Patrick Reusse
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NAPLES, FLA. – The Twins and the Gophers baseball program have had a close relationship almost from the moment it was announced on Oct. 26, 1960, that the original Washington Senators would be moving to an erector set of a stadium in Bloomington, Minn.

Establishing a quick connection with the Gophers was wise public relations, since four months earlier — on June 20 — coach Dick Siebert's club had won its second (of three) College World Series with a 2-1, 10-inning victory over Southern California in Omaha.

On Friday, Gophers coach John Anderson traced that bond to Siebert having been a big-leaguer, playing in 1,035 games from 1932 through 1945 as a first baseman and outfielder.

"Calvin Griffith and his people knew Dick; they liked him, and they spent quite a bit of time together," Anderson said. "Dick talked about watching games with Calvin and George Brophy, and arguing about strategies, about plays in the game."

Griffith was the owner, of course. Brophy was the executive hired by the Twins from the Minneapolis Millers, the Class AAA team that was being relocated.

All these decades later, early Friday morning at the Strand Golf Club, that Twins-Gophers association was being reinforced before the Naples club called Minnesota Breakfast. The retirees and seasonal visitors gather for 12 Fridays from mid-January to the end of March, with various guests.

Many are political, although Craig Leipold and Bill Guerin from the Wild were here last month, and the Twins generally gain a spot on the schedule.

This time, it was tied to the Gophers being 25 miles north in Fort Myers, to play a Friday night ballgame with the Twins.

This is Anderson's 43rd and final season as coach for the Gophers. Friday's group of breakfasters was said to number 250.

Twins President Dave St. Peter talked briefly and then introduced a three-person panel.

Glen Perkins, Gophers star pitcher (2003-04), and Paul Molitor, quite probably the Gophers' greatest hitter (1975-77) received warm applause.

And then Anderson, winner of 1,367 college games, was introduced. The audience of mostly us senior citizens rose from chairs (which can take a few seconds) and gave Anderson a standing ovation.

It was appreciated — you could see that in Anderson's slightly reddened eyes. He's turning 69 in May, and the past three seasons have been poor, and he's leaving, but I don't think it's driven by a loss of ardor for this job.

He relishes Gophers baseball. Always has, dating to 1973, when he came down from the Iron Range with pitching aspirations, which didn't work out.

Yet, Siebert was so impressed with Anderson's dedication to the game and to the team, he anointed him student manager to keep him around.

And, as Molitor reminded Friday's crowd, when the last Minnesota team to reach the College World Series, the 1977 Gophers, voted for a team MVP, the winner was Anderson, the student manager.

Siebert died in December 1978, and assistant George Thomas became the head coach and named Anderson as an assistant.

"George had another job, and he was told to keep it, and suddenly, being the Gophers baseball coach was a part-time job," Anderson said. "Three years later, George told [athletic director] Paul Giel that he had to be paid enough for it to be full time."

Giel declined and hired Anderson — $15,000 a year to coach the Gophers, and working full time in the office for Emery Air Freight.

"Coaching the Gophers was a part-time job for four years through 1985, and then Emery said, 'This isn't going to work,' " Anderson said.

Minnesota bumped him to $25,000, and that was a full-time salary.

From that came repeated 30-win seasons, and hands full of Big Ten regular-season and playoff titles, but Anderson's greatest accomplishment was raising the funds to build the new Siebert Field, the boutique ballpark squeezed in next to the railroad tracks in a corner of the campus.

On Friday, he thanked the Pohlad family, owners of the Twins, for the sizable donation ($2.2 million) that started the campaign for the new field.

Ex-Gophers, such as Molitor, and friends going back to the Iron Range, came up strong. Then, with the second phase, it was Perkins making the donation that allowed the building of the hitting and workout facility above the first-base line.

"We needed that for our players, and Glen's donation made it happen," Anderson said.

Friday, he reminded the audience of Molitor's greatness ("First time I saw him hit, I thought, 'I need another sport' ") and that Perkins was a very late recruit and wound up as a 19-0 pitcher in two seasons as a Friday night starter for the Gophers.

"To be the Friday night guy in the Big Ten and be 19-0, that doesn't happen," Anderson said.

Neither does winning for the lion's share of 43 seasons and getting the ballpark built to save the sport from the budget gluttons at the major state university, but the student manager from Nashwauk-Keewatin did both.

Stand and applaud.