By Steve Robinson | July 27, 2014 - 10:00 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

BaseballOne gets the feeling Eric Anderson would like to become a household name someday once he reaches the majors. For now though, one of the newest members of the Normal CornBelters is making a name for himself as a dual threat: During the few weeks since he joined the Frontier League club, he has been both a pitcher and an outfielder.

It might seem strange to many to hear that a player has the skill sets for both of the distinctive defensive roles needed to play the game, but for Anderson, it’s been routine since he played at the University of Missouri, where he earned a degree in Hospitality Management when he graduated in May.

“At Mizzou, I played all year going both ways on the field,” the 6 foot-5, 235 pound Anderson said. The CornBelters is his first professional playing assignment. So far, he has shown he can help win games. That was evident on July 24 at The Corn Crib in north Normal when the Lake Erie Crushers were in town. The 23-year-old smacked a ball deep hit into right field to help score infielder Pat McKenna from third base, giving the CornBelters a 5-4 victory.

“I want to do as much as I can here to win ball games, and help our team be successful,” Anderson said. “Hopefully from here, that’ll get me into a minor league program, just as it is the goal for everyone here.”

Anderson signed with Normal Player Personnel Director Nick Belmonte after Belmonte saw him at an Independent League event for showcasing young talent in St. Petersburg, Fla. In the roughly three weeks since being in Normal, Anderson said the experience has been positive.

Cornbelters 5th Anniversary“The CornBelters have been very accepting and gotten me involved,” Anderson said. “They are great people. They’re teaching me what I need to know to get hitters out in this league.” Prior to games played on Tuesday, Anderson had gotten in 13.2 innings in 9 games where he struck out 13, walked two, allowing 14 hits and six runs. He was 0-1 but with a full month left in the season, a few wins are still possible.

One thing this newcomer is learning is that every batter he faces “teaches me something about how to get these kinds of hitters out,” Anderson said. He added the batting orders he faces now as a professional player are a little more experienced from the ones he saw as a college player.

He said one lesson he has picked up on thus far is that “there aren’t a lot of easy outs. You’ve got to stay focused with each hitter.” The long term goal is, of course, to get into the minor league system in order to, some day, get to the majors. Anderson knows this is just the first step toward that goal.

The Denver, Colorado native called Normal “a good baseball town because the community here supports us, and you can’t ask for much more support than that. We get a pretty good showing in the stands and that makes coming out to the ball park fun.”

Anderson has lofty goals, not just for his playing days, but for when those days come to an end, regardless of when that might be. When his playing days are over, he explained, he would like to own his own bar and grill. The major he chose at Missouri was the first step to helping him move toward his dream.

Frontier League“I figured learning about Hospitality Management would be the route for getting into that,” Anderson said of his choice of major. He said it was just an idea that struck him growing up. “I like places where you can go in that have good atmosphere, you can go in and catch a ball game, eat some good food, and hang out.”

In praising Anderson, CornBelters Manager Brooks Carey said, “He was a lead-off hitter at Missouri. We knew he could swing the bat a little bit.” In fact, during his senior season, Anderson started in 47 of 48 games, and was the second-leading Tigers player with a .270 batting average in 189 at-bats. He led the team with three triples, and was named Southeastern Conference Player of the Week in April.

”He’s catching up on the pitching here,” Carey said. “He’s a strike-throwing machine who pitches around 90 miles per hour. So, he’s a really good pick up for us.”

Let’s just say Anderson knows he has another dream waiting for him when his playing days are done, but for now, with Normal, he’s looking forward to being inhospitable toward opponents as the CornBelters continue to battle for a playoff spot, as the last full month of the season gets started.

The ‘Belters will be in the midst of a three-game series against the Southern Illinois Miners at The Corn Crib on Thursday. The Miners will play here Friday, and be followed into town by the Rockford Aviators for a single 7p.m. game to face Normal on Saturday and 6p.m. doubleheader on Sunday. The team will have both Monday and Tuesday off before beginning a five-day, six-game road trip beginning with three games at Gateway starting Wednesday.

Unit 5NORMAL – Normal-based Unit 5 School Board members gathered for a work retreat on Thursday, July 24 in order to give new Superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel input on how Board members wish to proceed in what will be Daniel’s first year overseeing the district. Daniel became Unit 5 Superintendent on July 1, succeeding Dr. Gary Niehaus, who retired on June 30 after serving in the post for seven years.

The session, held in a conference room across from Normal Town Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station, was to help both Daniel and Board members determine how both sides should proceed to best serve the district’s parents, students, and staff.

“As a Board, you give me responsibility to make policy come to life,” Daniel told Board members.

“We, as Board members, have one employee, and that’s the superintendent,” elaborated Board President John Puzauskas. Daniel and Board members agreed communication channels between them need to be open in order for effective operation of the district. Daniel said it’s important for Board members to bring issues they become aware of to his attention, provided those issues aren’t already being addressed by school administrators.

By the same token, should an issue arise that Daniel becomes aware of first, either through phone calls or email, he explained, “It’s important for the district to notify the Board in advance of issues likely to develop.”

Unit 5 Attorney Urges Board Members To Use District E-Mail: As a matter of policy, Board members should try to use email outlets provided them by the district. The email addresses generally use the last name and first initial of a Board member followed by “” Richardson informed Board members that conducting district correspondence using their own personal email would leave Board members open to the possibility of an outside party seeing what a Board member was discussing by submitting a Freedom Of Information Act request to the district.

Unit 5 mapFirst 100 Days’ Priorities For Daniel: Board member Mike Trask asked Daniel what his goals included during what will be his first 100 days as superintendent. Daniel said among his priorities were “to tour the district’s buildings, getting input from teachers, students, and the public. Doing that will lend support to relations the district has with the public and the unions the district deals with. Doing that is huge.”

Walk-In Registration Begins Aug. 4: Online registration of students attending the district for the coming school year began July 1. Walk-In registration will take place in early August on the following dates for the following classes of students: Elementary School students can attend walk-in registrations at the schools on Monday, Aug. 4 from 3p.m.-6:45p.m.. Junior High School students can attend walk-in registrations at the schools on Tuesday, Aug. 5 from 3p.m.-6:45p.m.

High School walk-in registration will take place at those schools for the following student classes at these dates and times: Juniors on Wednesday, Aug. 6 from 11a.m.-1p.m. and 3p.m.-6:p.m.; Sophomores on Thursday, Aug. 7 from 11a.m.-1p.m. and 3p.m.-6:p.m.; and Freshmen on Monday, Aug. 11 from 11a.m.-1p.m. and 3p.m.-6:p.m. Unit 5 permits seniors to register on any of the three registration days.

New Immunization Requirements Take Effect This Year: Beginning this fall with the 2014 – 2015 school year, Illinois law requires all students entering school at all grade levels to show proof of having had both two full MMR vaccines to prevent measles, mumps, and German measles or Rubella; and a varicella vaccine Children entering kindergarten, 6th or 9th grades must show proof of receiving two varicella (chicken pox) vaccines, if they have not already received them. All students entering 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grades must show proof of having had 1 Tdap vaccine. Unit 5 students will not be allowed to begin school without having had the required immunizations.

Circle Your Calendars: The Board of Education’s next regularly scheduled meeting will be on Wednesday, Aug. 13 at district headquarters, 1809 W. Hovey Ave., starting at 7p.m. The first day of school is Monday, August 18 and will be a full day of classes.

BaseballNormal CornBelters second baseman Santiago Chirino wants to be “that guy” in the independent league team’s clubhouse. You know, the guy the team turns to for a smile and an encouraging word either out of the blue or when times get tough. The guy who is always upbeat and looking to bolster spirits when needed. The guy who is always looking to keep his teammates on the upswing when it could be needed the most – both during and away from game situations.

Living as a member of an independent baseball team means having guys with varying personalities but with one mindset as far as the game is concerned: To get to the league championship. Chirino said he wants to spend his time on the team not just helping make winning a reality, as do his teammates, but making sure the team stays upbeat while getting the job done.

“I try to talk to my teammates every day, and to be happy and have fun at winning games,” the 23-year-old explained. “If you’ve got one guy doing that every day, that helps the team.”

Chirino said his teammates appreciate the effort he puts in to try to give an injection of team spirit in what is essentially a business for the players of the Frontier League team. “I like trying to encourage my teammates because I love to play baseball and I want to play every day,” Chirino said. “I want us to make the playoffs, and I want to win the championship.”

Chirino said he took on the role of “that guy” after arriving here last season. In 2011 and 2012, Chirino played in a total of 218 games for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans of the Class A Carolina League. Last season, he had a .218 average, racking up 78 hits, 27 Runs Batted In, 27 runs scored and nine doubles. In 2010, he split time with the Class A Spokane Indians of the Northwest League and Arizona League Rangers. In 2009, he played in the Dominican Summer League. He is a career .256 hitter, with 306 hits, 152 runs scored, 124 RBIs and 44 doubles in 330 games. It was among the reasons he was named to play in the Frontier League All-Star Game earlier this month, an honor he said he appreciated receiving.

Chirino’s family, based in Punto Fijo, Venezuela, is upbeat, too, he said, because they are able to follow his progress through his Twitter account. He said he was honored to be named to the Frontier League All-Star Game Western Division squad for what was his first time at the event. The Frontier League All-Star Game was played earlier this month at GCS Park in Sauget, Ill., home of the Gateway Grizzlies.

Cornbelters 5th AnniversaryChirino said he has been on teams where the players had a mindset that was strictly business. Fun was not a word in the vocabularies of those players, he explained. But Chirino reminds baseball is a sport. “You have to have fun every day,” he said, being quick to point out about one of the main goals of the game. “You have to have fun at this game. If you don’t have fun, you shouldn’t play.”

Every day, Chirino explained, he talks to his teammates, encouraging them, and they reciprocate. “That’s what I try to do and they respond back,” he said. “That’s what I do every day, you know? I’m trying to be that guy.”

Chirino said he believes the attitude he has tried to spread throughout the clubhouse has helped the team while it pursues getting into the Frontier League playoffs for what would be the first time in franchise history.

“Right now, we’re playing together and we’re having fun,” Chirino said. “We’re enjoying the game.”

His mood is catching, even to the point that if Chirino isn’t trying to pump up his teammates for some reason, they notice that. When that happens, Chirino admits, “I’ll get players in the dugout coming up to me and asking, ‘hey, what’s up with you?’”

Given Chirino’s efforts to help his teammates stay on track with a positive attitude as they try to compete for a playoff spot, there is no doubt he is having an influence as the season progresses.

Outfielder Judah Earns 2nd “Player Of The Week” Honor This Season: For the second time this season, CornBelters Outfielder Sam Judah has earned “Player Of The Week” honors from the Frontier League. During the week of July 14, Judah went 5-for-11 at the plate for a .455 average, hitting two home runs, driving in seven runs during the week. Judah is batting .325 this season, with nine home runs and 49 Runs Batted In. Judah is playing for Normal during his fourth season as pro player.

This is the first season the Frontier League has named “Player Of The Week” honors along a “Pitcher Of The Week,”. The award winners are chosen by Pointstreak, the official statistics provider for The Frontier League and the Independent Professional Baseball Federation.

Frontier LeagueOutfielder Schwartz Named All-Star MVP: CornBelters outfielder Mike Schwartz earned Most Valuable Player honors from the league when the All-Star Game was over. Schwartz went 2-for-3 with two singles, a walk and a run in the Western Division’s 2-0 shutout win over the Eastern Division on July 16. “I was happy with Mike’s winning MVP,” Carey said. I am looking to have an interview with Schwartz in a future column this season.

One more item relating to the Frontier League All-Star Game: At one point in the star-studded contest, it looked like Normal was taking on the league nearly single-handed. Normal Manager Brooks Carey said that’s because during the All-Star Game’s fifth inning, six of the nine players on defense for the Western Division squad were from the CornBelters. “During that inning, our dugout received word that it looked like the game was Normal versus the rest of the league,” Carey quipped.

With the All-Star Game come and gone, it’s time to get on to the second half of the season and a push for the playoffs. Carey said the entire second half of the season will “come down to pitching. We’ve got offense. We’re going to score enough runs to win a lot more games that we lose offensively.”

At the mid-way point of the season last year, Normal was 27-22. They were 26-24 at the break this year. “We are in far better shape than we were at this point last year,” Carey said.

As you read this, the ‘Belters are in the midst of a 10-day, 9-game home stand. They have faced the Frontier Greys and Washington Wild Things earlier in the week and Lake Erie visits The Corn Crib Thursday through Saturday. The ‘Belters will be at River City Sunday through Tuesday before returning to The Corn Crib to face the Southern Illinois Miners and the Rockford Aviators during a six-game home stand beginning Wednesday, July 30.

By Steve Robinson | July 11, 2014 - 10:04 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

BaseballAlan Oaks is in his second season as a Normal CornBelters pitcher. Last season, he served as a middle reliever, but with the contract of right hander Cole Brocker purchased earlier this month by the Atlanta Braves, Oaks has been tapped by Normal Manager Brooks Carey to be one of the team’s closers.

You would think some players would tingle with excitement (although they might not express it) a having been named to the Frontier League All-Star Game roster for either team representing the league’s Eastern or Western Divisions. And right-hander Oaks said he is excited to have been named for what will be a first-time honor. But Oaks also sees the honor using a businesslike perspective.

“I was definitely excited about being chosen, and I was pumped up when I heard I made the team,” Oaks said. But then, he added, “That game is one that doesn’t affect the CornBelters. After the All-Star Game ends, you need to come back to Earth and pitch for the CornBelters to help get them into the playoffs.”

Shoulder surgery early in his minor league career led Oaks to pitch at The Corn Crib in 2013. In 2010, he attended the University of Michigan, was drafted by the Miami (then known as Florida) Marlins, who promptly sent him to their Class A team in Greensboro, N. C. at the start of the 2011 season.

But after just four turns on the mound in Greensboro, the right-hander needed shoulder surgery. By 2012, the Marlins moved Oaks to their Class A team in Jupiter, Fla., where he became a reliever. The Marlins promoted him from there to Class AA Jacksonville Suns of the Southern League following the All-Star break.

A case of tendenitis — what Oaks calls “a small elbow issue” – forced Jacksonville to put him on the disabled list late in the 2012 season. Oaks was still under contract to the Marlins when the 2013 season began. But although Oaks was feeling stronger as that season got underway, his bosses told him they felt “there had been too many inconsistencies” in his performance over the time he was with them, and with that, they released him.

Cornbelters 5th AnniversaryJacksonville Manager Andy Barkett took the first step to get Oaks to the CornBelters. Barkett knew CornBelters Personnel Director Nick Belmonte and suggested Oaks contact him. Once Oaks did that, Belmonte put the 26-year-old Southfield, Mich.-native in touch with Carey. From the time he first got to The Corn Crib last season through the middle of this season, Oaks had been serving as middle relief. Brocker’s departure prompted Carey to move him into the closer’s role.

The difference between being a set-up man and a closer, Oaks said, is that as a closer, “You need to be ready to go every night. You never know when you’re going to pitch because you never know when you’re going to have the lead in the ninth inning. You just have to be ready to go every night.

“As a set-up man, you might be going two innings,” Oaks explained, adding if he has to throw numerous pitches in the seventh or eighth inning of a game, he’d likely get the next night off.

“But,” Oaks said, “As a closer, generally, you’re throwing 10 to 20 pitches, getting your three outs, and then be ready to go the next night.”

Oaks said his comfort level with Normal, now that he has been here for a second year, extends to being able to mentor to the new guys on the team this season. “I feel like I have helped a lot of guys in the bullpen, teaching them some new things about the game, or pitch sequences or pitching mechanics.” The White Lake, Mich. Resident said he thinks he’s helped his teammates “to step their games up as well.”

The Marlins may have been the last team he spent time with in the minors, but Oaks is looking to get back to that point, and went to a tryout during spring training this year in Arizona with the Chicago Cubs. But during a routine physical, Cubs’ medical staff noticed bone chips in his throwing arm and sent him for an MRI. The bone chips concerned the Cubs and prompted the team to release him.

“The Cubs saw those and wouldn’t let me throw,” Oaks lamented. Undaunted, Oaks remains hopeful to getting back into the minor league system. As for what might have concerned Cubs’ doctors, Carey argues, “anybody who has ever pitched has bone chips.” Carey said he would like to see Oaks earn another chance to get back to the minor league system.

“I’m ready and just waiting for someone to give me a chance again,” Oaks said.

Frontier LeagueAs of Monday, Oaks has pitched for 24 innings in 20 games, striking out 26, and walking 9. “Alan has torn up every inning he has pitched in this league,” Carey said of his pitcher, who is working to improve on his current 0-2 record. “He was good with us last year and he’s doing well this year.”

Carey adds he wants to see his closer back in affiliated ball. “That’s what I’m working on is to get this kid another chance at the big leagues,” Carey said.

Chirino Among Final Three Chosen For All-Star Game: Votes from players, managers, and media members make up the first 24 of the 27 players on each team’s roster for the Frontier League All-Star Game. The final three players for each side are hand-picked by the manager of their respective teams. Normal CornBelters infielder Santiago Chirino was among the last three players chosen for the Western Division team by their manager, Gateway Grizzlies’ Phil Warren. In addition, Carey got a nod to join Warren’s Western Division team coaching staff. As a result of those additions, Normal will have seven men in uniform at GCS Ballpark.

Health concerns forced Washington and East division all-star manager Bart Zeller to resign on Sunday, so Evansville Otters manager Andy McCauley was at the helm for the Eastern Division for Wednesday’s game. McCauley’s Otters were tied with Washington for first place in the East entering Sunday’s action.

Last year’s Frontier League All-Star Game and surrounding festivities took place at CONSOL Park in Washington, Pa., home of the Washington Wild Things. But in the recap of recent All-Star Games on Gateway Grizzlies’ website, the history indicates the game was played in Washington, Ill. The site did correctly recap the 2012 All-Star Game at The Corn Crib.

Frontier Greys, Washington Visit After Break: The CornBelters will be home for a 10-day, 9-game homestand after the All-Star Break concludes. The Frontier Greys, the league’s continuously traveling team, will visit The Corn Crib for three games Friday through Sunday, July 18-20. The CornBelters will take Monday, July 21 off, and then welcome the Washington Wild Things in for three games over two days with a doubleheader on Tuesday, July 22 and a single game Wednesday, July 23. Lake Erie will visit for three games beginning Thursday, July 24.

By Steve Robinson | July 10, 2014 - 10:12 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – Normal-based Unit 5 School Board members welcomed the district’s new superintendent to his first Board meeting when the group met at district headquarters for their regularly-scheduled meeting on July 10.

Dr. Mark Daniel officially began his tenure as district superintendent of Unit 5 on July 1, but it was nine days into the job before school board members held their first meeting of the new school year.

“We look forward to a long and prosperous relationship,” Board President John Puzauskas told Daniel as the 30-minute session began. Daniel succeeds Dr. Gary Niehaus who served as superintendent for the district for seven years, retiring June 30.

The meeting was also the first for LaNell Greenberg to serve as clerk of the Board of Education. Taking minutes at Board meetings is just one of the duties she will perform in that capacity. Greenberg succeeds Donna Evans who retired June 30.

Cunningham Exits For Superintendent’s Post: Just as the 2013-14 school year was winding down, a new career opportunity arose for Nate Cunningham, who served as assistant superintendent for human relations, a post he had held for Unit 5 for four years. He has taken a job as district superintendent in the Crete-Monee School District. He began his new position July 1.

“We certainly knew he was qualified and was ready for moving to a superintendency,” Daniel said following the meeting. Daniel said Cunningham interviewed and received a job offer within a two-week period. Daniel said Cunningham made him aware of his job decision on June 26.

Unit 5 map“I told him how disappointed we were that we’re going to lose him,” Daniel said after the meeting. “I thought he was very competent, and we had a very good cabinet team. We wish him the best and our support.”

Daniel said he believes because of the experience Cunningham gained from his years at Unit 5, he will enter his new assignment “with a bucketful of tools that he can apply.”

As part of his job, Cunningham handled negotiations with the district’s unionized employees and personnel matters.

In the meantime, Daniel said Unit 5 “is trying to work through that assignment, and look internally, as well as distribute those duties, and streamline a bit.” While a search begins for a new assistant superintendent of human resources, Curt Richardson, Unit 5’s attorney, will oversee that aspect of the district, Daniel explained.

NCHS Track Project Approved: Due to spring rains, Unit 5 was concerned any maintenance done to the track at Normal Community High School would include a complete replacement job, something the District’s Director of Operations, Joe Adelman, said the district was fully prepared to have done. But, Adelman told Board members, after an assessment of how the track looked following the storms, it appeared the oval only needed to be recoated, not replaced.

To that end, Board members approved a contract for the project with St. Charles, Ill.-based Track Surfaces Co. in the amount of $78,800.

No Board Meeting July 24; Next Board Meeting Aug. 13: There will be no second meeting of the school board in July. Their next regularly scheduled meeting will be on Wednesday, Aug. 13 at district headquarters, 1809 W. Hovey Ave. That meeting will begin at 7p.m.