Gophers looking to use speed on the Dome’s turf

Robert Mews

With the Metrodome’s artificial turf comes the inevitable aspect of speed in baseball.

Speed – it’s something Minnesota’s baseball team relies on to win games. Perhaps, then, the team should be optimistic about playing its home games at the dome this season.

“I think the facility is a great match for this team,” coach John Anderson said. “We have more speed in the outfield. I think our team, to be honest with you, is made to play defense in there this year.”

Last season’s outfield core of left fielder Tony Leseman, center fielder Taylor VanderAarde, and right fielder Mike Mee have returned for this season. And they will be called upon to protect the big gaps at the Metrodome, compared to the smaller gaps at last season’s home, Siebert Field.

“I think last year in the games we played in there (Metrodome) last year we fielded .980,” Anderson said. “It’s probably the most talented outfield group we’ve had.”

VanderAarde displayed some of that speed in the Pro-Alumni game at the Metrodome earlier this season.

It was during a fly out to the middle of center field when VanderAarde came charging toward second base for a near-colliding grab with second baseman Luke MacLean.

“In center field you just got to take priority and get anything you can catch,” VanderAarde said.

Defensively, last season, the three all had fielding percentages better than .974. VanderAarde was the highest with a perfect fielding percentage.

The core group of fielders provides the aspect of speed offensively as well.

“We’re going to be a team that’s going to steal. We’re going to put runners in motion. We got to get some stolen base attempts,” Anderson said. “That’s one of our strengths as team on offense.”

Stealing bases in the Metrodome might come with more ease with the artificial turf that lies between the bases.

However, the team lost its top base-stealer in David Hrncirik and the three outfielders might be relied on more heavily this season to steal bases.

“Hopefully I’ll get a chance to steal some bags,” VanderAarde said. “First, obviously, I got to get on base, but definitely looking to have some stealing opportunities, and hopefully that will help us.”

In the three games played this season, the Gopher outfielders all have had one stolen base.

However, while speed has played into stealing bases, it also might play into knocking down some bigger hits. If the Pro-Alumni game was an indication of things to come, the three could be knocking in more doubles this season.

Junior Mee said he will look to use the large gaps in the Metrodome and his speed to his advantage this season.

“I’m trying to hit more doubles this year,” Mee said. “There’s big alleys and there’s the deep part of center, and obviously we’re not going to have that wind factor carrying it around.”