MARION - Students from across Southern Illinois, Kentucky, and Missouri, crowded the seats at Rent One Park on Tuesday to take in the Miners' first exhibition game of the season against the Gateway Grizzlies.
A tradition since 2009, the first sunny day in more than a week saw about 50 schools at the stadium, where they watched the Miners beat the Grizzlies, 7-2. The team's offense had 13 hits, and the pitching staff struck out 15 in 10 innings.
Cathy Perry, assistant general manager for the Miners, said that the tradition of inviting area schools to exhibition games began as a way to get students excited about the team, and to give players a fun practice game.
"We need to get the players out on the field during spring training, and this is a great time to do it," Perry said. "Teachers like to have an opportunity at the end of the year to get kids out of the classroom."
The reaction has been strong over the years, Perry said, with the list of schools growing each year. This year, the park is about at capacity for schools and students.
Perry said that the team and students "lucked out" with a nearly cloudless blue sky, and temperatures in the 70s.
"This is beautiful," she said.
Students from across the area had the chance to enjoy the game and weather, both in the stands, and in the grass.
Marion Junior High students Chelsea Craig, Madelyn Nicotra, Rachel Baker, and Aliyah Kautz took in the game from the grassy area along the third baseline. Each of the four had been to the stadium previously to watch games with friends or family, but Craig said that the schools don't bring students every year.
Debbie McGowan, a teacher at Harrisburg Middle School, was at the game chaperoning a group of students. McGowan said that the school sends students almost every year; this year's group included members of the Student Council and the Yearbook.
"The kids have a good time," she said. "They like it."
Eldorado Elementary School fourth graders Hannah Farmer and Brooklyn Biggerstaff, who sat next to each other at the game, both agreed with McGowan, and said they were having a good time, taking a minute to cheer on the Miners as another Grizzly was struck out.
Some students like Du Quoin Elementary School fourth graders Levi Dearmond and David Alexander were visiting the stadium for the first time. Dearmond and Alexander both said that they had a fun time at the game, each trying to get on the "Air Guitar" cam during the second inning. The two agreed that they'd try and get their parents to take them to more games.
The Miners will host another exhibition game for area schools on Tuesday, May 9, when they take on the Evansville Otters in the first of four games in a row.