Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams

URBANA — By the time Illinois softball fans actually make it into the stands for a game at Eichelberger Field, the hard work is mostly done for Rian Jones.

Not that the 33-year-old Champaign native and Champaign Central graduate takes those days off. Far from it.

Jones is a part of the Illinois athletic department that helps keep the UI's athletic facilities in prime condition. For Jones — the father of 11-year-old Trenton and 3-year-old Raigan and husband to Jessica — that duty rests at Eichelberger Field, the Illini softball's home venue since 2001.

"I am responsible for getting the field ready for practice each day and upkeep of the entire facility on their off-days," Jones said. "I know that I am relied upon by the coaching staff, players and even the fans to make sure our facility is not only amazing to look at, but also amazing to play on."

Right now, the Illini softball program is one of the most consistent women's sports on campus, with Tyra Perry having taken Illinois to the NCAA tournament last two seasons.

While Jones didn't hit a home run like Nicole Evans or throw a strike like Breanna Wonderly this past season, his contributions are still vital to the program's overall well-being.

Jones communicates mainly with assistant coach Lance McMahon on a daily basis about on-going work and other duties, along with staying in touch with Perry.

"We maintain a steady line of communication," Jones said. "Bigger things, like practice schedules and on gamedays, I talk mostly with Coach Perry. The staff is great at keeping me knowledgeable about all things softball-related, which makes my job easier."

The most rewarding part of the job to Jones? That's simple.

"Knowing that I am contributing to the success of our athletic programs and making each sporting event enjoyable for the fans that attend them (is great)," he said. "I take great pride in my work."

Jones, who earned a bachelor's degree in mass communications from Eastern Illinois University and a master's degree in sports management from Southern New Hampshire University, has worked within the Illinois athletic department for nine years.

Growing up in Champaign made it easy for him to root for the Illini, with the Flyin' Illini team the first one that left an impression on him, much like the 2004-05 men's basketball team that reached the national title game did, too.

"I can remember that magical run in 2005 like it was yesterday," Jones said. "But now that I'm so close to the softball team, whatever Illinois softball team is on the field that is one of my favorites. I feel like a part of the team, and the players and coaches make it feel that way, too."