An April update from Urbana

I know some of you care only about Illini sports. But most of you are interested in Champaign-Urbana and the University of Illinois, generally. You probably spent some time here.

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of a radio feature I produced for NPR’s Morning Edition about the Champaign-Urbana music scene. I’d planned to revisit that piece, and re-publish it. But then, a few days ago, my old friend Nick Rudd hanged himself.

He won’t be counted among the covid-19 victims; but loneliness + the restriction from playing his guitar for people + the closure of all libraries = a bad outcome for a guy challenged to start over, at 59, following the breakdown of a marriage.

There’s nobody here.

Nick was a central figure, a stalwart of C-U music. Everybody knew him, and most of us played with him at some point. If not, we bought a record on his recommendation.

So the radio piece can wait. It’s already been 25 years.

I’ve never forgotten the first thing I knew about Nick Rudd. Not verbatim, perhaps, it was Peter Buck thinks Nick Rudd is an amazing guitarist.

I didn’t even know what Nick Rudd looked like at the time. But in the 1980s, that praise carried a lot of water.

Mitch Easter produced an album by Turning Curious, Nick’s band, in 1983. That was the same year Easter produced an album called Murmur, by Pete’s band. That’s the connection that led to Nick opening for Pete’s band.

In the late 1990s, while I perused the bins at Record Swap, Nick spontaneously walked over to praise the song Box of Wormgears, from my second album. I felt the spinal straitening that stunned Dave Wakeling upon learning Pete Townshend and David Gilmour had spent an afternoon in a 4-star hotel suite, trying to decipher the guitar part from Save it For Later.

When a noted virtuoso praises your guitar work, you’ve summited the mountain.

Turns out, he meant it. A few years later Nick volunteered himself to be the guitarist, and bring along Brian Reedy to drum for me. Brian and Brendan Gamble are, in very different ways, the two musical artists I’ve most admired in my life. So indeed, the last time I picked up an instrument and performed in front of people, Nick and Brian were on stage with me.

I kind of gave up on music the next year, and became a sports writer. People still show up for sports.

Nick never gave up on being a musician. And then last week, he did.

Nick Rudd Sandwich Life house concert, 2019 – Cynthia Voelkl
Illini Baseball

Illini COVID-19 Update

Illini baseball coach Dan Hartleb and pitchers senior pitchers Garrett Acton & Ty Weber participated in a teleconference this morning (posted in full at the bottom). Here’s what they had to say about life in C-U while baseball has been supplanted by a worldwide viral pandemic.

Hartleb was in Carterville last Thursday, waiting to watch his son play a game for John A. Logan Community College, when things started to happen. His team was preparing to play Southern Illinois in nearby Carbondale. He says he got the feeling, based on the NCAA’s announcement of no fans/tournament still on, that baseball season was in jeopardy.

When word came that the season was, indeed, cancelled; Hartleb said he had a meeting with the team which went as well as could be expected “under the circumstances” considering his players had just seen “their world turn around on them.”

Hartleb said he just spent his first March weekend without having to make a baseball-related decision, and added that his wife’s reaction was “oh crap, I’ve got to put up with you for three or four more months than I usually have to.”

Asked whether he’s experienced anything like the COVID-19 pandemic, Hartleb mentioned September 11, but added that you’d probably have to go back to WWII to find this type of social disruption. He referenced polio as the last time a disease made Americans so afraid, adding that a typical American mindset is this type of thing doesn’t happen here.


“Guys know the way I feel about academics.” It’s a “golden opportunity” to get a one or two-year Master’s, and still come back and play before going on to a pro career.

Hartleb said he’s not pushing his players in either direction. “Last thing I want someone to do is come back and regret that decision.”

He says the NCAA has cancelled all scheduled workouts through April 6, but he expects all his players will keep working out on their own.

Hartleb spent a good amount of time talking about the extra year of eligibility each of his players (and all NCAA spring sport student-athletes) were granted. He said it “took the edge of the meeting” because “it gave guys hope.” Hartleb characterized it as a “redshirt year” for everybody, and pointed out that players invariably get better during a redshirt year.


“The thing we know right now is that MLB is shut down.” Scouts aren’t allowed to have contact with college players. Hartleb says he’s heard from different people that the draft is on, or that the draft will be cancelled. He offered the hunch that it might be an abbreviated draft.

He observed that, at worst, his guys have an opportunity to finish their degrees and/or earn Master’s degrees.

Hartleb said his biggest concern is that guys get injured in summer baseball leagues because they haven’t had proper strength & conditioning in the spring


On the NCAA canceling the entire season: It’s obviously the right decision. It’s a tough decision

Acton was upbeat about the future, whether it’s getting a Master’s degree and returning next year to pitch for Illinois, or going pro.

He said the team was really starting to hit its stride, especially the pitching, and particularly praised the newcomers for executing their jobs while playing in front of big crowds for the first time in their lives.

He said he’s got training equipment in his house, and can get together with a teammate if he needs to throw. “Even if there’s not a hitter in the box,” he can work on attacking the strike zone.


He was sitting in his apartment with his roommates when he found out. He said everyone was stunned., and that the full reality still hasn’t hit him yet.

“For me, it was crazy.”

He praised Hartleb for not pressing individual players to make decisions about whether to stay in school, whether to enroll for more school next year, whether to seek professional opportunities.

It does make it easier to have options, he added.

He said it was weird to be home in March, and not physically interacting with people. “Everything is either Facetime or text … it’s been a very weird experience.”

He said both his parents are schoolteachers, and he has access to his local high school’s workout facilities, which helps him “stay on top of my physical side” while he figures out his mental side, and future options.

He said his team was just starting to hit a groove, that he and Garrett and senior teammates had “bought-in” and were putting things together.

He said he’s grown even more as a person than a player during his time at Illinois, and hoped that if his time is done with Illini baseball, he will have had a positive impact on the younger players.

He said if he had to make the decision again, he’d definitely choose Illinois.

Lots and lots more is here, for completists, in the full teleconference.