By Steve Robinson | June 28, 2010 - 10:49 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

BaseballI wondered how many columns it would take before sports and politics would get mentioned in the same sentence. Those of you who had the number “4” in the office pool can collect now. Here’s why:

I attended a recent Normal CornBelters game, and while buying a pizza slice for dinner, witnessed a couple who walked up to the pizza vendor, who also sold hard liquor and beer, and asked for a particular brand of vodka drink sold at the game.

Apologetically, the vendor said she could not sell the drink to the couple until, in the vendor’s words, “The Normal Town Council decides we can.”

The decision – or possibly a decision on when to decide – on the subject will be a topic for Normal Council members at their July 6 meeting at City Hall, moved to a Tuesday due to the Federal Independence Day Holiday July 5.

Currently, wine and hard liquor sales are confined to the suites at the Corn Crib, home field of the CornBelters.

CornbeltersWhether or not the hard liquor sales question gets resolved at that Council session could take a back seat to the question of how long should beer sales go on at CornBelters games. Currently, Town Municipal Code allows for alcohol sales through the end of the seventh inning. The CornBelters are looking to extend beer sales one additional inning – through the end of the eighth inning.

Town staff has researched the situation and found different teams, to use a baseball phrase, make the cutoff, at different times. City Manager Mark Peterson confirmed to me the Town of Normal contacted the Peoria Chiefs of Class A Midwest League, as well as the remaining 11 teams in the Frontier League, to see where the cutoff is at those locations. Peterson said the times for liquor to stop flowing vary from team-to-team.

“At this point, Town Staff is recommending the change in stopping the sale from the seventh to eighth inning,” Peterson told me. “That’s just a recommendation. The Council will have the vote.”

I myself drink a beer when I am not working a ball game. Please note: I said A beer. Not two or three. That’s because I am engrossed in the action of the game, and almost forget to imbibe in between innings. But I never drink anything stronger that a soda if I am working a game. I can’t seem to walk and chew gum simultaneously, so I don’t want think about trying to keep track of a game while avoiding swallowing peanut shells.

Frontier LeagueAhem…., Now if I could get back to discussing action on the field, Congratulations to CornBelters pitcher Tyler Lavigne for pitching the CornBelters’ first complete game in franchise history Sunday against the Gateway Grizzlies, giving Normal (16-19 as of Monday) a 3-2 victory at The Corn Crib.

On the schedule for the coming week, Normal will face two Eastern Division teams for the very first time – the Oakland County (Mich.) Cruisers and the Traverse City (Mich.) Beach Bums.

Normal will be wrapping up a three-game homestand against Traverse City Thursday. They will spend Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at Oakland County, then return home for a six-game home stint which will include three games against with Oakland County July 6-8.

By Steve Robinson | June 26, 2010 - 10:47 pm
Posted in Category: Relay For Life, The Normalite

Relay For LifeNORMAL – Cancer survivors, their friends and family members, and those who gave care and comfort to cancer patients were found Friday and Saturday where they have been for a decade and a half – circling a track to raise money for Relay For Life.

This year’s event was held at Normal Community West High and Wildcat Stadium from noon Friday, June 24 to noon Saturday, June 25.

A total of 150 teams of between 12-15 people each, participated in the 16th annual Relay For Life of McLean County event with the goal of raising money to fight Cancer, as well as to fund research and advocacy for those afflicted with the disease.

By the time the Relay For Life of McLean County event ended at noon Saturday, it had honored 400 survivors and close to 300 caregivers, and raised $581,390. Relay For Life of McLean County had set a fundraising goal of $630,000 when plans for the 2010 event began last September.

“I bring you greetings from the Town of Normal and the City of Bloomington,” said Sonja Reece, Mayor Pro Tem of Normal, as she spoke at the opening ceremonies for this year’s event. Reece told the crowd that she was “more than a casual observer in this process” because she is a cancer survivor herself, having gotten her first diagnosis of the disease 25 years ago.

“I want to thank all the doctors, the nurses, the caregivers, the researchers, the cancer centers, and the hospitals for all that they do to help us in the fight against cancer,” said Willie Brown, a retired State Farm vice president, and the event’s honorary chairman, as he spoke to the crowd gathered at the beginning of the 24-hour event.

“I also want to thank McLean County for their efforts with Relay, because, year-in and year-out, you set records for raising money to fight cancer,” Brown said. “You come out each and every year, and your raise the bar higher and higher and higher and higher on a national level, as we fight cancer. One of these days, ultimately, we will have a cure for this dreaded disease.”

The total number of teams is, “historically, one of the largest turnouts we’ve ever had in the county,” said Dana Pace, senior development representative, based at the American Cancer Society’s Peoria office, who serves as a staff partner to the local relay committee.

Relay For Life of McLean County was shooting for having 170 relay teams at this event. Although they fell short of that number, it appears their incoming dollar amount will surpass last year’s intake of over $620,000. Event co-chair Dede Verplaetse said “that is a good trade.”

Pace added that McLean County’s Relay is the first in the State of Illinois to surpass $100,000 in donations submitted online.

Upcoming Donation Deadlines: Event co-chairs Fran Massie and Verplaetse encouraged residents who may have missed donating before and during relay to consider giving anytime prior to the end of Relay For Life’s fiscal year ends on Aug. 31. Although the 2010 event has concluded, there are still ways for people to make donations to the event. One way is for team members to turn in money at a Bank Day event, scheduled for Tuesday, July 6 at Central Catholic High School, starting at 5:30p.m.

The other way is through online donations. Pace advised potential donors to make contributions to specific teams by visiting through Aug. 31.

Why They Relay: The reasons why people “take up the fight,” as many relay team members put it, are as varied as the people themselves. Rhea Kingman, Normal, her husband Earl, took up the fight against the disease after Earl contracted it. They joined a relay team called Gabriel’s Angels. Darla Beerup is the captain of the Gabriel’s Angels team. Earl Kingman has been cancer free for 11 years, his wife said.

“I think the biggest thing is that we want to help find a cure to help other people,” Rhea Kingman said. “We need a cure, so we’re willing to work and raise money to support this cause.” Gabriel’s Angels raised over $7,000 this year.

Katie Williams was part of the Relay team from Trinity Lutheran Church and School, Bloomington. Her mother, Joyce Bishop, Bloomington, is a Cancer survivor. Jan Wirsing, Normal, was also part of Trinity Lutheran’s team called Warriors Against Cancer. For Wirsing, having survivors, including an aunt, and losing two grandparents and a cousin to Cancer became her reasons for joining the relay.

“We won’t stop looking to raise money until this battle is done,” Wirsing said. “Every person on this team has a personal reason for being here.”

That statement is very true of just about every person who participates in relay, it seems. She thinks it’s “wonderful” that more teams are involved, including for her perspective, an increase in the numbers of men who are on teams, as well as the sheer increase in numbers of people participating in general.

Warriors Against Cancer raised $2,615.

Regardless of how long it had been since a person is first diagnosed with the disease, “for all of us who have had the diagnosis, we continue to feel it, to have the concern, and the hurt for everybody else, as well as the desire for us to find a cure,” said Reece, herself a three-time cancer survivor.

Friends, Loved Ones Remembered: As team members rounded the track circling the football field, they found the track area lined with white bags with candles inside them. Each bag had written on it the name of a person who had either survived or passed away from Cancer. These people were being remembered by friends and loved ones. Relay For Life calls these Luminaria bags and each relay holds a touching Luminaria ceremony shortly after dark.

Some relays read aloud over a public address system the name of each person remembered. But McLean County Relay organizers had over 2,000 Luminaria bags sold. Some people were remembered more than once with Luminaria purchases.

The names of those remembered were projected onto a wide screen at one end of the stadium. At this relay, participants walked the track during the ceremony; they passed the screen, some stopping to pause if they spotted a familiar name, some stopping at a luminaria with a loved one’s name, as its candle held an inviting glow in the darkness.

Next year’s Relay For Life event will be held on Friday and Saturday, June 24 and 25, 2011.

By Steve Robinson | June 21, 2010 - 10:36 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

BaseballMany baseball fans grew up watching Ferguson Jenkins in the 1960s and 1970s. But instead of talking about the hard-throwing right hander, could you imagine talking about Ferguson Jenkins, the smooth shooting point guard? How about Ferguson Jenkins the stalwart at left wing?

Well believe it or not, for a 2004 book tour that came through the Twin Cities, that I covered for another paper promoting a work he had written with Dorothy Turcotte in 2003 called, “The Game Is Easy–Life Is Hard: The Story of Ferguson Jenkins, Jr.,” published by The Fergie Jenkins Foundation, Jenkins said he played both hockey and basketball growing up in his native Chatham, Ontario, Canada.

Over six years later, Jenkins made an appearance at the June 16 Normal CornBelters game against the Florence (Ky.) Freedom, throwing out the first pitch to start the evening.

CornbeltersOf the players currently playing for Normal and the other teams in the Frontier League, Jenkins said, “These young men are still living out their dream, which is something they want to pursue. If they didn’t want to pursue it, they wouldn’t be here, so, I think it’s good baseball. These young men are looking for someone to notice them, and hey, good things could happen (for them).”

Jenkins may not suit up for games anymore, but says he still follows the Chicago Cubs. “(I follow them) all the time,” Jenkins said, chuckling. “They can’t put it together yet. Their pitching has been spotty from time to time…they can’t score any runs.”

Jenkins said over the course of a three-and-a-half to four-month season in the Frontier League, players just need to do their best because “someone is watching (their progress). There is no reason (for these players) not to play well.

“When they put that uniform on, it’s baseball,” Jenkins said. “It’s you against the other team. These guys need to be competitive and try to win.”

Normal CornBelters pitcher Tyler Lavigne is trying to live out Jenkins’ advice every time he steps on the mound. Currently, the right-handed is, as of Tuesday, 4-2 on the season, and is has the Frontier League’s fifth lowest ERA, 2.04.

“I’ve been trying to keep my team in the game, and everything’s just been working right,” said the CornBelters’ right-hander who was drafted by St. Louis last year. “Being in Normal is a good experience. I like it a lot. I like being out here in front of the fans, seeing us all for the first time. I think it’s real exciting.”

Lavigne (pronounced “Levine”) said the CornBelters dropping five or six contests at a stretch has not helped the team’s rise to the top in the Frontier League. He said, had those five or six resulted in victory for Normal, the CornBelters possibly would be higher up in the standings – first or second, he theorized.

Frontier LeagueCornBelters Manager Hal Lanier remembered a homer he hit, while playing for San Francisco, against Jenkins. Lanier said he hit Jenkins’ pitch into left center field. After Jenkins’ appearance here, Lanier said he found out from watching ESPN that Jenkins was fourth on the all-time list for giving up homers, with 484. From that, Lanier knew he was standing in a line. He was pretty proud of the homer he got off Jenkins, though.

“He was tough. He was a very good, competitive pitcher,” Lanier said of Jenkins. “He had great stuff.

“He was really good with my players,” Lanier said about the interaction he saw between Jenkins and CornBelters players. “He talked to them about pitching and everything else. I think his being here was a big lift, and all the players enjoyed him coming into the dugout.”

The CornBelters went 1-4 this past week, as of Monday, putting them hover at 13-16, 12 games back of Frontier League Western Division leading Southern Illinois Miners. Normal’s record puts them in a tie for fourth with the Evansville Otters. As of Tuesday, Southern Illinois has won 13 straight.

Having spent the early part of this week on the road to Florence and Southern Illinois, Lanier’s team will be at The Corn Crib June 26-28 to take on the Sauget, Ill.-based Gateway Grizzlies. After the Grizzlies, Normal will host the Oakland County Cruisers June 29-July 1. Upcoming promotions include Tuesday’s double bill of “Salute To Elvis Night” and “Reading Club Night,” and “Teacher Appreciation Night” on Wednesday.

Town of NormalNORMAL – Normal Town Council members unanimously approved a contract with River City Construction LLC for the construction of the Town’s new $24.8 million multimodal transportation center.

Last month, Council members approved an agreement with the U. S. Department of Transportation for the Town to receive Federal grant money to help with the construction of the Transportation Center, to be located along Beaufort Ave.

The Town would receive $22 million for the proposed project under the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Grant Program. Normal’s receiving TIGER funds for the project was announced by U. S. Senator Dick Durbin in February.

The Town received proposals from eight firms desiring the contract for the assignment. Because Federal TIGER Grant money was part of this project, contractors were required to submit a letter of interest, a list of the proposed contractor’s qualifications; a work plan, schedule, project approach, and quality control information; a list of proposed subcontractors, and a proposed price for performing the work.

Based in East Peoria, River City Construction beat out 7 firms; one each based in Morton, Peoria, Oakbrook Terrace, and Plainfield, as well as three Chicago-based firms.

Each firm was required to submit to both written and oral examinations, evaluated by a Town committee. Members of the committee included Mayor Chris Koos, City Manager Mark Peterson, Deputy City Manager Pamela Reece, Town Director of Inspections Greg Troemel; and Edward Scopel, from Indianapolis-based Ratio Architects, the architectural firm working on the project.

Koos called the multimodal transportation center the Town’s “last key project” in revitalizing Uptown Normal. He said the Town has been looking for nine years to find grant funds to help make the transportation center a reality.

He said it was nice that being able to get started on this project “dovetails” recent approval for high speed rail which will come through the community.

“We think River City will do an outstanding job,” Koos said.

River City Construction had the right combination from the Town’s point of view in a couple of respects, Koos said. River City presented the highest score in the presentations along with the lowest bid for the project of any of its competitors bidding for the assignment.

River City Construction’s bid saves the Town $6.8 million under the project’s original cost, Koos told Council members.

Such dollar savings figures “gives Normal a strong seat at the table as far as future projects are concerned,” said Council member Chuck Scott.

“The bid prices were extremely tight,” said City Manager Mark Peterson. “The United States Department of Transportation has bent over backwards to help move this forward. They’ve been wonderful to work with.”

Peterson also credited the assistance of Reece, Uptown Development Director Wayne Aldrich, and Geoff Fruin, assistant to the City Manager.

Peterson also acknowledged the support of State and Federal leaders such as U. S. Sen. Dick Durbin, State Rep. Dan Brady (R-88th Dist.), State Sen. Debbie Halverson (D-40th Dist.), and U. S. Rep. Tim Johnson (R-15th Dist.) for the aid they provided for the project at the varying levels of government to help make the funding for the project a reality.

A formal groundbreaking ceremony for the Multimodal Transportation Center is being planned for sometime next month.

Westerdahl To Retire: Monday’s meeting was the last one Steve Westerdahl will attend. Westerdahl, who doubles as both Community Development Director and Purchasing Officer for the Town retires later this summer.

During the meeting, Peterson said Westerdahl “has been the catalyst for keeping the Sugar Creek Arts Festival and CornFest going.”

Westerdahl’s impact on the Town got a very early start, Peterson said. Within roughly 30 days of Westerdahl being hired by the Town in the position then known as Personnel Director in 1977, Normal Firefighters went on strike for 56 days to earn their first contract.

The position of community Development Director will not be filled at present, as the Town continues to cut its budget, Peterson said. Instead, different aspects of the position Westerdahl held will be assigned to other Town departments.

Sugar Creek Arts Fest and CornFest will come under the jurisdiction of Normal Parks and Recreation, as assisted by the Uptown Development Office, Peterson said.

Proclamation Recognizes Sorority: Delta Sigma Theta Sorority was honored with the night’s second proclamation, naming June 21 as Delta Day, honoring the sorority for “having clearly establishing itself as a public service organization that strives to confront the problems of African Americans, as well as all Americans through…educational development, economic development, international awareness and involvement, political awareness and involvement, and physical and mental health.”

Some community organizations Delta Sigma Theta has been involved with include Habitat For Humanity, Diabetes and Stroke Awareness, Prevention of Domestic Violence; and AIDS and HIV Awareness. Etascha M. Johnson, President of Delta Sigma Theta’s Bloomington-Normal Alumnae Chapter, accepted the proclamation on behalf of her group.

CVS Pharmacy Granted Liquor License: Council members, serving in the capacity of the Normal Liquor Commission, met prior to the beginning of the Council session and approved a pair of requests for liquor licenses.

One license was approved for Highland Park CVS, LLC, doing business as CVS Pharmacy, #8043, 206 North St.

A second liquor license was granted by Commissioners to Imperial Buffet, Inc., doing business as Imperial Buffet, 1950 E. College Ave.

Commissioners also approved imposed a fine on a trio of businesses for selling liquor to minors during a recent Town liquor audit conducted May 27. The three businesses cited by the Commission, and the fines imposed were:

• Okgo Restaurant Group, LLC, doing business as Moe’s Southwest Grill, 1730 Bradford Lane, Suite 195, $250 for a first offense.

• Bradford Lane Italian Foods, LLC, doing business as Rosati’s Pizza, 1702 Bradford Lane, $250 for a first offense.

• C.Y. Heritage Inn of Bloomington, Inc., doing business as Bloomington-Normal Courtyard Inn, 310A Greenbriar Dr., $500 fine for a second offense. As a result of this being a second offense, the hotel had its liquor license suspended for two days, during which they could not serve alcohol. The suspension ran June 23 and 24.

Omnibus Agenda Items Approved: Omnibus agenda items approved by the Council included:

• Approval of the minutes of the Council’s regular meeting of June 7, 2010.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of June 16, 2010.

• A motion to approve the purchase of a transport truck trailer from the City of Bloomington in the amount of $15,000 for the Recycle Program and approve an associated budget adjustment.

• A motion to waive the formal bidding process and accept a total net bid of $84,089 from Taylorville, Ill.-based Bob Ridings Ford for the purchase of a man-lift trick replacement for the Public Works Street Maintenance Division.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of an Intergovernmental agreement with McLean County for animal warden services.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of an Intergovernmental agreement with McLean County for animal shelter services.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of an agreement for technical planning services with the McLean County Regional Planning Commission.

• A resolution approving a three-year agreement with Bloomington-based Marcfirst for litter collection services in the Uptown area and approval of a FY 2010-11 budget adjustment.

• A resolution accepting temporary construction easement from Wayne and Lois Hochstetler – 2010 Vernon Ave. Bridge and Road Project.

• A resolution approving a site plan for Midwest Fiber, located at 422 White Oak Rd.

• An ordinance amending Sec. 15.4-3(B) of the Zoning Code (General Provisions – Uses and Structures).

By Steve Robinson | June 14, 2010 - 10:01 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

BaseballThe Normal CornBelters were on the road when I spoke to their manager, Hal Lanier, for this column. The Frontier League club was in Crestwood with one game left against Windy City before a three-game swing to Kalamazoo. Lanier’s team has gotten into a habit of splitting home series games and away series games, most recently going 3-3 on the last road trip.

“(During our last homestand), we swung the bat real well after three losses (at home) to Windy City,” Lanier said about the very first set of games ever played at The Corn Crib. At that time, there were three home runs. “That’s what we have to do,” Lanier said, speaking about what he hopes will be a sign of consistent offensive output.

“Some players have shown a great deal of improvement, and some need to pick up a little bit.” Lanier said.

Checking transactions as late as Monday, Lanier and the CornBelters Signed infielder Kellen Kmiecik, and activated southpaw pitcher Alex Smith from the injured list. The CornBelters also released right-handed pitcher Jarrett Coker and outfielder Phil Laurent.

“My coaches and I are still evaluating,” Lanier told me prior to those moves being made. “Those players we thought were going to give us a quality start haven’t done that.”

CornbeltersBut while Lanier waits to see how matters progress, the CornBelters will wrap up their first month of existence this weekend, having started this week with a three-game series against the Florence (Ky.) Freedom at The Corn Crib. The Evansville Otters will follow for a three game series Thursday-Saturday.

Both Evansville and Florence are directly behind fourth-place Normal in the Frontier League Western Division standings. Head coaches of other minor league sports I have covered always taught me that you keep looking forward, but you also don’t take the teams behind you for granted. One can’t assume that you will always be able to beat them just because their record is not as good as yours.

It’s back on the road starting June 20 with a three-game series at last place Florence, followed by three games at the Southern Illinois Miners. Lanier’s CornBelters are 1-2 this season against the Miners.

While the team wrestles with how to escape living in the lower half of the Frontier League’s Western Division (as of Monday they were 11-11, in fourth place, 7 games behind division leader Southern Illinois Miners) two of the CornBelters players have been sitting atop a pair of league categories.

Right-handed pitcher Tyler Lavigne is second in the league regarding ERA percentage. Lavigne’s ERA is 1.93, just behind Zach Rosenbaum of the Washington (PA) Wild Things. Rosenbaum boasts a 0.93 ERA.

Frontier LeagueLavigne’s reputation for good pitching preceded him to Normal, the CornBelters’ skipper said. The 6-foot right-hander was drafted by St. Louis in 2009, and played for Batavia in the New York-Penn League last year.

“I heard very good reports from the Cardinals and Lavigne’s agent,” Lanier said. “He can get out of jams. I’m very pleased with how he’s done.”

He also gave a nod of the cap to catcher Mike Hughes for his prowess at the plate. “Hughes has swung the bat well for a young kid in pro ball,” Lanier said.

“Others have to pick up the pace in hitting,” Lanier said, without being specific as to who he was referring to.

By this time next week, Hall of Fame pitcher and former Chicago Cub Ferguson Jenkins will have visited The Corn Crib. I’ll tell about his visit next week.