Weather takes its toll on U players

Tim Klobuchar

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — This is what two Gophers baseball players, enduring their fourth postponed or canceled game in the last week, were reduced to: Eric Welter and Ryan Beers, sitting in a hallway inside their hotel on Saturday afternoon, taking turns with a stopwatch, each pressing the start/stop button lightning-quick to see who could record the lowest elapsed time.
The Gophers were supposed to be busy playing baseball that afternoon against Penn State.
Instead, thanks to the widespread hideous spring weather, Minnesota players were quickly exhausting all possibilities of anything interesting to do. Usually this situation pops up just once or twice a season, so it can be laughed off and chalked up to the uncertainty of playing spring baseball in the Midwest.
But this is the second straight week the Gophers have had at least one of their Big Ten games called off because of weather. Last weekend, rain, snow and cold forced the cancellation of two Minnesota-Michigan games at Siebert Field. Big Ten games cannot be made up past the weekend for which they were scheduled. Also, a tune-up midweek game at Iowa State was postponed until Tuesday. Heavy snowfall in Iowa this weekend puts that game in danger as well.
“You just have to roll with it,” senior Phil McDermott said. “There’s nothing I can do about it.”
Gophers coach John Anderson wants to stay positive, but has a harder time doing it. This is his 16th season as coach at Minnesota, and his experience tells him that his players could very well be hurt by the weather that has forced the Gophers to stop and start as quickly as the stopwatch Welter and Beers were fiddling with.
“Baseball is a game of routines,” Anderson said. “There’s no routine when you have this unknown all the time. It’s different if we could make those games up two months down the line.”
Not only that, but it hurts the Gophers’ chances of accomplishing their preseason goal of winning the Big Ten regular season title. Through Saturday, Michigan was in first place in the conference with a 10-3 record. Minnesota was second at 5-2 and tied with Ohio State, which was 10-4.
“Each game becomes more important,” Anderson said. “That’s the part that concerns me. Of course you want to win all your games, but an attitude of ‘we have to win’ just makes it worse. And these dynamics get you up for that.”
Aside from all the talk of wins and losses and expectations, Anderson is concerned because the players are being cheated out of what got them into baseball in the first place — the joy of playing the game.
“You practice all year to play your season. That’s your reward,” he said. “And now you don’t get your reward. You work your tail off for nine months with fall practice and weight training and then you don’t get to play. I just hope the disappointment doesn’t turn into frustration.”