Minnesota baseball receives $2 million donation for new ballpark

By John Hageman

If there’s one thing U. Minnesota head baseball coach John Anderson learned from the success of the Gophers’ new football home, TCF Bank Stadium last fall, it was, “If you build it, they will come.”

After years of starts and stalls, the baseball program is now closer than ever to bringing more fans back to a new ballpark on campus, with the announcement of the first major donation last week.

Standing in the infield of the outdated Seibert Field last Tuesday, Anderson and Athletics Director Joel Maturi announced that the Pohlad Family Foundation will donate $2 million toward a new ballpark for the baseball team, one they hope to begin construction on next spring .

But before they can break ground on the new stadium, they will need to raise another $4 million on top of the $3.5 million they have already raised. The funds will be privately raised, with the athletic department donating $1 million from its general operating fund along with $500,000 from various donors.

Now that the first major donor has come forward, more donations will follow, Anderson said.

“I believe this is going to inspire others to join the campaign and … to bring this new facility to reality,” he said. “We’ve had some other quiet conversations with others [and] we think there are some other people willing to step up.”

Once they raise the necessary $7.5 million, they will begin construction on the field and a 3,000-seat grandstand , with approximately $7.5 million more needed for amenities like indoor batting cages, locker rooms and a plaza on the south side of the field.

The new park will be built on the same location that the 39-year-old Siebert Field currently stands, with the home plate pushed back to where the pitching mound now sits to allow for bigger dimensions in the outfield.

“This was built for wood bats,” Anderson said. “You get aluminum bats out here with some wind blowing out, it’s like a little league park.”

The proposed plan also calls for a sunken field featuring artificial turf that will require less maintenance in the winter months.

Maturi said that one of the major reasons the baseball team needs a new ballpark is because it doesn’t stack up to other facilities around the country.

“I think this is the one facility that we have out of all athletic facilities that is under par in the Big Ten,” Maturi said. “And really, I don’t know if we have a program that is more successful … than baseball.”

The baseball team is currently first in the Big Ten and is playing all of its home games this season at the Metrodome, where attendance has been poor. Just 409 fans attended Minnesota’s 8-1 win over Penn State on Sunday .

But like the football team’s move back to campus last fall, Anderson said he hopes the move will create a buzz around the program.

“I heard many people say, ‘Now that we got (TCF Bank Stadium), we have to get your baseball stadium going,’” Anderson said. “People found out how much fun it was to come back to campus in a beautiful new facility and enjoy athletics in a 21st century facility.”

Besides the fan experience Anderson hopes to create, he also hopes the new park will help the program recruit talent and not lose in-state players to national recruiting.

“I’ve always felt that you win with good people,” Anderson said. “But I think you need a facility that represents the 21st century and that’s what we’re after if we want to keep the best Minnesota kids here.”

Maturi set a time frame for the opening of the ballpark for the start of the season in 2012, although he admitted that it’s an ambitious goal. For that goal to become reality, another $4 million must be raised so construction can begin next spring.

But for Maturi and Anderson, it will be worth the wait.

“We’ve been fortunate in this community to build some wonderful facilities in the last couple of years,” Maturi said, “but nobody has waited longer than John Anderson and the faithful of the Minnesota baseball program.”

Read more here: http://www.mndaily.com/2010/05/19/pohlads-give-2-million-new-ballpark
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