Normal CornBelters first baseman Michael Nielsen admits “a lot of people I know mix where I’m from up with Bloomington.” The truth is Nielsen is from Bloomingdale, a suburb of Chicago about 20 minutes outside the Windy City. But the Quincy University student said he’s happy to be playing in the Prospect League again this season.

Fact is, the CornBelters is the third team Nielsen, a junior, has been part of in this league. His freshman season two years ago was spent with the Quincy Gems after his freshman summer and he suited up for the Hannibal Hoots last summer.

A graduate of Lake Park High School in Roselle, Ill., Nielsen said playing in the Prospect League is “pretty cool because you get to play in places like The Corn Crib. This place has the feel of a minor league field, stadium-wise, and you get to play in good parks in front of good crowds,” he explained. “That’s something you don’t always get when you play at school.”

Nielsen is majoring in Criminal Justice with a minor in Business Education. As a result, 21-year-old Nielsen explained, “I’d like to play baseball as long as possible, then after that have something to do with police.” Law enforcement has been part of his family, having had a grandfather who carried a gold shield as a Chicago Police Department detective. His grandfather wore or carried a badge for 35 years, he said. He also had an uncle who was with Chicago P.D., while another uncle of his is a Bloomington Fire Department lieutenant.

His being on three teams in three seasons started when his high school coach during his senior year knew then Quincy Gems head coach Rick Fraire. That got Nielsen his first college team experience. He “was 18 and had no idea I was playing with 22-year-olds, but it was the best decision I ever made to play there.”

After his sophomore school year, an opportunity to play in the Northwoods College League fell through, prompting Nielsen to rejoin the Prospect League playing for Hannibal. But his playing time there last season was short due to injury.

He had planned on playing for a Northwoods League team in Rockford this season, but one of his high school coaches was hired to coach in Rockford before he could play. The Northwoods League prohibits players who had been on a high school team coached by a Northwoods Coach from playing in the league again for that coach. That led to Nielsen finding the CornBelters.

“This league is great, and it’s kind of unique being the older guy in the locker room,” Nielsen said. “I think the cool part of me is getting to see those young guys and be able to give the younger guys some of the information I have learned along the way. You see yourself in the young kids, even though I’m not that much older. That’s the best part of this.”

“Mike is a good all-round player,” CornBelters Head Coach Rick White said of Nielsen. White said neither Quincy nor Hannibal had any room for Nielsen this year but recommended him as someone they thought Normal could benefit from having on the roster.

Corn Crib Hosting Prospect League All-Star Game Events July 22 & 23: On Monday, July 22, the CornBelters are hosting the 2019 Prospect League All-Star Game at the Corn Crib, an event being sponsored by State Farm Insurance, the Town of Normal and Ameren. The league’s All-Star Game will be played on Tuesday, July 23 at 6:30p.m.

All-Star activities begin Monday with an on-field meet and greet autograph session starting at 5:00 p.m. with the Home Run Derby following at 7:00 p.m. Former Chicago Cubs outfielder Andre Dawson and former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel will captain the Home Run Derby and are joined by Cubs infielder Bill Madlock and former Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog for the autograph session.

The Home Run Derby with the pregame autograph session takes place Monday and the Prospect League All-Star Game is Tuesday. Ticket packages are just $50 and include the Home Run Derby, with the pregame autograph session on July 22, as well as the All-Star Game on July 23. Individual tickets for each event can be purchased separately at $10 each but do not include participating in the autographed session.

Fans will be limited to one autograph per legend. Ticket packages may be purchased at the Corn Crib Box Office or by calling 309-454-2255.

Gates and doors will open at 4:30 on July 22 with on-field activities starting at 5 p.m. Event overflow parking will be available at Heartland Community College next to the Corn Crib Stadium.

By Steve Robinson | June 29, 2019 - 10:13 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

Looking at the roster for the Prospect League version of the Normal CornBelters, you see guys whose hometowns stretch from West Columbia, S.C. east to two players who are from Castle Rock, Colo. the west, and as far north as Rapid City, S.D. to south being from Kearney, Neb. And because these players are still in college, the season at this point has just a little more than a month left.

That means I need to get you as many locals covered as I can in the short amount of time the season grants. So this week, I thought I would start by introducing you to CornBelters outfielder, Bloomington resident, and Tri-Valley High grad Jack Butler. Jack, son of John and Linda Butler of Bloomington, is in his junior year at Illinois State University, who helped his Redbirds team get as far as a regional final game of the NCAA Baseball playoffs this past season.

Jack Butler Is Majoring In Ag At ISU: Southpaw outfielder Jack Butler is one of a trio of players on the CornBelters roster who hail from the Twin Cities. The others are Butler’s ISU teammate, Jackson Bronke, a junior; and redshirt freshman infielder Billy Mote.

Living on a farm and a redshirt junior, Butler is majoring in agriculture at ISU. Butler said since he lives on a farm which produces corn and soybeans, he wanted to continue the family business. “I talked to Billy Mote after I found out he was going to the CornBelters, and after finding that out, I looked into the team because I wanted to stay here for the summer,” Butler explained.

Butler said being home and “all the stuff we deal with outside of baseball is so much easier because I’m in town,” Butler said. He adds that helps him concentrate on the task ahead of winning games. Last summer, he spent his summer playing time with the Muskegon Clippers of the Great Lakes Collegiate League.

Being in that league, Butler said, allowed him to see what the competition is that exists at the Division I level, and added to playing for ISU has helped him, he said, to know how to perform on the field to keep pace with guys on other teams. ISU got as far as and lost in the regional final to the University of Louisville at the end of the current season. ISU got to the NCAAs by being co-champions in the Missouri Valley Conference along with Dallas Baptist. Once ISU was done at NCAAs, Butler reported for duty to the CornBelters.

Statistically, before this week started, it looks as though the CornBelters have Butler’s undivided attention thus far. He has had 58 at-bats in 18 games, where he had 17 hits, including two doubles and 9 home runs knocking in 16 runs. He has walked 11 times, struck out 11 times, and all that adds up to a .293 batting average. His best game to date was against the Quincy Gems on June 26. That night at The Corn Crib, the CornBelters beat the Gems, 14-6, and Butler had two home runs driving in four runs, and walked once.

While 21-year-old Butler said the game is the main reason he’s here, he said he likes also seeing all the activity at the ball park surrounding the games and watching youngsters run the bases after games. And from his perspective, it sounds like he’s enjoying all aspects of being with the CornBelters this season. In turn, he has given the fans reason to enjoy the season, as well.

At the time I did the interviews last Friday, Butler had hit five home runs in the previous four games. “He’s hitting the ball well right now and playing good defense,” said CornBelters Manager Rick White. “His average is steadily climbing. He’s just a great kid all around.”

White explained he saw Butler play in both the MVC and NCAA tourneys. ISU’s coaching staff recommended Butler when White asked about players who would be considered a good fit for the team, he explained. “It’s nice to have local guys here where you play. That’s because fans know and have heard of them.”

Still Trying To Put “Right Lineup Together”: Going into this week, the CornBelters were in fourth place 7 ½ games out of first place Cape Girardeau in the Prospect League’s Western Division. White said that’s partly because the team is still playing different guys in different positions to see what works. “We’re getting ready to start putting out a more consistent lineup now, based on who we think is going to help us win that day,” he explained.

Schedule Has Home & Away Games Around The July 4 Holiday: By the time you read this, the CornBelters will have hosted the Hannibal Hoots Monday and played an away game at Cape Girardeau Tuesday before returning home to continue playing Cape Girardeau Wednesday and Thursday. Thursday being the fourth of July, the game starts at 6:30p.m. Friday, the Lafayette Aviators are in town for one game, and the West Virginia Miners visit The Corn Crib for two games on Saturday and Sunday, July 6 and 7. Games on July 5 and 6 start at 7:05p.m. The team gets two days off on July 8 and 9 before playing two home games against DuPage Wednesday

NORMAL – Twin brothers Luke and Brett Hanson discovered early on in life that they liked running. Whether it was for fun or in competitions, the two boys who will be seniors next year at Normal Community High School found they had an affinity for the sport. They further discovered that when they were an age they could become part of Special Olympics, they could show they had a skill which would potentially win medals for doing so.

And they’ve been doing it for a number of years now. This past weekend at Special Olympics State Summer Games on Illinois State University’s campus was no different. Luke took home a 6th place ribbon in mini-javelin, and gold in the 3,000 meter run. Brett took third place in the 1,500 meter run and third place in the running long jump. Together, the pair earned silver medals in the 4×400 Relay, where Brett led off the race for his team from Bloomington-based Special Opportunities Available in Recreation (SOAR), and Luke served as the team’s anchor man, running fourth.

Teams receiving gold medals at Area G Special Olympic Spring Games in April, held in East Peoria, qualified to compete at State Summer Games.

“It helps that I start because I’m fast,” Brett Hanson explained. And running as the last part of the relay helps him, Luke added.

“It’s so exciting to watch them run,” said the twins’ mother, Lori Hanson, who along with husband, Greg Hanson, appear to enjoy watching their sons compete. “This is just an extension of another track activity the boys have.”

That extension is that Brett and Luke are members of the cross country team at their high school, Normal Community High School. They were also on the track team for the three years they were at their junior high school, George L. Evans Junior High School, as well. In fact, at NCHS, they have a set of twins coaching the track team. That would be brothers Tom and Dennis Patten.

The guys say they also enjoy being part of NCHS’ “Run Club,” a type of warmup to getting ready for the track season. In cross country, their mother added, her boys finish at around the 20 minute mark.

Lori Hanson said she hopes her boys, who have been involved with Special Olympics since they were 8-year-olds, will be able after high school to join a run club within the community to be able to continue their pursuit of running for just the enjoyment of it.

When the twins got involved in Special Olympics, they took to running competitions almost immediately, their mother said. “It’s always been running,” Lori Hanson said. “They put them in just doing the short distance runs, and as they got older and stronger, and got more stamina, they just started running long distance races.”

The Hanson boys say they have gotten numerous compliments from runners from other schools for how well they compete. “It makes my brother and I feel good inside,” Brett Hanson said.

“They have a lot of energy and a lot of endurance,” said the Hansons’ track coach, Julie Smith, who is a volunteer track coach for SOAR. SOAR is funded jointly by the Parks and Recreation Departments of the City of Bloomington and the Town of Normal.

Smith said the twins’ cross country activity and their parents’ encouraging being active have contributed to why the boys do as well as they do on the track. “Plus, they are naturally athletic, being lean muscular runners.”

Track events are but one of the events more than 4,000 athletes and Unified Partners competing in 6 different sports were able to participate in. They were joined by 1,600 coaches and 2,000 volunteers to make to make the event a success, as roughly 3,300 family members cheered for their athletes. Competition was offered in athletics, bocce, Unified bocce, gymnastics, football (soccer), powerlifting and swimming (aquatics).

By Steve Robinson | June 2, 2019 - 10:19 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

After splitting a pair of games with the DuPage Pistol Shrimp to mark their debut as members of the Prospect League, the Normal CornBelters dropped their first home game at The Corn Crib Saturday night. The Pistol Shrimp pounded Normal, 11-1 before a crowd of 800 fans. DuPage’s victory exacted revenge on the CornBelters for their road win over the Pistol Shrimp on May 30 in what was Normal’s debut with the league, 10-1.

The only run of the night for the CornBelters came in the bottom of the first inning as with one out, right fielder Jeremy Drudge’s single helped lead-off man Thomas Parker score from second base to give Normal (1-2 after this game) a quick 1-0 lead. Parker doubled to open the inning. But that would turn out to be the only run to cross the plate for Normal on the night.

DuPage (3-1) would take the lead in the top of the second inning scoring four runs as a single by catcher Hogan McIntosh’s single emptied a bases loaded situation, putting the visitors up, 2-1, allowing shortstop Garrett Goetz and Matt Waznis to score. Third baseman Kyle Kolb followed McIntosh with a single giving DuPage two men on base. After right fielder Anders Davidson struck out for DuPage’s second out, leadoff man Paul Kunst’s single scored McIntosh and Davidson, pushing the visiting team’s lead to 4-1 before Normal fielders would get their third out on DuPage center fielder Steven Hamer to end the inning.

DuPage would go on to score four more runs in the third inning, one in the fourth, and two in the fifth to complete the victory.

“We didn’t play very good at all today,” CornBelters head coach Rick White said. “Our bats have gone dead since opening night. We’re going to come out here and keep working harder and try to get this thing turned around real quick. The good thing is we’re only four games into the season, so I think once we get the right lineup figured out and all that, we’re going to be fine.”

“I don’t know if it was opening night jitters for the home team, but I know how Normal is feeling right now because we were on the short end just a few days ago,” said DuPage head coach John Jakiemiec afterward. Like Normal, DuPage is also an expansion team in the Prospect League this season. Jakiemiec credited CornBelters catcher Tyler Burthay’s throwing arm with keeping many Pistol Shrimp players from advancing to second once they got on or past first base. “Play like that helps pitchers control the running game when you see a kid like that with a cannon like that. You didn’t see us stealing a lot. We’ve got a lot of respect for what he can do behind the plate.”

‘Belters Missing Players Involved In College Postseason Play: White said with some of his players currently away from Normal because they are involved in postseason college play that has hampered the manpower available to the team. Those players are: Illinois State University pitchers Jack Anderson and Jackson Bronke, and outfielder Jack Butler who are with the Redbirds at the NCAA tournament; Outfielder Mike Addante, who is with University of Nebraska at NCAAs, and Pitcher Lucas DeGarmo, who is with his Northern Oklahoma University at Enid team at the national JUCO World Series.

White said that as a result of those players being absent, it has given the team an opportunty to see how other players can play. “We’ve gotten to see quite a bit in the first few days,” White said.

CornBelters Beat Visiting Springfield Sunday Night: Normal’s debut season in the Prospect League saw an improvement on Sunday night as the CornBelters defeated the visiting Springfield Sliders, 5-4. Outfielder Joey Allen got the scoring off to a proper start with his first inning home run. The win improved the ‘Belters record to 2-3 as of Monday morning. Following a road game at Springfield Tuesday and hosting Hannibal Wednesday, the CornBelters will host DuPage Thursday and Friday, and Hannibal again Saturday before playing at Danville Sunday.

BLOOMINGTON – Normal Community West High School and Edwardsville looked to be evenly matched and still trying to size one another up, each side managing to score two runs in the opening inning to tie the contest to determine the Class 4A Sectional Champion at the contest played at Jack Horenberger Field on Illinois Wesleyan University’s campus Saturday.

But a five-run second inning and three more in the fourth inning by the Tigers was what it took to close out Normal West’s season as the Tigers beat the Wildcats, 12-8. The loss helped close out Normal West’s season at 30-7.

A single by senior pitcher Austin Collinson started the top of the first inning, followed by a put-out on junior center fielder Will Kafer. Junior catcher Cole Hernandez was walked, and a double by senior right fielder Brandon Roth emptied the bases, putting West up, 2-0.

Collinson seemed unsettled against the first two batters for Edwardsville (34-5), walking leadoff hitter and sophomore center fielder Hayden Moore and second batter Blake Burris before forcing a put-out on third batter Drake Westcott. But with two on, a double by senior left fielder Joe Copeland scored Moore and Burris, tying the game at 2-2 before setting down the next two batters, senior shortstop Josh Ohl and senior third baseman Max Ringering to end the inning.

Normal West batters C. J. Lewis, Sean Shook, and Alec McGinnis went down in order to open the second inning, Edwardsville added to their lead in the bottom of that inning, starting with a double by junior first baseman Logan Cromer, who doubled scoring senior catcher Dalton Wallace who opened the Tigers’ half of the inning with a double. Cromer’s run batted in gave Edwardsville a 3-2 lead. A walk of Moore followed, and a single by Burris loaded the bases for junior first baseman Drake Westcott who blasted a grand slam home run over the right center field wall for a grand slam, pushing the Tigers in front, 7-2.

Collinson led off the top of the third with a double, was followed by center fielder Will Kafer striking out, and scored on a double by junior catcher Cole Hernandez, making the score, 7-3. Hernandez advanced to third from courtesy of an Edwardsville fielding error and crossed the plate during an out made on first baseman Evan Hutson, cutting the Tigers’ lead to 7-4.

Edwardsville went scoreless in the bottom of the third inning and Normal West fans saw their team open the fourth on a walk to Lewis followed by single by Shook. With two on, McGinnis hit a sacrifice fly to advance the runners to second and third, and a single by Collison allowed the pair to score, cutting the Tigers’ lead to 7-6.

Moore opened the bottom of the fourth inning with a single for Edwardsville and was followed by a put-out at first on Burris. With one gone, Westcott and Copeland each singled loading the bases. Shortstop Josh Ohl emptied the bases with a single, putting the Tigers up, 10-6.

Roth opened Normal West top half of the fifth inning by being hit by a pitch and advancing to first. After junior first baseman Evan Hutson struck out, senior designated hitter Brennan Diedrich walked and Lewis struck out for the team’s second out. Roth and Diedrich scored on a two-run double from Shook, cutting Edwardsville’s advantage to 10-8.

Edwardsville (34-5) failed to score in the bottom of the fifth as did Normal West in the top of the sixth. But after Burris singled in the bottom of the sixth, Westcott smacked his second home run of the day over the right field fence to push Edwardsville up, 12-8.

Diedrich led off Normal West bottom of the seventh inning hitting to second base for a put-out at first. With one gone, senior catcher Whitton Rice singled. But the Wildcats’ next batter, Shook hit the ball to Edwardsville shortstop Ohl who turned a double play to end the game and the Wildcats’ season.

Senior pitcher Grant Schaefer took the win for Edwardsville while Collinson took the loss.

Edwardsville head coach Tim Funkhouser was complimentary of Westcott’s two-homer performance on the day. “He’s got that real special ability to square up balls,” he explained. On facing Normal West, he added, “We knew there was a reason why they have won 30 games this year, and that came out very evident on film, so we knew their lineup was going to be really tough to pitch to. We also knew they had team speed throughout the lineup. Normal West played great quality defense in the two games we’ve seen. They’re a fundamentally sound team, so we knew they wouldn’t give us much at all.”

“Both teams kept punching,” explained Normal West head coach Chris Hawkins. “It was a heavyweight bout for a while.” He credited Collinson’s staying power throughout the game, exhibited by hit three hits in the contest. “He’s a warrior,” Hawkins said of his 5 foot-11, 170 pound senior.

Hawkins summed up the season by saying, “These guys did what they were asked. “We lost four games in March, one in April, and one in May. You know, we lost three games in March, one game in April, and one in May. We have been in the Sweet 16 game three straight years. We just have to keep grinding and get better. We’re right there. We’re knocking on the door.” His team this year had 10 juniors, Hawkins said, adding he hopes they find their way to the door to the playoffs again next year. The previous Sweet 16 losses were twice to Edwardsville and once to O’Fallon.