Photos Courtesy of Mosharrof Hossain, Bob Shallenberger, & Paul Chancey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.57
Itchy Jones Stadium
Carbondale, IL 62901
Year Opened: 2014
Scratch Your Baseball Itch
After competing at Abe Martin Field since 1964, the Southern Illinois University Salukis baseball team moved into the brand new Richard ‘Itchy’ Jones Stadium in 2014. Built on the site of Abe Martin Field, Itchy Jones Stadium is named after SIU’s all-time winningest baseball coach. Jones took the Salukis to 10 NCAA Tournaments and three College World Series in his 21 years in charge. Jones also was an integral part of the campaign for the stadium renovation.
The playing surface continues to be named after Martin, who spent 33 years in Carbondale, including 19 years as head baseball coach. As part of the new facility, the clubhouse was named after the late Dan Callahan, SIU’s second-winningest coach with 442 triumphs over 16 seasons.
The seating area consists of five rows of maroon chair back seats directly behind home plate and three to five rows of bleachers with backs to the end of the dugouts. The concourse down the lines features several picnic tables.
The Salukis play in the Missouri Valley Conference and have a rich history. Affectionately known as The Dawgs, SIU has won eight MVC titles, made 14 NCAA Tournament appearances, and has reached the College World Series on five occasions.
SIU has sent over two dozen players to the majors, including familiar names like Dave Stieb, Steve Finley, and Jerry Hairston.
Food & Beverage 4
Before the new stadium was built, Saluki baseball fans did not have access to a concession stand. Now, the fans have several, affordable options at the one stand on the concourse. Hot dogs, brats, and corn dogs. Chili dogs, chili nachos, brisket, and pulled chicken sandwiches all sell for reasonable prices. Snacks like popcorn, cookies, candy, peanuts, and chips.
One of the largest (and tastiest) stadium pretzels I have ever found is $4. As is the case in many college facilities, alcohol is not available. Soft drinks are $3 for a regular and $4 for a sturdy, souvenir cup that features SIU logos throughout the decades. Bottles of water and Gatorade are $3.
One of the more popular items, especially among the younger fans, is Dippin’ Dots. A small dish of the frozen treat is $4 and a large one is $7 (the most expensive item on the menu).
Dating back to the program’s success in the 1970s, Saluki baseball games have been a major part of spring in southern Illinois. Abe Martin Field was a bare-bones facility and the patrons always had fun. Even though the program has not seen much on-field success lately, the fans are still having fun at their shiny new facility.
Along with brand new light towers, allowing the program to host night games for the first time in school history, Itchy Jones Stadium features a well-working speaker system. The PA announcements and music between innings might bother those with sensitive ears.
The chair back seats and bleachers provide an up-close view of the game. If you would rather stretch out, the concourse offers perfect views for anybody who wants to sit at the picnic tables or stand.
Outside the gates to the concourse, down the first base line, is “The Hill.” Fans can bring their chairs and set up shop on the grassy knoll. Some fans bring coolers, bean bag toss, and volleyballs and watch the game from this unique location.
The playing surface features two different types of artificial grass. The pitcher's mound is a traditional dirt surface, while the baselines and warning track are also artificial. The outfield fence features 8 advertisements and a marker that says “CAL.” This marker, like the clubhouse, honors former coach Callahan.
Itchy Jones Stadium is located near the other Southern Illinois athletic facilities, including SIU Arena and Saluki Stadium. If you aren’t a student living on campus, chances are you will be driving to the game. Nothing in Carbondale is that far apart, so you will only be a few minutes away from the dining and drinking options of the close-to-campus “Strip,” or the chain restaurants and stores on the eastern edge of town along Route 13.
I had hoped to stop in at Italian Village Pizza and Pasta, a place I remembered from the last time I was in Carbondale many years ago. On the corner of Elm and Washington, Italian Village has been open for over 50 years. Unfortunately, their location and a few other places I drove past had lines out the door due to graduation.
Just down the road in Marion, before I got on Interstate 57, I stopped in at 17th Street BBQ. The restaurant has been featured on the Food Network and Travel Channel and is very close to Marion Ballpark, home of the Thrillville Thrillbillies of the Prospect League.
17th Street BBQ’s menu features plenty of appetizers, sandwiches, and platters. The pulled pork sandwich is big and filling and hush puppies are a welcome sight as a side item. The bar features several local selections from Big Muddy Brewing out of Murphysboro, Illinois.
While SIU baseball is not bringing out fans in numbers reminiscent of four decades ago, the crowd is still knowledgeable and supportive of the home team. The antics and size of “The Hillside Gang” are legendary in southern Illinois. It’s estimated that 2,000-3,000 students would take over the grassy hillside and give a lot of grief to the opposing teams. The size of the gang on The Hill has decreased, but they continue to make themselves heard by umpires and the visiting dugout.
There is plenty of parking available in the SIU athletic complex. I attended a game while graduation ceremonies were being held at SIU Arena. Since the facilities share parking, I was a little concerned I might have a hike to the diamond. That was not the case as there is more than enough parking for a big turnout. The stadium features handicapped parking adjacent to the left-field line. Men’s and women’s restrooms flank the concession stand. The facilities are new, clean, and spacious enough that no one has to wait.
Return on Investment 4
Admission is $5 and while it’s hard to charge to get in while other state programs have free admission, it is clear that your entrance fee is helping to fund this beautiful new facility. Parking is free and concession prices are comparable to those of other stadiums, especially when you consider the wide variety of options available.
Southern Illinois went all out to honor the history of its program by naming the stadium, field, and clubhouse after former coaches. The Salukis even named the press box after their longtime broadcaster Mike Reis. The new press box features a plaque describing what Reis has meant to the program.
Other plaques on the walls of the press box and concession stand include ones honoring 1st team All-Americans, players in the pros, MVC championship teams, and NCAA Tournament teams. Another nice touch is a plaque honoring stadium donors.
Itchy Jones Stadium is a glowing tribute to the history of the Southern Illinois University baseball program and a tool to help them possibly reach that level of success again. This venue is a nice reflection on a part of the state of Illinois that loves the game of baseball.