Southern Illinois Athletics officially broke ground on a $4 million renovation of Abe Martin Field with a ceremony at the 49-year-old baseball stadium Tuesday afternoon. Speaking at the event were SIU Chancellor Dr. Rita Cheng, Director of Athletics Mario Moccia, Head Coach Ken Henderson and Saluki infielder/outfielder Donny Duschinsky.
Saluki Hall of Famer and former SIU coach Richard “Itchy” Jones also spoke at the ceremony. The new stadium will honor Jones, the winningest coach in program history when it reopens for the 2014 season as Abe Martin Field at Richard “Itchy” Jones Stadium. The new facility will feature a new seating bowl, press box and dugouts as well as the addition of stadium lights, a synthetic grass playing surface and a security fence around the facility.
In addition, the clubhouse, which was built largely by Jones himself, will be renamed to honor the late Dan Callahan. Callahan led the Salukis for 16 seasons and is the second-winningest coach in program history.
Jones was the final speaker of the afternoon. In 21 years as head coach at SIU, he led the Salukis to a 738-345-5 record along with 10 NCAA Tournament appearances and three College World Series.
“It is an honor for me and my family to have our name on the same stadium as Glenn “Abe” Martin and Dan Callahan,” Jones said. “This is the greatest athletic honor that I’ve ever received. I say that because our players took a great part in it.”
Well over 250 people were in attendance for the ceremony, which took place on the infield, 50 feet from the freshly demolished old stadium bleachers.
“We are celebrating an ongoing transformation of this campus,” Cheng said. “It is an investment in our students, our university and our region. The men and women of athletics deserve first class facilities.”
Moccia has overseen the construction of new football and track facilities as well as renovations to the basketball and volleyball facilities during his tenure at SIU. He thanked all of the donors whose efforts made the project possible. Moccia noted that 225 donors, including over 100 Saluki baseball alumni, have pledged to the project, which is being funded exclusively by private gifts.
“This is a great and historic day for Saluki baseball,” Moccia said. “It will be another piece of the puzzle of our sports park that is almost complete. But it is important to remember that we’re not through fund raising, and we will continue to fund raise as long as we have a need.”
Henderson spoke of the tradition of SIU baseball, which has been to five College World Series and 14 NCAA Tournaments, and how the renovation will help to recapture the success the program has experienced.
“The thing I’m most excited about today is that the people who built the tradition care so much about the future of Saluki baseball,” Henderson said. “This facility is going to allow us to recruit student-athletes that will give us a chance to win Missouri Valley Conference Championships and get back the NCAA Tournament year in and year out.”
Every baseball program in the Missouri Valley Conference has upgraded its baseball stadium in recent years while Abe Martin Field has remained largely untouched since 1964.
“Many players have come through here in recent years and watched plans for the new stadium evolve,” Duschinsky said. “Itchy Jones Stadium is for all those players and all future Salukis to come.”