Baseball alumni move freshmen to the bench

By Erik Hall

While playing at Ilinois, players are anxious to graduate. After graduation, they become anxious to return to Illinois Field.

Approximately 25 former Illinois baseball players or coaches are scheduled to return for Sunday’s alumni game, which starts at approximately 12:15 p.m. and is free to the public.

Before the game, a home run derby is scheduled for 11 a.m., followed by a presentation of a Wall of Fame.

“I like playing against all the guys that mentored myself and all my other teammates,” said senior Dusty Bensko. “It’s nice to get out there and play against them. The majority of them had great success here.”

Sunday, Bensko should get the opportunity to play against one of Illinois’ best first baseman.

Former Illinois first baseman Andy Schutzenhofer is expected to return for Sunday’s game. Schutzenhofer played this summer with the Palm Beach Cardinals in the High Class A League.

Schutzenhofer played at Illinois from 2000 to 2003 and ranks in the top ten in career batting average, hits, runs, doubles, RBIs and total bases.

Former major league catcher Darrin Fletcher, who holds Illinois’ career record for batting average, is likely to attend Sunday’s game. Fletcher played 14 years in the major leagues and retired after the 2002 season with Toronto. Fletcher played at Illinois from 1985-1987.

“I think we’ll do well against the alumni,” said senior pitcher Jeff Paarlberg. “It depends on who makes it back for the alumni game. There are some good guys that might come back.”

Six of the seven Illini who graduated from the 2004 team are planning to return to Illinois Field just four months after their final college game.

“It should be a good time, especially to get a chance to play from the other perspective in the alumni game,” said Vince DiMaria, an Illini from 2001-2004. “I’ll get a chance to play with guys that played before I played in the program and even before I was born. It should be pretty exciting.”

The freshmen that just joined the Illinois team this fall will have to watch from the dugout as the veterans play Sunday.

“We won’t use any freshmen because if the freshmen get in the game, and then for some reason they don’t make the team, that counts as a year of eligibility,” said Illinois head Itch Jones. “Anybody that’s beyond their freshman year, we’ll use.”

That means Sunday will be the first chance to see senior shortstop Toby Gardenhire play for the Illini. Gardenhire transferred to Illinois from Southwest Missouri State during the summer.

Sunday is the last time that Illinois is scheduled to face outside competition until its season starts in late February.

“This gives us a good idea of how we play against teams in different uniforms,” Paarlberg said. “We can come out here as much as we want and play the same people over and over again, but until you face guys that you don’t see every day, you don’t get a true idea of how good you are.”