Players in middle of East Lansing riot

by Sarah Mitchell

In search of a peaceful dinner on Friday night while on a road trip at Michigan State, several members of Minnesota’s baseball team found themselves trapped in a vehicle surrounded by protesters.
“We were just driving around looking for dinner,” pitcher Jason Dobis said. “We were getting mad because there was nothing located near campus.”
As the vehicle neared Michigan State’s basketball arena, the players noticed an enormous group of people gathering at Munn Field.
“All of a sudden we saw a football field with all of the lights on,” Dobis said. “We saw 10,000 to 15,000 people standing in the rain.”
Those gathered were protesting legislation banning alcohol at Munn Field, the favorite tailgating spot of Michigan State football fans.
The assembly later turned violent, to the point of a full-fledged riot. Police used tear gas to beat back the crowd.
“You could see that there were people outside and inside of the fence,” Dobis said. “People were sprinting back and forth between the fence and the police were grabbing them as they sprinted because they were not supposed to be there.”
Little did the players know they would have a first-hand experience with the rioters. With their stomachs full, the players started to drive back to the hotel.
“We were driving home and all of a sudden (Ben Birk) goes, Dobey, oh my god, take a left,'” Dobis said.
But Dobis could not turn the wheel fast enough and the vehicle became one of many caught in the middle of the protest.
“We were honking the horn and giving them the thumbs ups and just pumping them up,” Dobis said of the mud-covered rioters. “Every time we honked the horn, everyone would clap.”
Dobis said they remained encircled by people for 10 minutes, but by a non-violent part of the crowd.
On Saturday night, a small white ball was the object of attention for many of the Gophers.
For hours, many of the players crowded around a ping-pong table, their heads moving simultaneously from side to side as comments such as “I haven’t played since the ninth grade,” and “He’s got the left hand. He comes over the top,” were made.
Because ping-pong requires precise hand-eye coordination, a skill the team works on routinely in batting practice, several players displayed a knack for the game. Oddly enough, though, the tournament’s victor was a pitcher.
The toughest match-up of the tournament pitted Craig Selander against Matt Scanlon, with the new single-season home run record holder Selander projected as the underdog. Although Scanlon had a reputation for being a good player, he found himself in an early 7-2 hole.
At that point, line judge, ping-pong ball caretaker and pitcher Brad Pautz offered Scanlon a suggestion to improve his poor play.
“You can call for new balls if you want them,” Pautz said.
Selander was offended by the suggestion that Scanlon was losing because of the quality of the ball rather than the quality of Selander’s play.
“Hey, I am not just a walk in the park,” said Selander, who emerged as the winner.
The players were kiddingly harsh at times, making the ping-pong tournament seem more meaningful than the weekend series at hand.
“The worst two ping-pong players I’ve ever seen,” freshman and tournament finalist Rick Brosseau said of first-round contestants Robb Quinlan and Josh Holthaus.
Brosseau’s vicious words did not equal his skill level, as he fell victim to pitcher Vince Gangl in the championship game.
No Dunkin’ Down Under
The ping-pong tournament provided some needed exercise for the Gophers, who indulged on pastries from East Lansing’s Dunkin’ Donuts.
Sweet tooth owner and pitcher Dan McGrath declared his weakness to be the Bavarian cream because “it tastes nice.”
“The occasional splurge on doughnuts is good,” McGrath said.
And the Australian native should splurge as often as possible, seeing as how the bakery chain does not exist in his homeland.
Take Stock In Birk
Pitcher Ben Birk’s performance on the mound before and after suffering a shoulder injury has been impressive enough to receive national attention.
On Friday, the sophomore was invited to participate in USA Baseball’s summer training camp for the 1998 USA Baseball National Team.
Birk, who will join 34 other players from colleges across the nation, will be the Big Ten’s lone representative when the camp begins June 1 in Tucson, Ariz.
Around The Horn
ù Illinois claimed host rights for this season’s Big Ten tournament. By sweeping Purdue this past weekend, the Illini improved their conference record to 19-5, making their winning percentage unbeatable. The Gophers, 16-8 in the conference, need one win on the road against Northwestern this weekend to clinch a spot in the four-team tournament.