I think Nick Dalesandro has the brightest future of any Big Ten catcher since Kevin Plawecki. The Purdue backstop can catch, throw, run, and I believe he has more pop than his home run output would suggest. Watching Dalesandro on Saturday, I wondered how good Illinois would be with him behind the plate. For those unaware, Dalesandro’s father, Mark, was the 1990 Big Ten Player of the Year at Illinois.
Mark played 79 games in the big leagues, after being drafted in the 18th round of the 1990 MLB Draft. Nick will surely be drafted higher, with it yet to be seen if he will eclipse his dad’s big league service time. Surely a topic of discussion at some point in the Dalesandro household, it could be fun to debate who was the better player in college. Unfortunately, 28 years will separate the end of the two collegiate careers, leaving a void in impartial opinions.
But wait, there isn’t just one person who has seen the two Dalesandros. In fact, he would has also seen the father-son tandem of Darrin and Casey Fletcher of Illinois, and even Cal and C.J. Eldred at Iowa.
That’s Minnesota head coach John Anderson.
Anderson was named the head coach at his alma mater in the fall of 1981. As evident by coaching against the sons of players he previously faced in competition a generation ago, Anderson has seen a bit of baseball. In his time in Minneapolis, the conference has added four schools, saw one drop baseball. He’s witnessed an infusion of cash into the sport which has ballooned salaries, enhanced facilities, and brought college baseball closer to the money-generating sports of college basketball and football. In short, there’s been a bit of change in college baseball since Anderson’s first.
But what hasn’t changed is Minnesota being conference champions. In his 37th season, Minnesota’s two wins at Rutgers netted the program its 11th Big Ten title under Anderson, a tally which started in his first season in 1982.
Between this past weekend and the upcoming weekend, the college baseball world will celebrate the end of the decorated and storied careers of Mike Gillespie, Wayne Graham, and Jim Morris. Each of those three coaches have left a lasting impression on college baseball, respectively transforming Miami, Rice, and UC Irvine into blueblood programs. May has also seen Florida State’s Mike Martin pass the late and legendary head coach Augie Garrido as the winningest coach in college baseball history. With the celebrations, grand sendoffs, and reflections, it’s been great to hear the stories of college baseball’s leading coaches, how they have been a vital part in the growth of the sport, and how many are indebted to their service.
Not to take away from the very deserved rounds of celebration, but I think we would do well to take a step back and do a better good of appreciating sustained success before it unfortunately wanes. While Gillespie, Graham, and Morris have reach some of college baseball’s highest highs, their respective programs are not as strong in the current as the past, and the thank yous are a bit bittersweet, yearning for once was that is so far away.
Fortunately for Anderson and Minnesota, the current is as bright as the past, if not brighter, with the program is knocking on the door of a top 10 ranking. There isn’t a decline in sight.
Minnesota’s forthcoming, Big Ten-leading, 32nd NCAA Tournament appearance, 19th under Anderson, should bring the program its first regional at home in the tournament’s since 2000. In additional to bringing NCAA Tournament play back to a Big Ten campus for the first time since 2015, the Gophers have claimed two of the last three Big Ten championships, and are one 2017 win away from having a three-peat. The Big Ten, by the way, is a conference that has sent 13 teams to the NCAA Tournament over the prior three seasons.
The Big Ten in 2018 isn’t the Big Ten of 1988, or even 2008, when Minnesota, Ohio State, Michigan, and Illinois passed around the conference championship. The Big Ten is deeper than ever, the stakes are higher than ever, and yet Minnesota is right there.
It would be silly, and it was not a call worth attempting to make, to try to have Anderson pat himself on the back, raving about the job he’s and his staff has done over the last three years. That’s not who he is. There would be deflection, humility, and words expressed of how his players and staffs have allowed his teams to enjoy the success they have. And, for him, his staff, and players, there is no time to reflect on what’s been accomplished when there is still work to be done; this Minnesota team is not content with just a conference championship, they want to reach the College World Series for the first time since 1977, a Minnesota team Anderson was on.
But, as his win-loss record now stands at 1,281-858-3, as a third hand is needed to display all of the conference championship rings, as Big Ten foes, father and son alike, look up at Minnesota in the standings, it is just, fair, and necessary for those outside of the Minnesota program to congratulate, appreciate, and draw attention to what Anderson, the presumptive seven-time Big Ten Coach of the Year has done.
As Gillespie, Graham, and Morris leave the game, there aren’t many left around like Anderson, let’s appreciate that before its too late and make sure his name is be echoed right alongside those legends of the sport.