BaseballOne could say Normal CornBelters Pitcher Mike Schweiss is fortunate to be demonstrating top form from the mound currently rather than being in the position of just now starting his season coming off an injury that could have had him recouping all winter, and maybe part of this season, as well.

When baseball players damage their Ulnar collateral ligament, in essence an elbow injury, surgery to repair it is often required. The recovery period to get back into playing shape usually takes about a full year or less. The procedure doctors use to repair the damage to the ligament has amore common name – Tommy John surgery, named for possibly the first famous athlete to have been publicly diagnosed with it.

As it turned out for Schweiss, the right-hander only strained but did not tear his UCL, so recovery only required two months of rehab and rest in order to return to action at The Corn Crib. Unfortunately for the CornBelters, by the time Schweiss returned, what help he gave them wasn’t enough to help Manager Brooks Carey’s team land a playoff spot at the end of last season.

“I came back the last month of the season, but I still wasn’t 100 percent,” Schweiss admitted. “So I took a couple months off after the season and didn’t do any throwing, but just continued to do my rehab.” That rehab included shoulder exercises, primarily because weak shoulder issues sometimes lead to elbow injuries, Schweiss explained.

The injury he sustained last season also wasn’t the first of this type for Schweiss. As a college player at University of Dallas, he was sidelined by an elbow injury. “Last year’s injury was frustrating,” Schweiss said. “Especially since, in my first year here, 2013, I had a good year as a rookie. After that, I had high hopes coming into 2014. The injury was definitely disappointing.”

But support and encouragement from teammates and Carey aided in easing concerns Schweiss had during his recovery. Part of that support included the opportunity to do his rehab work here rather than needing to pack and go home to Parker, Colo., where he lives during the offseason.

In his first two seasons here, Schweiss was 9-6. As of Saturday, he was 2-1 this season, giving him an11-7 record overall and has him carrying a 1.86 Earned Run Average, looking to bring down his career ERA of 4.19.

CornbeltersDuring recovery, Schweiss said he focused on his “pitching mechanics in an effort to make everything more consistent,” he explained. “I’m throwing even harder than I ever have before. As a result of work in the offseason, I’ve gotten stronger.” The work he has put in, Schweiss explained, has helped him bump his throwing speed upward slightly. Before the injury, he was throwing between 88-90 miles per hour. Now he believes he is throwing between 90-92 MPH when delivering to the plate.

The goals a healthy Schweiss has for himself include “as a starting pitcher, every time I go out, to give us a chance to win.” To his way of thinking, that would include“working deep into a ball game, or, if I’ve not got my best stuff, just competing to give our team the chance to win.”

The injury Schweiss recovered from is named for Tommy John, who played for six major league teams in a career that lasted 25 years, including a stint with the Chicago White Sox from 1965-1971; two tours with the New York Yankees; and at the time of his having the injury, in 1974, playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Encyclopedia.com defines what has now become commonly referred to as “Tommy John surgery” as a procedure during which “a healthy tendon extracted from an arm (or sometimes a leg) is used to replace an arm’s torn ligament. The healthy tendon is threaded through holes drilled into the bone above and below the elbow.”

“Now that Schweiss is healthy, he looks like the same guy we got when he came out of college two years ago, ”Carey said. “At that time of his injury last season, it looked more serious tome than it was. When we finished last season against Schaumburg, Schweiss was throwing at 92, 93 miles an hour. When he came in this year, he was throwing as well as I’d ever seen him.”

CornBelters Open Normal’s Sesquicentennial Celebration June 7: The CornBelters will be wrapping up a three-game series against the Windy City Thunderbolts Thursday, followed by a three-game series hosting the Southern Illinois Miners Friday through Sunday, June 5-7. Weekday and Saturday games start at 6:30p.m. The CornBelters will help the Town of Normal get its 150thAnniversary celebration started early with a “Founder’s Day” event on June 7,hosting a 3p.m. game.

“On Founder’s Day, we’ll have a birthday cake for everybody and because of the rich history related to circuses the Town has, we’ll have circus performers here,” explained CornBelters General Manager Steve Malliet. At Sunday’s game, some concession items will be sold for $1.50. Clowns and jugglers will be on hand for the event that day, as well. The Town is holding a three-day celebration to mark its 150thAnniversary Sept.11-13.

The current home stand follows a very triumphant road trip for the ‘Belters, having gone a perfect 6-0 sweeping a three-game series each at Schaumburg and at Florence.

Frontier LeagueFollowing that home stand, the ‘Belters will take Monday, June 8, and a rare Tuesday off on June 9 before starting a five-day, six game road trip. That trip will include three games — a doubleheader on June 10 and a single game June 11 – at Evansville. From there, the team moves on to River City for single games June12-14. After a day off on Monday, June 15, the ‘Belters will be at The Corn Crib for a six-game home stand against Traverse City June 16-18, followed by a visit by the Lake Erie Crushers June 19-21.

Arizona Diamondbacks Purchase Catcher Dylan Kelly’s Contract: Arizona Diamondbacks have purchased the contract of catcher Dylan Kelly. Kelly is the second CornBelters player this season to have his contract purchased by a Major League Baseball organization. The Roswell, Georgia native is in his second season with the CornBelters. In 11games this season, Kelly is batting .350 with 5 doubles and 14 hits.

“We are thrilled for Dylan. It is always a good day when one of your players gets to fulfill a lifelong dream of playing affiliated baseball,” Carey said. “All of his hard work and dedication to the game is being rewarded. We wish him the best of luck in the future.”

Kelly joined the Belters in 2014 after graduating from the University of Missouri. As a senior playing with the Tigers, he had a team best .330 batting average, which was good enough for fourth among all Southeastern Conference catchers. He also led the team with 13 doubles, 27 RBI and 59 hits.

By Steve Robinson | May 23, 2015 - 10:22 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

BaseballThe way Chris Carmain sees his role as a pitcher for the Normal CornBelters of the Frontier League, “I’m focused on what the team needs, so whatever the teams needs me to do, whatever the assignment or role they need me to fulfill, then I’m ready to go.”

Carmain came to the CornBelters fresh out of Northeastern University in Boston, reporting to Manager Brooks Carey’s club last June, when the season was one-third completed. “Being in the bullpen is the adrenalin rush, so I have to be ready every day.”

Following college graduation, Carmain, 24, played with Normal last season in a variety of roles from the mound: He was used as a starter, was moved to middle relief, then made a set-up man, ending the season back as a starter.

Carmain said he’s “more focused on what the team needs,” rather than having any concern for any personal goals in his playing career right now. “Whatever the team needs me to do, I’ll do. Whatever the assignment needing to be filled, then I’m ready to go.”

Carmain said being a starter is easy because those players know they are to be on the mound every five days, and on every fifth day, that’s his day to work. He adds that being in the bullpen has an adrenalin factor, too. “That’s something that can give you a rush, so I try hard to be ready every day.”

The 6 foot-3, 250 pound right-hander said starting the season at The Corn Crib, the team’s home field, before this season got started was helpful this year because it gave him and players like him who came here in the middle of last season a better chance to know their teammates, rather than entering into a situation as he did last season not knowing anybody and needing to learn as the season progressed.

“There was more of a chance to gel with players this year for me during spring training,” Carmain said. “That way, when we came out for game one this year, as a club, most of us knew each other’s nuances, and made it easier for us to gel as a team.”

Last season, when Normal finished in fourth place last season in the league’s Western Division with a 48-47 record and 12 ½ games behind two-time champion Schaumburg, Carmain amassed a 4-0 record with a 2.75 Earned Run Average. As this season begins rolling out, he has a 1-0 record and a 1.29 ERA.

Being here for the start of the year has also given Carmain a chance to continue a relationship with CornBelters’ fans that began when he arrived. “I love the fans and the support we get here,” he said. “It’s phenomenal to be in an environment where you’re so supported. At Northeastern, it was our teammates’ moms and dads in the stands supporting me. Here, it’s not just those folks but complete strangers supporting us. It’s been a welcoming feeling.”

In his office, Carey explained he considers Carmain to be among the ‘Belters’ three top starters, grouping him with Mike Schweiss and Kevin Johnson. “Carmain showed up at a tryout we held at The Corn Crib in May last year and I watched this kid throw and we signed him immediately,” Carey said.

Cornbelters“He was a spot starter and threw a bunch in relief,” Carey said. “He was, probably, my most reliable and durable pitcher as a rookie. Over the winter, deciding to add him to the rotation was an easy decision to make. He throws strikes and will be really, really good.” Carey said Carmain reminds him of another CornBelters player with promise from two years ago, Ryan Sheldon.

“As long as he’s around here, the sky’s the limit for him,” Carey added. One would think that with his efforts and Major League scouts appearing The Corn Crib to check him out, that limit might get exceeded sometime in Carmain’s future.

Shortstop McKenna Named Season’s First “Player Of The Week”: On another subject, this isn’t a bad way to start the season if you ask me. CornBelters veteran shortstop Pat McKenna has been named the Frontier League Player of the Week for the first full week of games for the 2015 season.

McKenna is in his fourth season with the CornBelters. He has hit safely in eight of his first ten games and recently saw hit 6-game hitting streak come to an end on Sunday against the Washington Wild Things. On Friday night against Washington, McKenna led the offense in the 12-1 rout of the Washington Wild Things. He finished the game 3-4 with a home run, triple, walk, and 6 RBI.

Overall, McKenna finished the week with eight hits in 23 at bats including two home runs, a triple, double, and ten RBI. McKenna is in his seventh season of professional baseball after spending his first three years as a member of the Detroit Tigers and San Diego Padres’ organizations. McKenna was originally a 27th round selection of Detroit in the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft out of Bryant College in Smithfield, Rhode Island.

Road Trip During Holiday Week: The ‘Belters took the Memorial Day holiday off to travel to their first opponent this week, spending Tuesday through Thursday in Schaumburg to play three against the league champion Boomers. Friday through Sunday, Carey’s team will wrap up their six-game road trip with a three-game series in Florence. After taking Monday off, the team returns to The Corn Crib for a six-game homestand, visited by the Windy City Thunderbolts Tuesday through Thursday, June 2-4, with each game starting at 6:35p.m. The Southern Illinois Miners come to town after that for a three-game set Friday through Sunday, June 5-7. Friday and Saturday games start at 6:35p.m., while Sunday’s tilt opens at 3p.m.

Frontier LeagueCornBelters Get Normal’s 150th Anniversary Started: On the subject of team promotions, the CornBelters will help the Town get its 150th Anniversary celebration started early with a “Founder’s Day” event on June 7. CornBelters’ General Manager Steve Malliet did some research and found Town Founder Jesse W. Fell put the paperwork together that plotted out the Town at that time in 1854. Initially, the Town was first known as North Bloomington. It was later rechristened Normal 11 years later, and officially became incorporated after two more years, in 1867, according to Malliet’s research.

“On Founder’s Day, we’ll have a birthday cake for everybody and because of the rich history related to circuses the Town has, we’ll have circus performers here.” Malliet said some concession items will be sold for $1.50 on that Sunday, as well. Clowns and jugglers will be on hand for the event that day. The Town is holding a three-day celebration to mark its 150th Anniversary Sept. 11-13.

Tickets for the June 7 game can be purchased in advance for the discounted price of $9 online at the following website: http://bit.ly/Baseball150.com. Once there, enter the Username normal150, and cornbelters for the password.

The Town received 500 vouchers from the CornBelters for distribution, which were being circulated by the Town’s Human Relations Commission, explained Sally Heffernan, Assistant to the City Manager. Groups who help area youth such as Unity Community Center, The Boys And Girls Club, Western Ave. Community Center, YWCA, YMCA, and The Baby Fold each received vouchers, she explained.

“The Town is encouraging residents of all ages to come to The Corn Crib on June 7 to help celebrate Normal’s 150th Anniversary,” Heffernan said. “We’ve partnered with the CornBelters to offer free tickets at a reduced rate. We’re hoping for a great turnout to celebrate Normal’s Sesquicentennial.”

By Steve Robinson | May 15, 2015 - 10:27 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

BaseballThe Normal CornBelters of the Frontier League were, no doubt, glad to come home to The Corn Crib having finished their season opening series at River City over the weekend, coming away with a 2-1 record.

While the CornBelters have duked it out for three games versus the Gateway Grizzlies to open the six-game homestand, and will host Washington this weekend, the fans have found a few changes at the ol’ ballpark.

First, fans have found thing to be different at the concession stands, with team management, led by General Manager Steve Malliet, opting to do their concessions in-house, severing ties with Sodexo, the company that had been handling concessions the last few years at the ballpark. As a result, Malliet said, “We’re lowering our prices substantially so we’ll have the lowest prices of any baseball team in Illinois.”

But food prices aren’t the only thing improved upon as the team is spending around $100,000 to put a new covering over the concourse areas, something they’ve not had before (but I know many fans probably had been hoping to see – especially after being a game where they experienced a sudden downpour).

CornbeltersThat new covering will come in handy, too, considering a change in start times for Sunday games. The team is moving them up from 6p.m. to 3p.m. During the week, ‘Belters games will have the first pitch at 6:30p.m. The team had experimented with a 6p.m. start a couple of seasons ago and found it prompted fans to be in a rush to get to the ballpark, and that a 7p.m. start caused some families with children to leave before the game ended. Malliet said team management thinks the change will enable families to enjoy complete games.

“We had a lot of families say, ‘the start time change would be nice because we have to get the kids back home and if it started earlier, we could stay later,’” Malliet explained. As a result of the time changes, gates at The Corn Crib will open at 5:30p.m. during the week and on Saturdays, and at 2p.m. for Sunday games. Families wanted to see better prices, too, Malliet said of another of the concerns fans expressed during the offseason.

Back to the subject of the food, “We’re going to offer some different items that we’ve never offered before,” Malliet explained. He added that coming to the ballpark early will be to fans’ advantage because there will be items that will be for half-price for the first 45 minutes after the gates open on game days. That means the half-price period will be between 5:35p.m.-6:20p.m.during the week and from 2:05p.m.-2:50p.m.on Sundays. “We just want people to come out and try it, and see what brand of concessions we have out here,” Malliet said.

The affordability of the concessions items was what Malliet said he heard most about from fans during the offseason, prompting the change.

As for on-the-field, Malliet is in sync with Manager Brooks Carey in feeling the team will have “a real good offensive team this year, and of course, we have one of the best offenses in the league.”

Frontier League“I’m excited because people will see a really good product on the field this year,” Malliet concluded. With the food changes and stadium upgrade, all of that will lead to a great season for us.”

Starting with a shutout doesn’t hurt, either. Normal opened the season with an 8-0 blanking of the Rascals on May 15, followed by a 5-4 win May 16, before dropping a 2-1 decision Sunday. The team had an off-day Monday. In fact, The CornBelters will not play a game on Mondays all season, something that has been part of their schedule for the last few years.

Entertainer Myron Noodleman will be visiting the Corn Crib Saturday and Sunday.

By Steve Robinson | May 8, 2015 - 10:17 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

BaseballIn some respects, the annual “Education Day” game – the annual exhibition game between the Normal CornBelters and their geographically-nearest Frontier League opponents, the Joliet Slammers, — was just what we needed: Bright sunshine, warm temperatures, and just enough baseball to get fans ready for the upcoming season.

Over 3,500 schoolkids from grade school to junior high from Normal-based Unit 5, Bloomington District #87, Heyworth, and LeRoy were in attendance for the game, as were kids from as far as Lincoln and LaSalle-Peru who enjoyed a field trip to The Corn Crib to take in some early baseball action. Benjamin Elementary School’s choir sang the National Anthem to get the day started.

But beyond providing enthusiasm and cheering, there wasn’t much the kids or other spectators could do to help the CornBelters as they struggled through an 11-3 defeat at the hands of the Slammers. Losing pitcher Michael Schweiss allowed five runs and five hits in the first 1/3 of the contest. Not that the youngsters would understand, maybe, but the CornBelters sent four pitchers to the mound to backup starting pitcher Schweiss – Jose Flores, Justin Collop, Victor Beriguete, and Anthony Kliniskie.

CornbeltersThe contest is billed as the Education Game for a reason, with ‘Belters Broadcaster Greg Halbleib serving as public address announcer, tossing questions out to test their knowledge (and hearing some right answers, of course). Those questions included: What Illinois community is known as the birthplace of former President Ronald Reagan?; How many counties are in the State of Illinois?; What is known as the State’s official bird?; and What is the State’s official dance (yes, we have one….)? I’ll give you the quiz answers shortly.

Those pop quiz questions were mixed in with various musical breaks between half-innings, with the one song many of the kids enjoying the most was the theme from the cartoon show, “Spongebob Squarepants.”(And, no, I can’t explain why that is).

‘Belters Manager Brooks Carey couldn’t explain his team’s performance on the day, either, but said he’d rather such a loss happened in an exhibition game than either on Opening Day May 15 beginning a three-game set at River City, or on May 19 when the ‘Belters open at home for three games against the Gateway Grizzlies. Game start times on May 19 and 21 are 6:35p.m., while May 20’s game is another early riser beginning at 10a.m.

“I’ve seen these exhibition games before, and there’s usually more bad than good during them,” Carey said. “There are things we need to work on and we’ll be doing that over the next week. We’ll be working on defensive drills first, including situational defense.”

Offensively, Carey said the exhibition helped him see “enough guys swing the bat better and better and better. There are still some guys struggling at the plate, which makes my job actually easier” in terms of deciding who will not play here this season.

Frontier LeagueCarey, going into his third season as the club’s skipper, is looking forward to the season and finding 11 pitchers for the season, and having infielder Pat McKenna back and healthy after a couple years where injuries have either made him not available or only occasionally available. Under Frontier League rules, teams may have just one player over age 27 on their roster. McKenna will turn 28 in June.

With regard to pitching, Carey said fans should be prepared to seeing plenty of new faces on the mound this season. With the offense Normal anticipates putting on the field, if the ‘Belters have what Carey said is “just decent pitching, we could challenge for a championship.”

Let’s hope the pitching staff exceeds “just decent” levels and helps in Normal having a great season.

As for the answers to the quiz the schoolkids were tested on between half-innings, here are your answers: President Ronald Reagan’s birthplace – Tampico, Ill.; Number of Counties in Illinois – 102; Official State Bird – Cardinal; and State’s Offical Dance – Square Dancing (Bonus points to anyone who knew Illinois had an official State dance let alone what it was). How many did you get right?

By Steve Robinson | May 2, 2015 - 10:23 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonThe nicest thing the kids I’ve covered over the years would say about what I’ve been through with an illness over the last couple of months is that it has been “a bummer.” They’d be right. I’ve been absent from this column and other parts of the Normalite due to an illness that sidelined me since late January. As a result, I missed touring high schools for this column, checking out what was going on, and then passing it along to our readers.

Even when I wanted to come back sooner than this, I knew I shouldn’t because the doctors kept saying, “Reduce your stress” as though newspaper work and only newspaper work was the primary culprit for my stress. Believe it or not, this is my second job. The other job I have away from The Normalite has its stresses, too. But this isn’t the forum to list those now.

Before I got sick, I had done my usual job of mapping out possible future columns. But some of those will have to wait until next school year, while some will just have to remain good ideas unfulfilled. It will be “wait ‘til next year” for me to cover local teams who make it to familiar events such as Illinois High School Association State Basketball, Softball, or Baseball, as well as new events such as the Michael Collins Invitational. I look forward to getting back for all of it.

But for now, I thank everybody who passed on well-wishes in person, by mail or e-mail, on the phone, or through the ol’ editor, Mr. Pyne.

As for what high school seniors have to look forward to most, graduation ceremonies are set and families are looking forward to seeing their son or daughter; grandson or granddaughter; nephew, niece, or cousin receiving their well-earned diploma. When graduation happens depends on where the ceremony is held and from which school the young person is graduating.
Here is the list of the graduation ceremony dates: University High School, May 17; Bloomington Central Catholic High School, May 17; Normal Community High School & Normal Community West High School, May 23; Calvary Baptist Academy, May 23; Bloomington High School, May 30; and Cornerstone Academy, May 30.

I will, presumably, have a graduation of my own later in the summer – from cardio rehah – in July, with the promise that I will continue exercising long after my participation in the program I am in is over. I will also return to a regular beat again once the Normal CornBelters’ Frontier League season starts. I’m as excited for that rehab end date to come as I am sorry that I missed covering the second half of the school year. I know the kids are excited for the moment they receive their diplomas and receive the chance to toss their mortarboards skyward, yet another official sign they will be aiming toward adulthood.