NORMAL – On the one hand, as much as fans of the Normal CornBelters of the Frontier League love going out to The Corn Crib to cheer for players they have come to meet and know through the media and personal appearances, many of them know the whole point to being part of this league is to help hone their skills so that they can get another shot at getting into the big leagues.

That means players are biding their time, waiting and hoping for another chance. Many of them have arrived in Normal having been cut at some point in their careers while playing on teams in the minors, as part of Major League Baseball’s Class system.

Being in Normal helps these young men sharpen their skills and their desire to return to the Class system, and eventually, they hope to the Majors. The latest CornBelters player to get his break to return to the Class system is pitcher Casey Upperman.

The CornBelters sold Upperman to the Baltimore Orioles prior to Normal’s June 22 game against the Traverse City Beach Bums. He will be returning to Class A playing for the Delmarva Shorebirds, based in Salisbury, Md. The Shorebirds are members of the South Atlantic League.

Before he left Normal, I got the chance to sit down with Upperman to ask him about, among other things, how he got here, his role on the team, and what goes on in the mind of reliever. After all, these are the guys who don’t start games, they come in to either maintain or re-establish control of a playing situation.

Like every player in a CornBelters uniform, Upperman said his goal was to get back to the big leagues. Although he is a few years removed from high school, he had some advice for high school players who are antsy to graduate and move on with their lives. “Soak in the memories and savor your moments in high school and college,” he said. He said he wishes he had done that himself during those years.

Watching games, we have all seen closers trot out of the bullpen onto the mound, exuding confidence in critical situations. At 22, Upperman admits, “you have to be a little crazy and a little out there to want to come into those situations and close the door.

“Anyone wanting to be a relief pitcher,” the right-hander said, “Needs to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

And yet the whole point of a relief pitcher is to make the opposition uncomfortable after they have put themselves in position to possibly score runs. When he was pitching for Normal, Upperman said his pitching arm was feeling totally normal for the first time in almost two years, he explained. Two years ago, while part of the Arizona Diamondbacks farm system, he tore his ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm, requiring him to have what is now commonly referred to as Tommy John Surgery, coined after it first became well-known after John, who pitched for the New York Yankees at the time roughly three decades ago, underwent it himself.

Upperman may have moved on but CornBelters Manager Brooks Carey is confident he will find another reliever for his bullpen. “It’s a little easier to find his replacement because there are more pitchers out there than there are position players,” the veteran pitching coach said. “You can always find good arms.”

‘Belters Home For Independence Day: After the CornBelters used a travel day Monday, they have played at Windy City Tuesday through Thursday. Friday through Sunday, June 28-30, they move on to play another three-game road series against the Rockford Aviators. Monday, July 1 will be a day-off before beginning a 9-game, 10-day homestand. Tuesday, July 2 through Thursday, July 4, the Florence Freedom will be visiting The Corn Crib, with all three games beginning at 7p.m. The Gateway Grizzlies will file in behind them for three games Friday through Sunday, July 5-7. Friday and Saturday games will at 7p.m., while Sunday’s game will start at 6p.m. The team will get a breather at home, taking Monday, July 8 off before hosting a three-game series against the Joliet Slammers Tuesday through Thursday, July 9-11, with all games starting at 7p.m.

By Steve Robinson | June 22, 2013 - 10:51 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

NORMAL – The sign former Normal resident Sherry Detloff carried around the track at Normal Community West High School for the opening lap of at the 19th annual Relay For Life of McLean County event could have been, depending on who didn’t catch its play on words, either bawdy or political.

But the sentiment expressed on the octagon-shaped sign Detloff carried was not aimed at either an individual or a country. It was aimed at a disease – breast cancer – which she has survived. The message on the large sign: “Stop The War On My Rack!”

When the event began, Detloff carried the sign for the event’s first lap and drew plenty of attention. But for Detloff, how she received the news of her diagnosis got her attention, too. Detloff said she considered the call from her oncologist most unusual when the doctor reported back the results of an ultrasound exam and biopsy over two years ago.

Detloff said when the doctor called her at her work with test results, she informed Detloff, “you have cancer – but it’s the good kind.” Upon hearing the news, Detloff said, “I just looked at the phone and said, ‘there’s a good kind of cancer?’”

The doctor told Detloff the answer to her question was yes. That was because the type of cancer she had responds well to post-cancer medications such as Tamoxifen and Arimidex, two meds used in Detloff’s treatment.

What followed were a lumpectomy and radiation treatments, Detloff said, “And I’ve been cancer-free ever since.”

“I’m here, mainly to support my fellow survivors,” 59-year-old Detloff said as she sat at the campsite established by one of teams of people rounding the track at Normal Community West High School this past weekend. “Stop The War On My Rack” was also the name of the 15-person Relay Team, whose captain is Cindy Fight.

Fight said the team name came from a team assembled for the local Susan G. Komen Race For The Cure event. Fight said she contacted that team’s captain to see if she would not mind Fight using it at Relay. That team captain gave her an okay to use it.

As a survivor, Detloff takes an optimistic tack on the subject of cancer. She said getting a cancer diagnosis “is not the end of your life because there is life before cancer and life after cancer. Life after cancer is very different but it’s very good.”

Detloff said she was concerned about the potential for drastic changes brought about by the cancer diagnosis, “but was very relieved that I would not need chemotherapy.” Her condition required six weeks of radiation treatments during the spring after being diagnosed. To keep tabs on her condition, she goes in for checkups every six months.

Detloff said anyone who has had cancer but not attended the Relay event should “come on out. It’s like a big party and you will realize you are not the only one this is happening to.” That almost explains how Fight became involved. During a break at a softball tournament being held at neighboring Champion Fields, Fight and her family wandered around during the 2012 Relay For Life event to get some general information. From everything she learned, it convinced her she should assemble a team of her own to join in for this year.

Weather Delay Hampered Reaching Money Goal: Detloff, who now lives in Bloomington, was one of roughly 2,200 people, divided into 120 teams of 12-15 people each, went around the track over the course of the 24-hour period, which ran from noon June 21 until noon June 22. Funds raised at the event go toward informing the public about cancer research, services available to patients, and educating the public.

Event organizers were aiming to raise $560,000 at this year’s event, explained Dede Verplaetse, spokeswoman for the McLean County event. But darkening skies and heavy winds that preceded a sudden storm forced participants to briefly move the event into one of the gyms at Normal West High for about two hours. Once the storm passed and an all-clear was given at around 5p.m. Friday, walkers were back out onto the track for the remainder of the event.

The event raised $446,000 by the time it wrapped up on Saturday at noon.

“We may have been closed down for about two hours, but we moved everybody into the school and we had games, we had food, and some people walked around the gym, so we kept everybody occupied and the time passed rather quickly,” Verplaetse said about the delay. Once teams were back on the track, there was a steady stream of people marching as the overnight hours approached.

During the solemn luminaria ceremony at the event – where bags lit by candles on the inside to honor cancer survivors and those who have lost their lives are honored – the weather subtracted using bags prompting some creative measures by the organizing committee. Glow sticks were handed out to all participants in time for the ceremony.

“We came up with the idea to use glow sticks,” Verplaetse said. “There were people around the track standing around the track holding the glow sticks to represent those we were honoring. We have heard people just loving that idea. It was beautiful to look around the track and see all these people light up these glow sticks. It really turned out really well.”

The glow sticks were provided courtesy of a coincidence that a staff member from the Peoria office of the American Cancer Society visiting the McLean County event had a case of glow sticks in her car trunk, Verplaetse explained. “It was a coincidence that the ACS person had those in her trunk. It was a pure coincidence that worked out perfectly,” she said. “It was just meant to be.”

Donations Still Accepted After Event: The event may be over but Relay For Life of McLean County will still be receiving money through a scheduled “Bank Night” event on Tuesday, July 9 from 5:30p.m.-6:30p.m. at Central Catholic High School. Money could still pour in to count for 2013 because ACS’ fiscal year doesn’t end until Aug. 31, Verplaetse explained.

NORMAL – The desire of a Normal businessman to open an indoor gun range prompted Town Council members unanimously approve an ordinance amending three sections of the Town’s Municipal Code to designate gun ranges for special uses.

The item came to the Town’s attention when Stephen Stewart, owner of 10-8 Outfitters, approached Town Staff in April about opening a gun store with an indoor firing range. Prior to the ordinance passing, Town Code had no prior items related to gun ranges.

Council members also passed a related ordinance, amending a section of Town Code concerning the discharge of firearms in the Town. The ordinance, as amended would change Town Code to make it lawful to fire a gun at a licensed gun range.

With these new amendments passed by the Council, Stewart may now begin to take necessary steps to establish his business’ new venture.

In the conversation among Council members before voting, Council Member Cheryl Gaines said having Stewart’s proposed new establishment near the Town’s business district was a concern.

“Safety and responsibility are at the forefront of what we are discussing here tonight,” said Mayor Chris Koos.

Operating Agreement With Broadband Network Approved: Council members unanimously approved a resolution authorizing execution of an operating agreement with Central Illinois Regional Broadband Network. CIBRN was developed by Illinois State University in 2010 with the intent to provide high speed, low cost internet connectivity to 19 communities in six different counties throughout central Illinois using fiber optics.

Council members approved a resolution at their June 3 meeting to authorize the customer service agreement with the University on behalf of CIBRN. That agreement grants the Town access to CIBRN for internet and intranet connections.

In a report to Council members, City Manager Mark Peterson explained the Town, under the terms of the agreement, has been asked to join ISU as managing members of CIBRN. He explained that that same request has been made to officials from Heartland Community College and the City of Bloomington. He said Normal-based Unit 5 School District and Bloomington School District #87 were also invited to join, but declined. CIBRN is due to go live on July 1.

Although the vote was unanimous to approve the agreement, Council Member Chuck Scott abstained from both discussion or voting on this issue because he is an ISU employee.

709 S. Main St. Lot Added To Main/Osage TIF District: Council members unanimously approved a trio of ordinances related to the Tax Increment Main St./Osage St. Redevelopment Plan.

Council members first passed an ordinance approving the addition of 709 S. Main St. to the Main/Osage development. The boundary of the TIF district is on the north by Dry Grove St., by the south at the intersection of Hovey Ave. and Beaufort St.; Kingsley St. on the west; and University St. on the east.

During a brief discussion prior to passing the first ordinance, Council Member Jeff Fritzen said there “was a density of businesses in that area. I have concerns with the use of the TIF in that area.”

Peterson said that “just because a business is within the TIF doesn’t automatically mean the property is automatically qualified for” such funding. Peterson added the Town’s Master Plan called for increased development in the area. He added ground floor retail shops are being considered for the area.

A second ordinance passed extended the boundry of the Tax Increment Funding district to include the land located at 709 S. Main St. A third ordince passed by Council members extended the financing within the district to include the 709 S. Main St. property.

A public hearing was held concerning the Main/Osage Redevelopment Plan at the Council’s June 3 meeting, during which, no member of the public made any comments.

Work Session Tackles Concerns Regarding Fire Stations: A work session prior to the regular Council session addressed concerns regarding the Town’s three aging fire stations. Humer reported that all three of the Town’s fire stations are in some stage of needing repair, including leaking roofs, and are in some stage of needing renovation.

The stationhouse needing the most renovating is Station 2, at the corner of Gregory and Adelaide Streets, according to a handout given Council members at the session. Station 2’s condition is listed as “poor.” Over the next couple of years, renovation work costing the Town an estimated $2.2 million will be needed to that facility. Renovation would add 10 years to that building’s usefulness to the Town, according to Humer’s handout. Completely replacing that stationhouse would cost between $3.5 million-$4 million minus the land costs.

At the other end of NFD’s concerns is Fire Station 3, located at Raab Rd. and Henry Rd, opened in 1999 and is experiencing very few problems.

One Appointment Each Announced For Children’s Museum Board, Transit Board: Council members unanimously approved the appointment of one new member each for the Children’s Discovery Museum Foundation Board and the Bloomington-Normal Public Transit Service (BNPTS) Board of Trustees.

Michael McCurdy begins a one-year term on the BNPTS Board starting July 1. McCurdy was appointed to the Board in 2012 to fill the position vacated by Peterson who, by Town ordinance, became an ex-officio non-voting member of the Board after a re-organization. A lottery determined Board members’ term of office and McCurdy was awarded a one-year term.

Jeff Mavros was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Children’s Discovery Museum Foundation Board created by the expiring term of Holly Houska. Mavros’ term will last for three years, expiring at the end of June 2016. Mavros serves as director of annual fund giving at Illinois Wesleyan University. He earned his bachelor’s degree from IWU and his Master’s degree from Illinois State University. Mavros and his wife, Kathryn, have three young children.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the Public Hearing of June 3, 2013.

• Approval of the minutes of the Council’s regular meeting held June 3, 2013.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of June 12, 2013.

• A motion to accept bids and award a contract to Bloomington-based Rowe Construction Co. in the amount of $996,756.79 for the 2012-2013 street resurfacing project.

• A motion to accept bids and award a contract to Rowe Construction Co. in the amount of $616,218.74, plus a possible bonus of $5,000 for timely completion, of the Sugar Creek streambank stabilization project.

• A motion to waive the formal bidding process and accept a quote from Bloomington-based Extreme Nissan in the amount of $18,845 for a 2013 Nissan Frontier Pick-Up truck for the Town Engineering Department.

• A motion to waive the formal bidding process and accept a quote from O’Brien Mitsubishi – fleet purchasing program in the amount of $18,245 for a 2013 Outlander Sport for the Town Engineering Department.

• A motion to recommend Harmon Arts Grant Awards.

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

• A conditional resolution partially approving the final plat of Greystone Fields Subdivision first addition in the Town of Normal (east side of Parkside Rd., south of Raab Rd.).

• An ordinance establishing prevailing wage rates.

NORMAL – Normal Town Council members heard reports on a pair of subjects that, although aimed at different sectors of the community, could intersect during key seasons of the year. The seasons would be those months when bike riding is a key activity in the community. The activity although routine is looked upon as something done quickly with a bike by some: Going to the nearest grocery store.

Grocery Feasibility Study Results Presented: Council members heard from a principal member of the research firm that conducted a feasibility study concerning placing a grocery store in Uptown Normal.

Mike Mallon, Principal with the research firm of Elmhurst, Ill.-based D. K. Mallon Associates, gave a brief presentation and answered questions from Council members. At the outset, however, Mayor Chris Koos informed Council members and the gallery of roughly 20-30 people in Council Chambers that what they were about to be presented “were the results of a study, not a plan of action.”

The feasibility study examined a trio of sites that could serve as proposed locations for groceries near Uptown and Illinois State University. The feasibility study identified these locations as “Site A,” “Site B,” and “Site C.” The location identified in the study as “Site A” is a 13,000 square foot retail site on the ground floor of the College Ave. Parking Deck at 101 W. Mulberry St. According to D. K. Mallon’s study, development costs for the project would run close to $3 million, and a store at that location would have an estimated proposed weekly sales of $100,000. This location was originally proposed for an Uptown grocery when talk of, and Council members approved in January, paying D. K. Mallon to conduct the feasibility study.

“Site B” in the study is a building at the northeast corner of College Ave. and Linden St. While the site, a 25,000 sq. ft. building sitting on a 68,000 sq. ft. lot located at 204 W. College Ave. was seen as a potential site for an Uptown grocery, the building is currently the home of an Ace Hardware store that has been on the site since the late 1990s. A grocery at that location, Mallon’s study contends, would bring in a weekly income of $275,000.

At the outset of the Mallon presentation, and with regard to the Ace Hardware site, Mayor Chris Koos told those in attendance, “This is a study, not a plan of action.” The owners of Ace Hardware did not know about their location being used as a hypothetical site for the grocery, he explained.

Koos said the Ace Hardware site was used as an example of a building that could be a viable location for such a grocery. “The Town is not embarking into the grocery development business,” he said. “The Town has plenty enough to do.”

“Site C” in the Mallon study is the Town parking lot located south of the railroad tracks and west of Linden St.. The site has space for a 20,250 sq. ft. facility and a lot that is just over 46,000 sq. ft. Mallon’s study indicates a grocery at this site had potential to bring in weekly sales totaling $150,000.

Mallon said grocery chains such as Kroger, County Market, and Earth Fare were all considered by the company conducting the study to be good potential candidates for the proposed sites.

Council Member Jeff Fritzen asked Mallon if any of the potential grocery candidates were considered urban grocers. Mallon replied yes, but added that because groceries currently deal in various services or products in addition to food items, what they offer these days is evolving from what customers can expect. “Who would have thought Wal-Mart would be opening independent standing markets, as opposed to superstores?,” he asked.

Bicycle/Pedestrian Master Plan Update Presented: Council members also received an update on the Town’s Bicycle/Pedestrian Master Plan from Town Planner Mercy Davison. Davison said the Town has done a great deal in terms of educating and encouraging the public to make use of their bikes in the community. She cited events such as the Town’s annual Bike Rodeo as an example of “a community-building experience.”

“We’re learning about who needs the Constitution Trail,” Davison said of the Town’s signature landmark, which will have been around for 25 years as of next May.

Davison said bike racks located in Uptown “are well used and the bicycle shelter and repair areas in the community are well received. She said the Town is making every effort to help both local residents and those just passing through on the trail by having updated local maps which include street names.

Davison said the Town should look into both way-finding signage and signs promoting Constitution Trail as a brand to make it more identifiable to those in and visiting the community. To that end, she explained the Town is considering applying to the League of American Bicyclists, based in Washington, D. C., to be placed on that organization’s list of “Official Bicycle Friendly Communities.” Davison said being listed by the group “gives the Town a chance to strengthen ties with the community.”

She noted that the Town has made note that three times more men than women are getting on their two-wheelers, and that about half of the bike riders in town wear helmets.

The Town is making progress on six projects related to biking, Davison explained. Those include: Establishing a bike corridor in South Normal, complete with shared lane markings and a bike lane following Bryan Dr., Dale St., University St., Virginia Ave., and Jersey Ave.; A corridor with shared lane markings and signage along N. School St, putting that specific project at halfway finished; Shared lane markings and signage from Beech St. to Fairview Park.

Also part of the priority list is shared lane markings and signage on West College Ave., which puts a project completing the Town’s College Ave./Mulberry St. corridor at 50 percent completed.

Two areas on the priority list still needing to be completed are improving the crossings on Veterans Parkway, and improving the crossings on Vernon Ave. near Towanda Ave.

Council Member Cheryl Gaines said it was “awesome” that people were using the trail and biking as a means to meet up to go do activities in the community, such as dining and shopping. Scott asked if there were any accident issues between cars and bikes. Davison said the number of such incidents is low.

However, while the number of incidents is low, City Manager Mark Peterson reported Town Staff have noted an increased number of bicyclists not following traffic rules. “Bike riders need to follow the rules of the road,” Peterson said. “They don’t get a pass just because they are riding a bike.”

Prompted by a question from Reece, Peterson reminded that, for one’s own safety, people ought not to use the Trail at or after dusk.

NORMAL – Normal CornBelters left fielder Keoni Manago, and the whole of last season’s CornBelters team, were in similar circumstances last season, even if one did not know that about the other. While the CornBelters struggled to win games ending in a losing battle in last place by season’s end, Manago was playing for the Hawaii Stars of the North American League, an independent league much like the Frontier League, which Normal belongs to.

The Stars play in a stadium on Kilauea St. in Hilo, Hawaii. But although the street shares its name with a famous island volcano, Manago said the team was in last place in that league last season failing to generate any buzz. During the off-season, Manago received a call during the offseason from Nick Belmonte, player personnel director for the CornBelters, who offered the 5 foot-9, 180 pound Manago the opportunity to play for new manager Brooks Carey.

Manago said he wondered where Normal was when Belmonte told him, and surprisingly, being from Hilo, Hawaii, a small town as Manago described it, being in Normal “isn’t anything new for me.”

“I was playing for the Hawaii Stars and it was kind of out of the blue when Nick called me during the offseason,” Manago explained. Once Manago found out Normal was part of the Frontier League, “I was pretty excited about it. I knew it was a step up for me.”

Manago admits that going back as far as playing college baseball at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, he hasn’t been part of a winning team until joining this season’s CornBelters. Carey admits Manago is not a big talker in the clubhouse. One gets the feeling Manago wants his batting style to do the talking for him.

His numbers with Normal, since just before last Sunday’s game at Gateway show that, in 22 games up to that point, Manago had been to the plate 54 times in 22 games, gotten 16 hits, including six doubles, brought in 7 RBIs, walked twice, was hit by a pitch once and struck out eight times.

During the CornBelters’ game against Washington on June 13, for example, Manago was 2-for-4 on the night with two doubles in the ‘Belters bottom of the ninth 10-9 win.

Manago said being in Normal will help him advance in his playing career because “the exposure and the talent level is a lot better than I have had in the past,” he said. “Just that in itself is a step up. This is a big opportunity.” It appears Manago is making the best of that opportunity with the CornBelters.

‘Belters Outfielder Ruiz Is League’s Top RBI Man: Looking at league stats, and prior to Sunday’s action, Normal Infielder Romulo Ruiz was sitting atop the Frontier League RBI list with 24. His nearest competitor was Traverse City’s Chase Burch with 22. Normal’s Steven Felix was seventh in the category with 19.

First baseman Mike Schwartz was ranked as having the sixth-highest batting average as of Sunday, at .344. Evansville’s Andrew Clark is sitting atop that list with a .439 average. ‘Belters pitcher Ryan Demmin’s Earned Runs Average of 1.65 had him listed sixth, while Traverse City’s Jake Sabol sat on top of that list with an E.R.A. of .097.

‘Belters Home For The Weekend: The CornBelters started the week at Lake Erie Monday through Wednesday, but return to The Corn Crib to host a three-game series with Traverse City Friday through Sunday, June 21-23. After a travel day Monday, June 24, Carey’s troops take on the Windy City Thunderbolts June 25-27.