Siebert Field hasn’t seen much action lately. After Tuesday, it won’t see any at all.
The 41-year-old baseball stadium has steadily deteriorated over the last several years to the point where University officials deemed it nearly unplayable.
But intertwined in its deficiencies is a mystique unique to Siebert Field. Minnesota will experience that magic for the last time Tuesday night. The Gophers will host Division III opponent St. Thomas for what the athletics department is calling the “Final Pitch” at Siebert Field.
Dozens of alumni are expected to attend an emotional evening for Gophers fans and players alike.
“There was a culture out there [at Siebert] — someway, somehow, we were going to find a way to win,” head coach John Anderson said. “I think guys had a lot of confidence playing out there, always thought something good was going to happen to them.”
And most of the time, something good did happen.
Since 1971, the Gophers have a .765 winning percentage (584-179-2) at Siebert Field, which was renamed after former Minnesota head coach Dick Siebert in 1979.
Only twice did the Gophers finish with a losing home record since the ballpark opened, and in 1977, Minnesota was 26-0 at home.
Since 2005, the baseball team has played most of its home games at the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis, where it has remained competitive in the Big Ten.
The Dome has served as a reliable facility for the Gophers to practice and play games, but it lacks a fan-friendly atmosphere. The 55,000-seat stadium regularly draws fewer than 500 fans for Big Ten games.
Siebert Field, which originally seated 2,200, drew upwards of 1,500 fans last decade and consistently averaged more fans than the Metrodome.
“It certainly creates a more intimate feel than you have at the Metrodome,” said J.T. Bruett, the University’s director of athletic compliance. “You have people on top of you; it’s more of a family-oriented place.”
Assistant head coach Rob Fornasiere said playing for the Gophers at Siebert Field was “the epitome of the amateur player.”
“One of the things I noticed is how much pride there was in the facility,” he said.
Minnesota is hoping that pride will translate to the new Siebert Field. Groundbreaking for a new facility is slated to begin in June at the location of the old site with the goal of playing in 2013.
For nearly two decades, Anderson lobbied for a new stadium to replace the old Siebert Field, which is run down and decrepit.
The bleachers, press box and dugouts are all inadequate, and the uneven playing surface affects the flight of routine ground balls.
Fornasiere said he’s excited about Tuesday’s finale because it signifies a new era of Gophers baseball.
“It’s the final game, but we’re going to be back out there with a new facility,” he said. “So we’re excited about the fact that it’s a new beginning.”
The new complex will bring Minnesota baseball back on campus. Bruett, who played baseball for the Gophers from 1986-88, said the best thing about Siebert Field is its on-campus location.
St. Thomas will be looking to play the role of spoiler in Tuesday’s finale. The Tommies (28-4) are no pushover — they have been steamrolling opponents all year and are ranked second nationally in Division III.
St. Thomas beat the Gophers 8-3 last season at Siebert Field.
Anderson said he hopes the significance of Tuesday night doesn’t deter his team’s focus.
“It’s going to be emotional,” Anderson said. “We’re playing a tough opponent. Hopefully we can harness some of that and use it positively instead of letting it get in the way.”
Tuesday will be the only time several Minnesota freshmen will play a game at Siebert Field, and senior third baseman Kyle Geason said it will be a good experience for them.
“It will be a lot of fun just to see the alumni coming back and showing so much support for Siebert and the program,” Geason said. “I think it’ll be really good for some of the younger guys that haven’t seen that.
“It’ll be fun to play there, but it’ll definitely be a little bittersweet.”