Patrick Reusse
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There was evidence displayed Saturday that the University of Minnesota athletic department had realized for some time the need to honor baseball coach John Anderson on the final home weekend of his 43-season career, although it took until midweek to announce that his famous No. 14 would be retired.

The evidence of planning was a painted replica of Anderson in uniform and "14″ that was uncovered on the left-field fence. He joined players Paul Giel (34), Dave Winfield (31), Paul Molitor (11) and the Gophers' prior coaching legend, Dick Siebert (24).

There are also retired numbers for David Chelesnik (26), a beloved Gopher who was taken by cancer in 1984, and a longtime volunteer assistant, Herb Isakson (5).

No one has provided a grander tribute for a great Gophers baseball man than did Anderson himself, raising virtually all the money to build this new, boutique version of a second ballpark named for Siebert. It opened in 2013 and has continued to be improved.

On Saturday, the Siebert Field gate would open at 12:30 p.m., the retirement ceremony would start at 1:20 p.m. and the second game of this Michigan State series was scheduled for 2 p.m.

Anderson was standing behind the batting cage before noon, and he was in conversation with Denny Neagle, star lefthander from 1987 to '89, and in from Denver, where he's a high school baseball coach.

"John and I were talking about this," Neagle said. "We won our half of the league in 1987 and 1988, and then in '89, we had a real good club and lost a lot of close games. We went into the last series with Illinois and had to win 'em all to make the tournament.

"I pitched the first game of a doubleheader, seven innings, and didn't throw that many pitches. And John said, 'What do you think, Denny? If I can get the umps to shorten the time between games, can you start the second game?'

"The umps did that, and Augie Garrido, coaching Illinois, was over in the dugout, screaming. I lasted four, and we got beat, but you always gave it your best shot for John."

There was a curiosity as to whether Saturday would bring out a large gathering to show appreciation for Anderson and for the Gophers baseball, which is the longest-running athletic program on campus.

And then the day broke blue and warm, and dozens of former players, going back to Jerry Thomas (the pitching star for Siebert's 1956 national champs) and Jim Rantz (the pitching hero for the '60 champs), defeated the horrible parking situation to make it to Siebert, and Gophers loyalists kept on coming, most with their kids or grandkids, and Siebert was sold out for the second straight Saturday.

There were hundreds of families, friends, former players and hardcore fans Anderson would know at a glance who surrounded the bases a few deep for the ceremony.

Athletic director Mark Coyle also slipped inside the circle but was not introduced, passing on this fine opportunity to make a long-term public commitment to the baseball program.

Anderson, his wife, Jan, and daughter, Erin, stood between home plate and the pitching mound. There was a video tribute, the retired number was unveiled, and there was another tribute video with former players.

There was one more addition to the ceremony. In from right field came a gift for Anderson: a specialty golf cart purchased with 100% of the funds coming from baseball's Dugout Club and former players.

Anderson zipped around the outfield grass on the cart for a minute, and all those people retreated to the stands and then soon came the day's most exciting accolade for Anderson:

These Gophers — improved over the three unprecedented rough seasons for his program but still a long shot to reach the six-team Big Ten tournament — suddenly, this 2024 lineup turned into Molitor, Winfield, a Steinbach or two, and a Merila.

Nick Powers, a lefty with a 6-2 record, was Sparty's starter. The Gophers jumped him early and put up five runs in the bottom of the first.

The key blow came when Michigan State decided to walk Drew Berkland to load the bases with one out. That brought up Boston Merila, son of Mark Merila, all-time Gophers leader in career batting average.

First pitch. Drive into the gap to clear the bases.

The assault continued through the glorious spring afternoon:

Weber Neels, home run, two doubles, three RBI; the same totals for Sam Hunt; Josh Fitzgerald, home run, three hits, five RBI.

The final was Gophers 21, Michigan State 3.

This was a heartfelt tribute delivered with a hammer, I'd say, coach Anderson.