So I'm back to write about Illini baseball again. I solemnly promise that this will be a regular feature of this board from here on out. (Rest assured, Robert wouldn't have wanted me anywhere near a publish button over the last year with my feelings about the state of my beloved Illini basketball program).
A couple of things I wanted to touch on here early in the season: recruiting and facilities. You can see last week's post about recruiting here
NCAA baseball is in the midst of an arms race…pardon the pun. On-campus facilities are being built that are nothing short of mind-blowing. In many cases, they are better than minor-league fields.
Here's just a couple of examples, one from the big time and then a mid-major. Both are 'Southern" schools.
Are you kidding me Mississippi State? A two-tiered grandstand in left field??? That's some high-rolling in Starkvegas. Now, I'll grant that Mississippi State can do that because it has a long and colorful history as a baseball power. But still…two freaking tiers??? FYI, you haven't lived til you've been to an SEC game at MSU or Ole Miss or LSU. Deeply committed fanbases…as in some of them are so crazed they are candidates for the asylum.
As for Liberty, I just love because they incorporated the Flames nickname throughout the stadium, particularly the fire pits with the lawn chairs along the concourse. So cool. Plus Liberty televises all its games on ESPN 3. (I'll rant about the disservice the Big Ten Network does to non-revenue sports later).
Here's a look at some of the other B1G Conference facilities:
And here's what the other in-state D1s have to work with.
Chicago's Other B1G Team
As Illinois Field approaches it's 30th anniversary, it is largely unchanged from its opening look. Yes they turfed it in 2008 (with a private gift). And yes they upgraded the clubhouse (with a private gift). But the seating bowl and open-air press box remain largely unchanged. The video board added during the 2015 season is stellar, but that's dime-a-dozen in the SEC and much of the B1G 10 for that matter.
So I was particularly disappointed to see that Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman has his eye on more upgrades to Memorial Stadium. And I know this excites Robert and the football die-hards, but it disappoints me. And I'm sure it disappoints Dan Hartleb and the baseball staff. We're going to drop more money into the stadium eight years after dropping $121 million???
After all, the other successful non-revenue men's sports have been taken care of. Golf has Stone Creek and the indoor/outdoor practice facility. Tennis got completely redone to host the NCAA championships. Now, I'll grant that both of those teams have been very successful on the national level. Dan Hartleb's teams are still a bit below that, but still….
So what would I like to see done with Illinois Field?
- Permanent chairback seating in the bowl -- Illinois and Northern Illinois are the only two state schools that sponsor D1 baseball that don't have permanent chairback seating in the bowl. That has to be rectified. And don't even get me started on Chicago's OTHER B1G team.
- An elevated press box set behind the concourse so that people can walk and watch. If you go to the concession stand or restroom now, you're behind the press box for much of the trip. Open it up!
- Covered hitting area and bullpens -- Yes the Illini have access to the Irwin indoor football facility and that's quite nice. But it's also nice to still be able to work outside even when it's raining and turfed and covered batting cages and bullpen mounds make that possible. The grassy area down the third-base line would be perfect for this and it could be linked directly to the clubhouse.
- An actual entrance plaza -- something immortalizing Illini alums like Lou Boudreau. I'm envisioning something pillars similar to Memorial Stadium, but I'm no architect. Maybe pillars and set the press box above it, kind of like Chicago's Other B1G team.
- A real parking lot -- I get it, we're an agricultural school. And it makes for great football Saturday's parking on the grass and grilling out and playing cornhole and washers. But you can't have a turf field that allows you to play through the rain but nobody can park near the field or get to the field without going through a swamp.
I'm sure I could come up with a few more. But in the meantime, let's take care of a program that has made a habit of recruiting outstanding young men who have virtually no off-the-field problems or academic problems. And done all that while continuing to make the NCAA tournament on a regular basis and, once in the tournament, knocking off traditional powerhouses like Georgia Tech and Stanford and Vanderbilt to name a few.
The Weekend Ahead: The Illini head to Boca Raton, Fla. this weekend to take on Florida Atlantic.
The Illini posted a 1-2 record for the second consecutive weekend. The lone victory came over the host Islanders of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The heartbreaker deal came on Sunday when the Illini used three-run homers from Michael Massey and Pat McInerney to build a 6-4 lead only to see the hated Tigers of Mizzou rally for a 7-6 win.
McInerney earned all-tournament honors along with Soph. C David Craan and Fr. SS Ben Troike.
Offensively, the Illini are well ahead of last year's pace. They are hitting .277 as a team with six players in the lineup hitting better than .300. Leading the way is Soph. OF Jack Yalowitz, who is currently hitting .393 and he's followed closely behind by Troike, who's hitting at a .385 clip. The most welcome jump belongs to Craan, who's nearly 200 points above his freshman average at .350.
The problem is something the Illini haven't dealt with in years - pitching. Opponents are hitting .305 off Illini hurlers and are also drawing more than six walks per game. Men on base usually leads to earned runs and the Illini hurlers have a 6.82 ERA.
In an effort to shake things up, Dan Hartleb and Drew Dickinson have switched things up. Luke Shilling (1-0, 5.40) will once against start the Friday night game. He'll be followed by Ty Weber (0-0, 5.19) and the newcomer to the rotation, Ryan Thompson (0-0, 8.31).
The trip to Boca is a traditional series. The host Owls (4-1-1) are coming off a true split against another one of our least favorite squads, the Hoosiers of Indiana. The two squads split the Friday-Saturday matchups and then tied on Sunday when they couldn't break a tie after 11 innings and had to stop thanks to the NCAA's travel curfew.