Eichelberger Field is one of the premier softball facilities in the country. Built into the side of a hill overlooking Florida Avenue in Urbana, the stadium provides great sight lines and seating for 1,500 fans. The fence measures 200 feet from home plate to the corner foul lines and is 210 feet from home to the center field fence. An inning-by-inning scoreboard overlooks the left-center field fence. Additionally, a state-of-the-art clubhouse, press box, concession stand, restrooms and ticket office create a family-friendly environment for the entire Illinois softball community.
Eichelberger Field's groundbreaking took place on April 15, 2000. Associate Athletics Director Karol Kahrs introduced Mrs. Eichelberger and spoke of the couple's long-time support of the university. Shorty's interest in the advancement of women's athletics and Paul's association with the game of softball made the Eichelberger Field project a natural. Through a major deferred gift, in addition to ongoing annual gifts, Eichelberger honored the memory of her husband, Paul, a fast-pitch softball player known throughout Illinois, with the construction of Eichelberger Field. Today, the field stands as a tribute to Paul and has allowed his passion for softball to become a reality for student-athletes at the University of Illinois. The nearly $2 million project included a sand-based field, irrigation, lighting, batting cages/bullpens, a scoreboard, in-ground dugouts, and a temporary press box.
The Eichelberger Field dedication took place on March 27, 2001, in conjunction with the Illini's home opener against Valparaiso University. As was fitting, "Shorty" Eichelberger threw out the first pitch, a strike to catcher Janna Sartini. That day, Sarah Baumgartner nailed the first home run in stadium history and Kathryn Nevard tossed a no-hitter as the Illini posted two shutouts.
World's Largest Softball Tailgate - Website
What started out as an idea to give fans a chance to fire up their grills, pull out their coolers and enjoy their tailgating rituals during the spring has become one of the most popular and beloved spring traditions in the Champaign-Urbana community. The World's Largest Softball Tailgate originated when University of Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics representatives developed a plan to provide fans with an electric atmosphere full of live music, interactive games, face-painting and of course, tons of tailgating food. It also gave the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics a chance to put on a premier event in conjunction with one of its emerging sports - softball. The World's Largest Softball Tailgate began on April 24, 2004, as a then-record crowd of 756 fans came out to Eichelberger Field to watch the Illini top Big Ten foe Ohio State, 1-0. The results were a rousing success and the idea spawned the development of the annual event.
Since then, the tailgate has continued to grow each season, shattering the attendance record year after year. In fact, over a four-game span from 2004 to 2007, the crowd nearly doubled, setting a new single-game record with 1,445 fans at the fourth annual tailgate.
Several members of the Illini community have joined in tailgate festivities throughout the years. Alice Martin, an important part of the Illini softball family, threw out the first pitch in 2006; she and her husband Rex used their foundation to make a million dollar contribution for the construction of a new press box, locker room, concession stand and restrooms at Eichelberger Field. The On-Deck Circle, Illinois Softball's booster club, has also played a key role in the event's success since its inception with constant support.
In 2007, Illinois received a $1 million donation from the Rex & Alice Martin Foundation to complete the final phase of the softball complex. The phase included the construction of a permanent press box, rest rooms, a ticket booth, permanent concessions and a clubhouse for the Illini softball team. The clubhouse features team locker rooms, players' lounge, equipment room, sports medicine training room, weight training and conditioning room, and coaches' locker room.
The Rex & Alice A. Martin Foundation is a private charitable foundation that funds major projects for young people. "The University of Illinois changed my life," said Alice Martin, Co-Founder and President of the Foundation who received her MBA from Illinois. "Most of my success I owe to the University and their wonderful MBA program. It's a great honor to be able to assist the University with the new softball stadium. I am looking forward to working with my alma mater on many educational enrichment projects in the future."
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