With season canceled, Gophers learning lessons that transcend baseball

For head coach John Anderson’s players, the pandemic is a chance to overcome adversity.

Gophers Head Coach John Anderson observes the game and provides feedback to players at U.S Bank Stadium on Saturday, Feb. 29. The Gophers fell to Duke 3-7.

Jasmin Kemp

Gophers Head Coach John Anderson observes the game and provides feedback to players at U.S Bank Stadium on Saturday, Feb. 29. The Gophers fell to Duke 3-7.

Nick Jungheim

For most teams, seasons end on the field, either in defeat or with a championship. It is rare that, midway through the schedule, the remainder of the year’s games are ripped away. But that is the reality thousands of college athletes are facing this spring.

In 2020, head coach John Anderson was prepared to complete his 39th season as head coach of Gophers baseball, having coached over 2,200 games. Even though his players will not suit up for another contest this year, he feels his players can use the time off as an opportunity to gain perspective, both on the game and on life. 

“It’s no fun to be touched in this manner, but I think we can all learn and grow from it,” Anderson said. “As [players] go through life, they are going to face adversity and other challenges. So, it’s an opportunity to work on overcoming adversity and come out of it better and stronger than they were going in.”

It’s no surprise that in these unprecedented times, Anderson has told his players to focus on the bigger picture. Preparing players for success on and off the field has been a hallmark of Anderson’s tenure. As he often says, his coaching philosophy is to prepare young adults for the next 50 years of their lives.

For Anderson, overcoming adversity is a key skill players must work on, like any other part of the game. In a sport where getting a hit three out of 10 times is considered exceptionally successful, Anderson believes there are still lessons to be learned, even if Siebert Field will remain empty for the indefinite future.

“It probably creates a little healthy perspective, in terms of what is important in life,” Anderson said. “We play a game and sometimes on the tough days it feels like our world is going to come to an end. But I think here you can get a much different, healthier perspective that they can take with them through life.”

On March 13, the Gophers were set to depart for a three-game weekend series in Colorado against Air Force. Instead, they received word from the Big Ten that all spring athletic events were canceled, effective immediately. In the following days, players and coaches went their separate ways, returning home for quarantine.

Unable to meet face to face, communication has gone virtual for the team. Nobody is sure when the team will be allowed to return to its facilities, so coaches have used new strategies to help players keep in touch and stay in shape.

“We’ve been able to stay connected,” Anderson said. “Our strength and conditioning coach and our coaching staff have been able to give them ideas of what they can do, based on what they can do.”

Minnesota had high hopes for the season, as they were predicted to be among the conference’s best teams. Fortunately for Anderson, much of this year’s roster will return.

A few players may depart, such as junior Max Meyer who is projected among the top prospects in the MLB draft, and Jordan Kozicky, a redshirt senior, who is undecided on whether he will take advantage of the extra year of eligibility the NCAA has granted spring athletes.

The majority of the roster, however, is poised to return. For them, the quarantine will serve as a setback, but whenever baseball returns, they will too, along with Anderson who will be back on the bench for his 40th season as head coach.