Baseball hopes to get hot at Hormel Classic this weekend

by Brian Stensaas

Through the past 15 years, Major League Baseball’s J.T. Snow, Mike Mussina and Jeff Conine have graced the Metrodome field as college athletes in the Minnesota spring tournament.
Now in its sixth year as the Hormel Foods Baseball Classic, four teams will compete this weekend with players who could be added to the list of major leaguers to compete in the Classic.
For Minnesota, the weekend will be a chance to rebound after last weekend’s three-game sweep at the hands of McNeese State.
Gophers coach John Anderson was quick to cite two factors in the losses.
“The outdoor elements we had last weekend, we are not used to,” he said. “That gave us a challenge, but our offensive effort wasn’t there. I felt we took a step backwards.”
On paper, it would seem the road gets smoother for Minnesota in the first game of the Classic. The Gophers take on Georgia tonight — the Bulldogs are under first-year coach Ron Polk.
Though Georgia has started the 2000 campaign undefeated at 7-0, all of its games have been at home.
Maybe the new coach will bring new things for the Bulldogs.
“Georgia, with a new coach, has renewed enthusiasm,” Anderson said. “We’re playing teams with winning programs. These teams know how to win.”
Notre Dame comes into the Dome off of a first-place Big East finish in 1999 and faces Minnesota on Saturday. The tournament will wrap up Sunday with the Gophers taking on No. 24 Wake Forest, which was second last season in the ACC.
Of the four teams, only Minnesota has the luxury of spending its spring practicing in a domed stadium, something that could be to the Gophers’ advantage this weekend.
“We’ll have to see how these teams play on AstroTurf in the Dome,” Anderson said. “Picking the balls out from the ceiling, and hopefully the crowd will help us too.”
After last year’s Classic, the Gophers went on a tear, winning 18 of their next 19 games. But this is a different year. Most of those 19 games were in the friendly confines of the Metrodome against less-than-high-quality teams.
And what can happen this year is way up in the air.
“There are no easy pickings in this tournament,” Anderson said. “We have the home-field advantage, but pitching and defense will be a big factor. It’s wide open for anyone to win this thing.”

Brian Stensaas welcomes comments at [email protected]