Asmussen: Baseball a hit in Champaign-Urbana

Asmussen: Baseball a hit in Champaign-Urbana

When I first arrived in Champaign-Urbana in 1989, I was told the local baseball scene would never amount to much.

Boy, was that wrong.

Within the first three years, two Champaign County high school teams (Centennial and Rantoul) reached the state tournament quarterfinals. Never mind that both schools lost. They helped others realize that winning state was possible for area schools.

The baseball history in the city is rich. As Illinois prepares to host its first NCAA regional, there’s plenty more you need to know about C-U baseball.

First family
That would be the Hergeses. They are baseball royalty in town.

Matt Herges had a long career in the majors, pitching 11 years for eight teams. He is now the pitching coach for the Dodgers’ Class AA team in Tulsa.

The Herges baseball ties go much deeper. Kyle Herges coached at Centennial, where he continues to teach. Both Kyle and Toby Herges played at Centennial and in college.

“Whenever we went somewhere, we always had the gloves and a bat,” Toby Herges said. “My dad (Butch) coached Kyle, myself and Matt. We won the league every year.”

Champaign’s Tumble Inn, which Toby co-owns with his dad, is all about baseball. Each year, it hosts a fundraiser for area high school programs.

The other two Herges boys got in on the baseball act, too. Todd Herges helped coach a team, which included his sons, to the Little League World Series. Adam, the youngest Herges boy, played baseball at Benedictine.

And sister Marci married former NL Rookie of the Year Todd Hollandsworth.

Sweet Lou
Lou Henson is the big name in local basketball, the winningest coach in school history.

In baseball, it is Lou Boudreau.

The Hall of Famer was a two-sport star with the Illini, leading the baseball and basketball teams to Big Ten titles. His No. 5 is the only retired number in Illinois baseball history.

How popular was Boudreau locally? An Urbana street is named in his honor.

Think about that when you cruise down Boudreau Drive.
 
Coaching corner
Itch Jones won 474 games in 15 seasons at Illinois. And without Jones’ influence, hard to know if Dan Hartleb would have followed with his own success.

Before Jones and Hartleb, the Illini had a three-season run under Augie Garrido.

Still going strong at Texas, Garrido came to Illinois in 1988 and led the Illini to a pair of NCAA berths.

Garrido is one of only two coaches in baseball history to lead two schools to College World Series titles. He won three at Cal State Fullerton (two before taking over at Illinois) and two more with the Longhorns.

Of course, you might remember Garrido best for his role as the Yankees’ manager in buddy Kevin Costner’s “For Love of the Game.”

Bandit ball
The Champaign-Urbana Bandits were short-lived members of the Great Central League in 1994. They played at Illinois Field and were managed for a bit by Casey Fisk, Carlton’s son.

Visiting managers included former Red Sox slugger George Scott.

Bandits general manager Bob Bowser later coached area high school teams.
Starting in 1990, the Champaign County Colts played in the Central Illinois Collegiate League before folding in 1996.

Recently, former Champaign Mayor Don Gerard tried to bring minor league baseball to the city, hoping to build a downtown stadium. With Gerard out of office, those plans are on the back burner.

Name changer
Illinois Field was originally called Proano Stadium to honor alum Lou Proano. But the school dropped the name when Proano ran into financial difficulties and wasn’t able to fulfill his $1 million pledge.

Illinois Field had been the name of the baseball team’s original home at Wright and University. That is now the site of the Beckman Institute.

Bob Asmussen is in his 26th year on the sports staff of The News-Gazette. He can be reached at 217-351-5233 or via email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

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