Daily Egyptian

Hill provides unique fan experience

By Thomas Donley, @TDonleyDE

As spring brings 70-degree weather and the winding-down of the semester, students start spending more and more time outside. 

One place they can go to spend a few hours with fellow students, alumni, a four-legged friend and an adult beverage is the Hill at Itchy Jones Stadium during a Saluki baseball game.

The Hill is the only location that allows fans to have pets, alcohol, and, if it’s not too muddy, vehicles at games while they cheer on the Dawgs. Some sit in lawn chairs, some on blankets and some in the front seat of their car. Some listen to Mike Reis call the game on the radio while another blows a horn to celebrate Saluki triumphs.

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“I didn’t even know this existed,” said Roberto Garza, a senior from Arcola studying engineering.

He was at his first game on the Hill on March 29 as part of a recruiting effort for the Engineering Leadership Development program.

“I was just saying to the guys here that we should come back sometime,” Garza said.

Alongside fans just discovering the Hill is one fan who has called the Hill home for 40 years.

“I started coming out here in high school to check out the college girls, because the high school girls were going out with college guys,” said Danny Abbott, better known on the Hill as Red Dog. “Then I found a great baseball team.”

The Salukis won their second of four straight regular season Missouri Valley Conference titles in 1976, Abbott’s first year watching games from the Hill. The 2016 Dawgs are 21-15-1 and 2-4 in MVC play and in search of their first conference title since 1990.

That’s the same year SIU baseball coach Ken Henderson debuted as a coach for the Salukis.

“We were playing Northeastern Illinois,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how crazy it was. That thing was literally packed with students and they were having a great time.”

Abbott said the weather and the team’s winning record have contributed to increased attendance on the Hill. 

These days, Abbott parks his gray Chevrolet Blazer on the Hill, raises an American flag and a Saluki flag from the trailer hitch, and fires up a charcoal grill. 

Red Dog, nicknamed for his shoulder-length red hair, grills hot dogs and food brought by players’ parents while they watch their sons play ball.

“They’ll come up to me and ask, ‘Which one’s yours?'” Abbott said. “I say, ‘All of ’em. I’m just a fan.'”

Dan Netemeyer, father of sophomore closer Ryan Netemeyer, said Abbott and the rest of the “Hill Gang” make the Hill like home for everyone.

“They’re a great group of guys,” Netemeyer said. “We’ve gotten to know them. There’s a number of us parents who come here every game and interact with them. Not only do they make us feel welcome, they make the fans from other teams feel welcome.”

Members of the Hill Gang wear embroidered hats and patches, sewn by a member with access to a sewing machine. Abbott’s patch, which he wears on the sleeve of a maroon T-shirt, bears a second nickname: “Mayor.”

Abbott takes pride in the unofficial designation of Mayor of the Hill, given to him by the father of a former Saluki player whose name escapes him. 

The Hill Gang collects donations when it cooks out, giving the proceeds to the Saluki Dugout Club, the official support group of SIU baseball. Students are not asked to pay. As of April 9, Abbott estimated donations had reached $3,400, a higher total than recent years.

“We have a good relationship with [the Hill Gang],” Henderson said. “Those guys are awful good to us. They help us out financially, but more important, they help bring some of the tradition of the Hill back.”

The Salukis have two more weekend series at home in the 2016 season, and one before the end of the spring semester, April 29 to May 1 against Wichita State.

Thomas Donley can be reached at [email protected] or at 618-536-3307

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