AP Images
Workers repair the Metrodome roof.

Amy Farnum, NCAA.com

With snow, ice and freezing temperatures always constant fixtures during the long winters of the Upper Midwest, there’s really only one thing a college baseball team can do while it waits for spring to arrive – head indoors. Unfortunately, this year, that will be much more difficult with the temporary closing of the Metrodome after the roof was damaged during a snowstorm on Dec. 12.

The closing has not just affected the University of Minnesota, which uses the Metrodome as its’ home field, but also several Division II and III schools throughout the region, canceling and rescheduling upwards of 300 games in February and March.

St. Cloud State, ranked No. 40 in the Collegiate Baseball Division II Preseason Poll, is one of the many small college teams that uses the Dome in order to jump start its season.

“It’s a huge benefit to have the Metrodome – we’ve played over 50 games there over the last three years,” St. Cloud State head coach Pat Dolan said. “We don’t play outside in Minnesota until the end of March at the earliest, but we’ve opened up on Super Bowl weekend the last four years.”

The Saints had to find alternate dates and venues for 14 games that were to be played in the Dome, just more than an hour from campus. Their season opener was pushed back a week, and although they will play at Arkansas Tech on Feb. 12-13, it will be another month before the Saints get to hit the field again. SCSU won’t get to play an actual home game until April 9 at Joe Faber Field in St. Cloud.

“We’re now traveling to Arkansas and Indiana and Nebraska and South Dakota,” Dolan said. “It’s going to affect our budget. Instead of getting home at eight or nine at night after a game, we’ll be getting home at four in the morning. You put it all together, it’s a tough deal.”

While the University of Minnesota has been able to reschedule the bulk of their home games at opponents’ fields, for smaller schools like St. Cloud State, budgetary constraints have made shuffling games around a bit more challenging.

“Everyone has been unbelievably helpful,” Dolan said. “Arkansas Tech is even helping out with some expenses – just the bus ride down there is going to cost $7,000, not to mention hotel rooms and meals. In Division II, it’s not like we can just write a check and go do it, which makes it a little more difficult.”

For Hamline University’s baseball team, the Dome closing has pushed back their season-opener from Feb. 22 to March 19 – the Pipers’ spring break trip. Hamline, a Division III school located in St. Paul, was supposed to play 15 games in the Metrodome.

“It’s really condensed our season,” Hamline head coach Jason Verdugo said. “We’ve added some additional games in Arizona during spring break, and fortunately we have so many schools in the Twin Cities that we can travel to play some teams that are close by. We’ll also play non-conference games against teams within our conference.”

The Metrodome allows teams in the region to space out their seasons, but the roof collapse will definitely test hundreds of student-athletes this year.

“Some teams are going to have to play 12 games in seven days on their spring trips – it’s just unrealistic,” Verdugo said. “It’s not only unrealistic for the pitchers, but you’re talking about kids who are making a significant commitment as NCAA athletes, and trying to condense a ton of games into a short period of time is not fair to them.”

Verdugo is talking with coaches in the region about the possibility of being forced to use another venue in future years if the facility cannot be repaired.

“We’ve tried to brainstorm a little bit in the event that this goes further than just this season,” Verdugo said. “Then what are we going to do? We’re trying to look ahead and plan ahead and do some forecasting to put ourselves in a good situation.”

As the snow continues to fall outside, Verdugo’s main priority is keeping his players sane as they continue to practice indoors day after day.

“When we practice inside, and know we’re going to have a game, it makes practicing inside much easier,” Verdugo said. “We look forward to playing in the Dome. It kind of reenergizes you – you don’t mind practicing as much.”

Need to Know
• Nova Southeastern senior right-hander Isaac Hicks picked up right where he left off last season, tossing seven shutout innings en route to a 2-1 win against Northwood to open the season on Feb. 1. After compiling a 9-0 record in 2010, the native of Fort Myers, Fla., extended his winning streak to 10. He struck out seven batters and allowed just one hit in the outing.

• Mount Olive junior Michael Knox is Division II’s top returning home run hitter and the only player back that blasted 20 or more round-trippers last season. Knox, who hit a school-record 24 homers, was one of 11 players in 2010 that recorded 20 or more homers. Nine were seniors, and the lone junior of the group headed off to professional baseball, leaving Knox as nation’s top power-hitter. Knox, who also ranked second in the nation last year with 94 RBI, was selected to the Baseball America Preseason All-America Team. Knox and the Trojans will open the 2011 season at Lenior-Rhyne on Feb. 5.

• St. Cloud State sophomore Jordan Smith garnered Baseball America Division II Preseason Player of the Year honors after putting together an impressive rookie season in which he earned All-America accolades. Smith is the top returning Division II hitter after batting .457 in 2010. The third baseman/outfielder also set team records with 96 hits, 15 home runs, 78 RBI and 174 total bases last season. The Huskies are ranked No. 40 in the Collegiate Baseball Division II Preseason Poll, and travel to Arkansas Tech on Feb. 12 to open the 2011 season.

Quick Hits
• Lander University freshman leftfielder Patrick Grady made a stellar first impression as he belted a seventh-inning grand slam in his first collegiate start as he helped the Bearcats cruise to a 14-1 opening day victory against Coker College on Feb. 1.

• The NCAA announced the final regional host of the 2011 NCAA Division III Baseball Championship, selecting Rhodes College to host the South Regional for the first time. The regional will be held at USA Stadium in Millington, Tenn., which was the official training site for the U.S. Olympic Baseball Team from 1986-1996.

• The University of Southern Indiana baseball team visited the Indiana General Assembly on Jan. 31 as the Screaming Eagles were recognized with congratulatory resolutions for winning the 2010 NCAA Division II National Championship.

• Forty-five players were named to the initial watch list for the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year Award, given annually to the top reliever in Division I baseball. Portland’s Chris Dennis, one of last season’s finalists, tops the list of nominees. Dennis posted 14 saves along with a 5-1 record, 1.88 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 43 innings in 2010.