Alumni lobby for stadium funds

Gophers greats Paul Molitor and Dave Winfield highlighted a Friday fundraiser for a new baseball stadium.

by Austin Cumblad

Quiet fundraising yielded to public spectacle Friday night at TCF Bank Stadium, as current and former Gophers baseball players and coaches lobbied potential donors for the remaining $3.5 million needed to begin construction on a replacement for dilapidated, unusable Siebert Field.

Minnesota head coach John Anderson has for years asked the University and boosters for a modern incarnation of the GophersâÄô outdated on-campus stadium, but only recently has the campaign been infused with urgency. FridayâÄôs event, somewhat ironically hosted at MinnesotaâÄôs two-year-old on-campus football stadium, was called the âÄúBottom of the 9th.âÄù

âÄúIâÄôll be honest with you,âÄù Anderson said before the ceremony, âÄúitâÄôs not going to get done unless we can grab another large, seven-figure gift from somebody âÄî if we want to get it done in the short term.âÄù

The ceremony featured Major League Baseball Hall of Famers and former Gophers Paul Molitor âÄî who also chairs the Siebert Field Legacy Campaign âÄî and Dave Winfield.

The first seven-figure gift came from the Pohlad family, which owns the Minnesota Twins, last May. The Pohlad Family Foundation donated $2 million, which, added to the $1 million pledged from the athletics departmentâÄôs general operating fund and roughly $500,000 received from various donors, brought the Gophers within $4 million of breaking ground on a new field. But nine months later, the program is only $500,000 closer to its target.

Also in May, when it was believed that the Pohlad endowment would open a floodgate of money, Minnesota hoped to begin the project by this spring. âÄúThatâÄôs a dream right now,âÄù Anderson said Friday, adding that 2013 is likely the earliest the Gophers will be back in Dinkytown.

âÄú[I want] to continue to celebrate John and his program and their many successes, and I also want to be proud of the facility that they play in,âÄù Molitor said at the ceremony.

The backdrop of the night, however, was MinnesotaâÄôs more immediate stadium issues.

With Siebert Field out of commission, the Gophers had used the Metrodome for home games, but when heavy snow tore gaping holes in its roof in early December, Anderson was left to patch together a season that will now be crammed into busses, airplanes and hotel rooms.

Drumming up timely, and more importantly, sizable support has been difficult amid an economic downturn and the construction of TCF Bank Stadium. Though no one overtly referenced the fact that the baseball team is the reigning Big Ten champion and the football team hasnâÄôt won a conference title in more than four decades, the word âÄútraditionâÄù was invoked throughout the evening to stress that AndersonâÄôs squad was also deserving of a move back to campus.

Winfield talked about a foundation for success, already established by 45 consecutive winning seasons between 1963 and 2007, but in need of a new facility if success is to continue.

âÄúItâÄôs about recruiting,âÄù Winfield said in an interview before the fundraiser. âÄúYou canâÄôt get the best players when you say, âÄòWell, weâÄôll figure out where weâÄôre going to play next week.âÄô It doesnâÄôt work that way.âÄù

Approximately 450 people attended the $250-per-plate banquet in the cavernous Dairy Queen Club Room at TCF Bank Stadium. In addition to the dinner, proceeds were raised through live and silent auctions.

âÄúWeâÄôve never been so close to getting it done,âÄù athletics director Joel Maturi said at the event. âÄúWeâÄôve never been so close to bringing a new baseball stadium to the University of Minnesota. WeâÄôre not behind in the bottom of the 9th, but weâÄôre not ahead either.âÄù