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U's magical baseball era ends Tuesday with last game at Siebert Field

Siebert Field
gophersports.com
The new Siebert Field will easily exceed its predecessor in luxury, but matching the memories will be difficult.

The University of Minnesota’s Bierman Field, as it was originally known, debuted a few days later than it was supposed to, a victim of the state’s late spring.

Now known as Siebert Field, it was billed as one of the nation’s finest college baseball facilities when it finally did open in 1971, featuring accommodations for 2,000 fans along with “a modern press box, an electronic scoreboard and an automatic irrigation system which controls the amount of water administered to the playing field.”

One last game will be played there, amid the echoes of its legends, as Minnesota hosts St. Thomas in a final hurrah at 6:35 p.m. today.

Next month, plans call for construction to begin on a new $7.5 million-plus ballpark to rise in its place, one that will usher the Gophers into new era of on-campus baseball nest year. The new Siebert Field will easily exceed its predecessor in luxury, but matching the memories will be difficult.

Aesthetically, the old Siebert Field was a product of the times.

A squat, off-white concrete citadel from the outside, its bunker-like build gave the ballpark a stark, blast-proof look. Warmer inside, especially after several coats of dark green paint and the addition of a bold G-O-L-D-E-N G-O-P-H-E-R-S inscription, the place radiated a strong 1970s vibe. Present-day visitors can still feel its disco-era belle epoch.

“It was Brutalism, which was kind of the fad back in the late 1960s and early 1970s,” said Logan Gerken, a former Gopher outfielder and an architect at Populous, which specializes in designing sports facilities and convention centers.

“Brutalism never was pretty, and I don’t know if it ever will be, but Siebert does have some interesting lines. Somebody obviously put some thought into how the steel structure springs up from the ground, takes that turn and becomes a canopy," he said. “There’s really nothing straight on it. Everything is canted at angles, which creates a dynamic approach no matter where you view it from.”

 It all started with Winny

 The first Gopher to climb Bierman Field’s mound was Dave Winfield, who twirled a gem against Creighton University on April 23. The 2-1 triumph was his fifth win against two losses, lowering his earned-run average to 0.90. Through 40 innings, the sophomore from St. Paul had already amassed 47 strikeouts en route to great stardom and, much later, a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Bierman Field wasn’t officially dedicated until a week later when Minnesota hosted Ohio State in the Big Ten home opener. Frank McCormick, Minnesota’s former athletic director and baseball coach, traveled from his home in California to throw the ceremonial first pitch. The Gophers won both games of a dedication-day double-header, establishing the home-field advantage that became a hallmark.

Never was that advantage more in force than in 1977.

Seven future Major League Baseball draft picks suited up for Minnesota that season — including the incomparable Paul Molitor — and the Gophers proved unbeatable at home, winning 26 times without a defeat.

There had never been finer days at Bierman Field, tucked between campus and a web of railroad tracks, then when it hosted the 1977 NCAA Mideast Regional. Fans spilled over the concrete grandstand, lining the field with folding chairs and roaring as Minnesota cruised to a 7-0 win over Florida in the opener. Two more wins would follow, enough to qualify for the Gophers’ fifth College World Series under Dick Siebert’s legendary watch.

Current Minnesota head coach John Anderson, then a Gopher student assistant, will never forget it. “The level of excitement that was created around that regional in 1977, the number of people they put in this place, the energy, the excitement, the noise, the passion that you felt — that’s my favorite memory,” he said. “I get still get chills thinking about it today.”

Minnesota maintained its home-field dominance in years to come, winning at a .765 clip.

Gopher baseball infographic
Inforgraphic by Jayson Hron

“Part of the advantage was that this was the only place you practiced and played, so this was home. There was no other home,” said Anderson. “And so you were able to practice at the same place you played every single day and you created some of that energy and some of that passion by just being here every single day.”

The winning continued at Bierman Field up to and beyond Siebert’s death late in 1978. Almost immediately, the university announced it would rededicate the field in his name, scheduling a ceremony for April 21, 1979, prior to the Gophers’ game against Illinois. True to his winning legacy, the newly named Siebert Field hosted a 10-2 Minnesota victory.

“First and foremost, they wanted to name the field after Dick Siebert while he was still alive, but at that time the University had a rule that if you were still employed, they couldn’t name a building after you,” said Anderson.

“The inspiring thing about that day was the players getting together, getting some paint donated and painting the fence, putting the Big Ten logos out there and really freshening the place up. That tells you the level of appreciation that everyone had for Dick Siebert and what he did here for Gopher Baseball. The athletic department didn’t have the resources to do it, so the players pitched in and did the work to prepare the place.”

An on-campus replacement

Siebert Field served Minnesota dutifully through the early 2000s until crumbling concrete began outpacing repairs. Replacement plans emerged and Minnesota shifted an increasing number of its games to the Metrodome while seeking an on-campus solution.

With Anderson championing a successful fundraising effort, the future of Gopher Baseball now seems secure — and back on campus — in a new facility that will be among the Big Ten’s best once again.

“Dick always believed that if you’re going to have a successful program, you need a quality facility where you can practice, play and develop players,” said Anderson. “I think he’d be very proud that we’re going to build the kind of facility that will continue building on his legacy. He’d be proud that we’re building a facility that will give us a foundation for the same level of success in the 21st Century that he built for us in his time. It’s our job to carry it on.”

Jayson Hron is the founder, researcher and author of the blog Historically Inclined, which focuses primarily on sport history.

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