Illini baseball reaches new heights over summer break


The Daily Illini File Photo

Illinois pitcher Garrett Acton delivers the pitch during the game against Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament at TD Ameritrade Park on May 23, 2019. Due to COVID-19, the Illini baseball team will not participate in fall exhibition games.

By Rich Eberwein, Staff Writer

With the Big Ten postponing all fall sports due to COVID-19, the Illinois baseball team won’t be able to participate in their fall exhibition games and will instead look to the spring and hope their regular season is still on track for a February debut. Until then, we can look back on some highlights the baseball team had over the summer.

Old contributors say goodbye

Each senior that took the field for the Illini baseball team at the beginning of 2020 will not be returning to the team next season, despite the NCAA granting spring sport athletes an extra year of eligibility. Closer Garrett Acton, fresh off setting the all-time saves record for Illinois, signed a free-agent contract with the Oakland Athletics following the 2020 first-year player draft. Similarly, rotation ace Ty Weber won’t be taking his extra year of eligibility and instead opt to take a contract with the San Francisco Giants. Setup man Ryan Schmitt will be moving on from baseball and pursuing other endeavors.

Outfielder Nick Menken and left-handed pitcher Josh Harris will also be stepping away from baseball and saying their goodbyes to Illinois Field.

These departures will leave considerable shoes to fill, not only in the pitching staff but also in the clubhouse, as these seniors were veteran leaders on the staff.

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Two pitchers represent Illinois in the majors

During the long baseball offseason, former Illini starting pitcher Tanner Roark signed a two-year, $24 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. After splitting the 2019 season between Cincinnati and Oakland, Roark remained the only Illini in the MLB until Aug. 4, when former Illini closer Joey Gerber made his debut for the Mariners in a game against the Los Angeles Angels. Gerber was taken in the eighth round of the 2018 draft and quickly made his way through the Mariners’ minor league system before setting down the first three men he faced in the show. As of Aug. 20, Gerber has pitched a total of 5.1 innings for the Mariners, appearing in five games.

Illinois Field gets revamped

The next time Illinois Field sees action, it will have an artificial turf field as opposed to grass field. This comes shortly after the latest rendering of the new baseball training facility currently being built adjacent to the aforementioned Illinois Field. A leading gift of $3 million by Susie Atkins helped kick off the project, which is slated for completion in January 2022.

“We are committed to making Illinois Field a first-class facility for player development,” said head coach Dan Hartleb via “Installing the new turf continues our commitment, along with the addition of the Susan and Clint Atkins Baseball Training Center. These projects will allow our student-athletes to excel as we push forward with our goal of competing at the national level every year and to win a national championship.”

A full indoor field, team lounge, locker rooms and state-of-the-art analysis equipment are just some of the features that will aid an already successful baseball program.

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