CARBONDALE — SIU already has the plans in place for the 2021 Missouri Valley Conference baseball tournament. Now it just hopes it's given the opportunity to host it next May.
The Salukis were awarded the 2020 tournament, but couldn't host because of the coronavirus pandemic.
"Any time that you can bring that type of tournament to SIU and to Carbondale to showcase our town and our athletic department, I think it's a great thing. I know we were lined up to have a very successful tournament in 2020," SIU baseball coach Lance Rhodes said. "With that being canceled, we were given the opportunity again in '21. I think we're ahead of the game, that we were going to run a very successful tournament. Now we've got another chance. It just gives us another year to put some final touches on it."
The Valley announced its championship sites for the 2020-21 school year Wednesday. The Salukis were awarded the baseball tournament, the women's swimming and diving championship at Shea Natatorium, the outdoor track and field championship at the Lew Hartzog Track and Field Complex, and the women's golf tournament in St. Charles, Missouri. SIU is the host school at Bogey Hills Country Club, and the defending MVC Tournament champions after it won the 2019 event.
SIU hasn't hosted the MVC baseball tournament since 1986, and hasn't won it since 1990. The Salukis are eager to try to keep the momentum from Rhodes' first season, when they started out 12-6 and were on a five-game winning streak when the season was cut short.
"I think a lot of them are excited about it, because any time you can play in a tournament and you can play in an NCAA regional if you win it, and you get to play that tournament on your own field, and sleep in your own bed, and play in conditions you're familiar with, I think everybody is excited about that. Everybody's goal is to win the whole thing."
They're also eager to show off the new and improved Richard "Itchy" Jones Stadium, which opened in 2014 after more than $4 million in upgrades to the old Abe Martin Field. The field features two kinds of AstroTurf. The outfield features 3D Extreme, which can take upwards of four inches of rain an hour, and the stadium was the first in the United States to install AstroTurf's 3Di on the basepaths. The pitcher's mound is a traditional natural surface, while the remainder of the field's playing surface is comprised of AstroTurf.
SIU added additional lighting and padded outfield walls before the 2019 season.
Jones, who was inducted into the MVC Hall of Fame in March, was scheduled to have his number retired during the 2020 season. Now that ceremony will take place during the 2021 season.
Next season will have more changes than Jones' number on the wall. After former baseball coach Ken Henderson resigned, the annual fish fry and auction kind of went with him. The Salukis never got to April, when the fish fry and auction would typically take place, but next year, pandemic-permitting, the program would like to start a different kind of fundraiser.
"Ultimately what I would like to do was to have a first pitch dinner that kicks off our season, maybe in early January or at the end of January," Rhodes said. "Just getting our guys introduced to the public, maybe having a guest speaker. A lot of that is at a standstill because we don't know if we'll be able to have that type of event."
On Twitter: @THefferman
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