Dome a good home in the cold

Nick Heronimus

Warm, pleasant weather is associated with golfing and playing baseball, but in Minnesota that isn’t a luxury that the coaches can promise to incoming recruits.

Instead, coaches like head baseball coach John Anderson said he gets to deliver a little different message.

“Do you want to put your snow boots on and walk around here, or do you want to go to the ocean?” Anderson joked.

Minnesota Director of Golf Brad James had similar feelings when he joked that recruiting is “finding someone that is interested.”

The struggles that both programs face when competing to get the top talent with warm weather programs however has not prevented either program from being successful.

The Minnesota men’s golf team is one of the top programs in the nation. They won a National Championship in 2002 and are one of only five programs to have two top-five NCAA finishes in the last five years.

Gophers’ baseball is no slouch either.

Minnesota has advanced to the NCAA Regionals six of the last nine years and has been in a record six-straight Big Ten Tournament Championship games.

Put together, the two programs are one of the more formidable warm-season duos in the country.

But the success of both programs does not come without the hard work of recruiting and developing the recruits who are on these successful teams.

The type of athlete that the Minnesota men’s golf program attempts to get is the “diamond in rough, the local kid or the kid that really wants to be good,” James said.

This strategy allows for walk-ons to be an integral part of the Gophers’ golf program as well as a large influx of international players. Currently there are seven international players on the roster.

Walk-ons are invited to camps where James and the coaching staff can get to see what they are like on the course. It gives James and his staff time to see what type of player the young athlete could become.

The real sign for James to see whether a walk-on has potential is if he takes ownership in the process of becoming a Division I golfer, he said.

But the struggle of getting golfers to come to Minnesota does not prevent James from doing what any other coach would do when recruiting.

“I try and set my sights on the best players I can find,” James said.

Anderson faces just as many challenges in recruiting.

He has one not-so-secret weapon, though, in helping recruits get over Minnesota where the Gophers do not have the same beautiful playing season as a Southern school, and it comes in the shape of a dome.

The Metrodome is huge for the success of the Gophers baseball program, Anderson said.

It allows for Minnesota to have many home games, get into normal practice routines, host tournaments with teams outside the Big Ten and most importantly keep kids in the state who might have otherwise left to play at a warm-weather school, Anderson said.

Hosting tournaments with quality non-Big Ten teams gives the Gophers a chance to help their R.P.I. ranking, which is extremely important in seeding for the NCAA Tournament.

Keeping the top high school baseball talent is essential to Minnesota’s success. Anderson said that he and his staff believe the athletes in the state are good enough to help the Gophers compete nationally, so keeping them is vital.

The most important thing for the Gophers, however, has been the development of the players Minnesota does get.

“If we have been good at anything it’s been getting good athletes and making them better,” Anderson said.

Examples of these players are junior outfielder Matt Nohelty and former pitcher Bill Johnson.

They were two athletes fit the mold of how Anderson likes to see players mature.

They both were redshirted their first years, but as they gained playing experience they became key members of the Gophers squad.

Johnson was named team pitcher of the year after his senior season. Nohelty was named First-Team All-Big Ten after his sophomore year.

These types of accomplishments from athletes were not highly regarded prospects demonstrates to potential recruits what is possible by coming through the Minnesota program, Anderson said.

“Study the history,” he said. “We have done a good job with our players and the incoming players see that.”