’s facility needs are among the department’s most urgent – along with a football stadium and a boathouse for the rowing team, said Scott Ellison, associate athletics director for facilities and event management.

Renovating Siebert Field is not a viable option because it would not be worth the cost, Maturi said.

“It makes very little sense for me as an athletic director to put any money into fixing that facility, because it’s kind of like throwing good money into a bad project,” he said.

Maturi would prefer to put that money toward a new on-campus baseball stadium, but a University moratorium currently prohibits building new sports facilities.

He said he is talking with University President Bob Bruininks’ office about lifting the moratorium.

The athletics department can make improvements to address health and safety concerns, Ellison said. Siebert Field is currently undergoing minor structural improvements costing less than $35,000, he said.

The improvements are necessary even if the Gophers move to the Dome full time, because the team would still practice at Siebert Field, Ellison said.

The athletics department has received an exemption to explore building a football stadium, but cannot seek private donations for a baseball stadium, Maturi said.

A football stadium would cost $222 million (some of which would come from the state), while a baseball stadium would cost $7 million to $10 million, Maturi said.

“If we’re going to raise $170 million for a football stadium,” Anderson said, “$7 (million) or $8 million seems like a drop in the bucket.”

Anderson said he has been trying to get a new baseball stadium for approximately 10 years and has not spoken with potential donors for approximately two years because of the moratorium. He said he does not know how much money he could raise on his own.

“I guess you never know until you try,” he said. “I’d sure like an opportunity to try and see what we can do.”

Maturi said it could take a couple years to get the money needed for a new stadium, and construction would take another year or two.

A new baseball stadium would have artificial turf so it could also be used for recreational sports, Anderson said.

“We couldn’t justify building a baseball stadium based on how much we could use it,” Anderson said. “It would be a waste of money.”

The ballpark would be on Southeast Fifth Street across from Mariucci Arena.

Anderson said it is becoming increasingly difficult to field a competitive team without adequate playing facilities.

“In order for us to continue to (succeed) in the future, we’re going to have to address our facility need, or the tradition and the success of the program is going to go in the opposite direction pretty quickly,” Anderson said.

Other top national programs are constructing new stadiums, Anderson said. The University of Nebraska built a $29 million facility and Southwest Missouri State University spent $30 million for a new ballpark, he said.

With teams recruiting nationally, the University must compete with those schools to retain Minnesota players, Anderson said. Recruits see the stadium as a representation of the school’s commitment to the baseball program, he said.

“When I first started here 23 year ago, (Siebert Field) was the first place we stopped, but today it’s not,” Anderson said. “We don’t use it as a showcase in recruiting.”

The team’s tradition and the coaching staff’s reputation have helped the Gophers stay competitive, but that would be difficult to maintain without a new ballpark, Anderson said.

A new stadium would also give the University a better chance to host an NCAA tournament, which would give the Gophers home-field advantage in some tournament games, Anderson said.

“Even if we went 56-0, we couldn’t host an NCAA tournament here because we don’t have a facility,” he said.

Associate Athletics Director Marc Ryan, who coordinates all NCAA tournaments for the University, said he might use Midway Stadium in this year’s bid, but a new stadium would provide the best chance to host an NCAA tournament.

“Without question, when the day comes – not if, but when – we have a new on-campus baseball stadium, we will be much more attractive as a potential host for NCAA tournaments,” Ryan said.

But like Siebert Field, Anderson said his hope for a new stadium has begun to deteriorate.

“Well, we haven’t done anything for 10 years, so I’ve lost some of my optimism,” he said. “I’m trying to stay optimistic, but I’ve lost some of it, to be honest.”