Horenberger-Bass Classic Starts Five-Game ISU Home Stand
April 27, 2009
NORMAL, Ill. - There's little doubt who Michael McNeely will be rooting for when Illinois State welcomes Illinois Wesleyan to Duffy Bass Field for the annual Horenberger-Bass Classic at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. McNeely was a multi-sport athlete who excelled on the baseball field at Wesleyan, but don't be surprised to find him wearing a Redbird baseball cap and a red pullover when his son Tyler McNeely sprints out to centerfield for Illinois State.
On the eve of the annual game between the cross-town rivals, there was potential for things to get a little awkward in the McNeely household. However, the father and son shared a plate of brownies without argument and chatted about what the game means to the Bloomington-Normal community.
"He definitely roots for me," Tyler McNeely said. "He's a supporter of both Wesleyan and Redbird baseball - I just think he wants to see baseball thrive in this town. Anytime we can get fans out to the games, it makes him happy. It's good to see baseball thrive, especially in games like this where you have two teams that are successful in their respective divisions."
It's less than a mile and a half down Main Street between the heart of Illinois State's campus and the middle of Illinois Wesleyan's. While Sugar Creek, the Southern Pacific Railroad and their NCAA Classifications serve as divisive elements, the two programs share a common thread - a rich baseball history.
Doug Rader, Cal Neeman and Bill Conroy highlight a list of former Titans who have gone on to play professionally, while Rader and Bobby Winkles both managed in the Major Leagues. Illinois State counters with former Major League All-Stars Buzz Capra and Dave Bergman, to name a few.
"There's been a lot of great baseball people at both places and that's why I play the game," Illinois State head coach Jim Brownlee, who played for Duffy Bass at ISU, said. "I've been involved with this game for a long time - it's one of my favorites. It's good for the town, it's good for everybody involved. It's a fun thing. Jack Horenberger and Duffy Bass were two of the greatest baseball guys in the world."
Despite their different classifications - Illinois State competes at the NCAA Division I level and Illinois Wesleyan at the Division III level - don't expect Tuesday's game to be lacking in parity. The Redbirds needed a grand slam from Kevin Konsler to win last season's game at Horenberger Field, 7-4, and are 3-2 against Illinois Wesleyan since the series was revived in 2004. The Redbirds hold an 82-70 edge in the all-time series that dates back to 1890.
The Titans enter Tuesday's contest with a 21-10 overall record while Illinois State enters the game on a season-long four game skid. The Redbirds are still having one of their best season's in Brownlee's tenure with a 19-16 overall mark. Redshirt freshman Kenny Long is scheduled to make his first career start for Illinois State, but the Titans' probable starter was unknown Monday.
The Horenberger-Bass Classic kicks off a five-game home stand for the Redbirds, who will also host Western Michigan Wednesday and Creighton in a three-game, Missouri Valley Conference series over the weekend.
The Redbirds are looking to use the two mid-week contests to re-adjust their infield after senior shortstop Collin Salzenstein injured his shoulder prior to Sunday's game at Southern Illinois. Salzenstein, who was also Illinois State's leadoff hitter, will be replaced by Mike Stalowy at shortstop and freshman Mark Menaker will likely see time at second base. Menaker went 2-for-3 in his first collegiate start Sunday.
"We've got five home games, we should be excited," Brownlee said. "We've got a home field advantage. We need to play Stalowy at short and Menaker at second so they can some comfort and get a feel for it out there. It's important that we play well."
Illinois State and Western Michigan have already met this season with the Redbirds winning a 13-2 decision over the Broncos at the Metrodome Tournament in Minneapolis March 8. The Redbirds' roster and lineup has changed a bit since that game with injuries to outfielders Eric Mahler and Jake Thornton, relief pitcher Jake Wielebnicki, and most recently Salzenstein.
"Nobody feels sorry for you," Brownlee said. "Western Michigan certainly won't feel sorry for us on Wednesday. We better get after it and our seniors better get after it because (there aren't many more home games left in the season). It'll be a pivotal week for us because we're facing some adversity and we've got five home games. Hopefully our guys will respond and have a good week."
Stalowy continues to lead the Redbirds on offense with a .343 batting average and is joined at the top by Ryan Court (.313). McNeely, who has shifted into the leadoff spot due to Salzenstein's injury, hit his team-best fifth home run of the season at Southern Illinois. Senior Quinn Ewert will likely start Wednesday's game with Western Michigan at 3 p.m.
Tuesday is Family Night at Duffy Bass Field with a package of two adult tickets and two youth tickets selling for just $8. The Illinois State Athletics Department will officially dedicate the newly renovated Duffy Bass Field Saturday at 2 p.m. when the Redbirds host Creighton.