U baseball has tools for successful ’99

Sarah Mitchell

Finishing with a 45-15 record, the 1998 Gophers baseball team became the winningest team in the school’s history.
A couple of players also set individual records this year. Robb Quinlan broke the single-season home run record (24) and left fielder Mark Groebner finished with a team-record 80 RBIs.
Sophomore pitcher Ben Birk said the team always had the talent, but lacked experience. Inexperience won’t be a barrier to the team’s success next year, as the team is losing only two seniors. Birk said departing players Jason Dobis and Groebner will be missed next year for their veteran leadership, but he said the 1999 team has a chance to break some more records.
“I think we will be great next season,” Birk said.
Part of the team’s success next year not only depends upon who leaves after the June 2 draft, but on future recruitment and development of younger players.
“Michael Kobow has actually shown the ability to get people out at this level,” Birk said of the pitcher, one of Minnesota’s seven redshirts this year.
Birk said the emergence of Kobow and the possible return of Adam Williams — a southpaw who did not pitch this year for the Gophers due to eligibility reasons but has been throwing at the Bierman Athletic Building — should make the bullpen deeper.
A 7-0 start to the 1998 season, including three wins against Nebraska, one against Washington and three against San Diego State, increased the young team’s confidence. Although Birk would not predict whether the 1999 team would break this year’s win record, he said starting the season strong will be key.
“Hopefully we can get the season started off correctly,” Birk said.
Birk hitting the road
Unlike the rest of his teammates, Birk has not stored his suitcase away until the start of the 1999 season. The southpaw is dealing with the stress of finals this week so he can leave the University on Sunday and head to Tucson, Ariz.
The sophomore received an invitation in early May to try out for the 1998 USA Baseball National Team. Birk, the only player from the Big Ten selected to try out, will join 34 other players from various colleges on Monday.
Birk’s summer home could be Hi Corbett Field, the home of USA Baseball and the spring training home of the Colorado Rockies, but if the Gophers’ number one hurler fails to make the cut, he will return to Rochester, Minn., this summer to play for the Honkers of the Northwoods League.

Quinlan, Brosseau honored
Quinlan racked up one more honor before Minnesota’s baseball season came to an end with a 19-1 loss against Stanford in the West region.
The junior added to his already successful season — two Big Ten Player of the Week selections and recognition as National Player of the Week by Collegiate Baseball magazine — by being named as a Louisville Slugger third-team All-American on Thursday.
Quinlan was not the only Gophers player to be recognized for his outstanding play. Shortstop Rick Brosseau was an honorable mention on the freshman team.
The freshman played in 55 of 58 games this season, and 39 of those were starts.

Long Beach State centerfielder Terrmel Sledge was selected as the West Region’s Most Outstanding Player. But considering the reaction of onlookers every time the junior’s name was announced, Sledge could have also been awarded MON — Most Outstanding Name.
His name was repeated by nearly everyone in attendance, and fans had plenty of chances to hear it called.
In Sunday’s championship game against Alabama, Sledge hammered a grand slam off of Crimson Tide pitcher Jarrod Kingrey, giving the 49ers some insurance runs.
“I knew it had a chance,” Sledge said. “Thankfully, the baseball gods took over and helped it out.”
Facing a Crimson Tide offensive threat in the bottom of the ninth — bases loaded, one out, and a two-run lead — Long Beach State relievers were able to preserve the 5-3 score, sending the 49ers to Omaha, Neb., this weekend for the College World Series.
After the game, Alabama head coach Jim Wells took responsibility for the fact that last year’s NCAA runner up would be absent from the College World Series this year.
“I felt Jarrod pitched a great game,” coach said. “The 1-0 pitch to Sledge, I feel responsible for that. It was a 1-0 fastball.”
Third-seeded Long Beach State was able to bounce back from its first round loss to fourth-seeded North Carolina State, beating sixth-seeded Loyola Marymount on Friday, top-seeded Stanford on Saturday and North Carolina State on Sunday.