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, now in its fifth year, originated when Associate Athletic Director for Resource Development Shawn Wax and then-Illinois senior Sarah Baumgartner developed a plan to provide fans with an electric atmosphere full of live music, interactive games, face-painting and of course, tons of tailgate 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 came to fruition on April 24, 2004, as a then-record crowd of 756 fans piled into 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, from the first tailgate in 2004 to the most recent in 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. Illini head basketball coach Bruce Weber threw out the first pitch of the 2005 tailgate game, while Alice Martin opened the game in 2006. Martin is an important part of the Illini softball family, as 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 at Martin Stadium. The On-Deck Circle, the supporters of Illini softball, has also played a key role in the event's success since its inception.
2007 - 1,445
2006 - 1,283
2005 - 906
2004 - 756
DePaul 3, Illinois 2
Illini designated player Katrina Ross hit her first career home run in the fourth inning, a two-run shot to right field that put Illinois in front, 2-1.
Northwestern 3, Illinois 0
Illinois 7, Minnesota 6
Illinois 6, Minnesota 5
Illinois used two late rallies to sweep a doubleheader against the Golden Gophers. Molly Lawhead drove home the game-winner with a single, scoring Jenna Hall after Rachelle Coriddi scored the game-tying run on Julie Balicki's sacrifice fly in game one. Shanna Diller drove in the game-winning run in the seventh inning of game two.
Illinois 1, Ohio State 0
Sherri Taylor delivered a solid performance in the circle, giving up no runs and just four hits in her four innings of work to improve to 9-7 on the season. Amanda Fortune relieved Taylor and gave up just one hit while striking out three in recording her third save of the year. Lindsey Hamma led off the game with a double to left field then moved to third on Rachelle Coriddi's sacrifice bunt. Jenna Hall drove her in with a line-shot single off the right-field wall.