Not even the lofty Metrodome walls or the coaching of Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Paul Molitor could stop the Minnesota baseball team from winning Saturday.
Molitor’s Pro-Alumni team fell behind early, 2-0, when Gophers right fielder Mike Mee hit a towering shot over the right-field wall in the first inning. Minnesota went on to win the 15th annual Pro-Alumni game, 8-5.
The Pro-Alumni team was made up of a combination of former Gophers players now in professional baseball.
Mee’s homer registered 341 feet ” the Metrodome right field wall is 327 feet out and 23 feet high.
“I just got a fastball inside and got lucky, and put a good swing on it,” Mee said.
Mee was facing former Gophers pitcher and current Philadelphia Phillies minor leaguer CJ Woodrow.
Woodrow got off to a rocky start in the bottom of the first inning when current Gophers center fielder Taylor VanderAarde knocked a line drive past third baseman Jack Hannahan (Detriot Tigers minor league player) for a double.
VanderAarde then advanced to third base on a wild pitch by Woodrow. Two pitches later, Mee took Woodrow’s fastball out of the ballpark for a 2-0 lead.
“He’s (Mee) an outstanding hitter,” coach John Anderson said. “I think that’s a sign of more to come.”
In all, Woodrow would go on to face eight Gophers batters in the first inning on way to a 3-0 deficit, and an early departure from the mound.
Current Minnesota pitcher Reid Mahon pitched two innings of relief for the Pro-Alumni squad.
Mahon also was roughed up in two innings of work. Mahon walked four batters, struck out one and allowed two earned runs ” both coming in the bottom of the third on a double by left fielder Tony Leseman.
Two of those walks were followed by steals. VanderAarde stole one in the second inning, and in total, the Gophers stole four bases in the game.
“We’re going to run. We’re going to steal,” Anderson said. “That’s one of our strengths.”
Anderson said the team has a lot of speed. So, stealing bases and playing aggressive defense is to their advantage.
Furthermore, VanderAarde highlighted the second inning not so much by the quick step that helped him take second base, but by his near-collision in the outfield for an out that prevented the Pro-Alumni squad from making a comeback.
It came in the top of the second inning, when Pro-Alumni’s Jake Elder hit a blooper in center field that looked as if it would drop for a run-scoring hit, but VanderAarde ran in to catch it while almost colliding with second baseman Luke MacLean.
“In center field you just got to take priority and get anything you can catch,” VanderAarde said. “And, that was kind of my job to catch that.”
The Pro-Alumni couldn’t get on the scoreboard until the top of the sixth, when recently retired Seattle Mariners catcher Dan Wilson drove a ball to left center field for two runs batted in.
But, any comeback attempts by the Pro-Alumni squad were put to rest in the bottom of the sixth when Gophers pinch hitter Nate Hanson scored on a wild pitch by current Minnesota pitcher Gary Perinar (pitching in relief for the Pro-Alumni team).
The inning featured one walk and two wild pitches.
Anderson said poor pitching is a typical part of the game early in the season.
“I’ve always thought the pitchers would be a little bit behind the hitters at this time,” Anderson said. “Josh Oslin, he couldn’t throw strikes and then he went back the next inning and felt more comfortable.”
Oslin pitched the last two innings for the current Minnesota squad. It was his first inning of work, in the eighth, that almost brought the Pro-Alumni squad back into the game.
Oslin got behind in the count often in the eighth inning. He walked three batters, once with bases loaded. In all, the Pro-Alumni team was able to score three runs in the inning on only one hit.
Yet the current Gophers were able to hold on for the win, and play most of their reserves in an exhibition environment.
“It’s fun to actually get out and play a game,” Anderson said, “and get our season started, and get a gauge on kind of how we are doing.”