BaseballWhen it comes to pitching, it can be said Normal CornBelters teammates Charlie Gillies and Brennan Smith are seeing the long and short of any game they play in.

Gillies has been with the team only slightly longer with the team than Smith, who only joined during their last road trip, jumping on at Lake Erie and seeing action against Washington.

A Couple Of Real Tigers: Both Gillies, who turned 26 July 30, and Smith, who turned 27 Aug. 4, have been through the rigors of the minor league system with the Detroit Tigers organization. Gillies was drafted by the Tigers in 2012 and played with teams within their farm system in places like Norwich, Conn. and Grand Rapids, Mich. While with the Tigers, however, he sustained an arm injury requiring Tommy John Surgery to his pitching arm in 2013.

He was released by the Tigers at the end of the 2014 season. At the beginning of the 2015 season, he was signed by the Trois-Rivieres (Three Rivers) Aigles of the Can-Am League. The Aigles won the league championship with his help last season, but as this season started, the team got off to an abysmal 3-23 start, prompting a shakeup in the roster including cutting Gillies and teammate and CornBelters favorite Sam Judah.

Gillies said Judah suggested seeing if Normal Manager Brooks Carey would be looking for help on the mound. As it happened, he was. “I wanted to redeem my season because I didn’t get off to such a hot start,” explained Gillies, a resident of Castaic, Calif., just outside of the Los Angeles suburbs. “I was looking to end the season well.”

“I struggled because I was trying to do too much,” Gillies said explaining how this season began for him. “As a team, we made errors, and we didn’t score runs.” Gillies also confessed to “trying to be too fine” in his work on the mound which only complicated the issue.

“When I got here, Brooks and I talked in his office, and he basically said I could just relax,” Gillies said. Judah returned to the ‘Belters as well, and is serving as the team’s hitting coach. Since his arrival here, the biggest news Gillies has brought to the team was a complete game one-hit 3-0 win over Gateway in early July.

CornbeltersRelief pitcher Brennan Smith has played in the last two road series with Normal, getting on board when the team was at Lake Erie as July was winding down. He and his wife, Julianne were married in November, and reside in the Cleveland suburb of Sheffield Village. He has been looking for a team to join since the Tigers released him earlier this season. He and Gillies were together in the Tigers organization, but Smith had been there a little longer, since 2010, when they drafted him from Bowling Green University. While with the Tigers’ Class AA Erie (Pa.) SeaWolves, he sustained a forearm strain, which put him on the disabled list for a time before he was released.

“I rehabbed with the Tigers and my arm felt good although I didn’t throw in any rehab games, so teams I would go to after Detroit released me probably wondered whether my arm is healthy,” the 27-year-old Smith said. “But I really wanted to go somewhere where I’d get some appearances and get to show I’m healthy and show my stuff.”

Smith and Gillies had stayed in touch since their time with Detroit, and Smith got wind of Normal from Gillies and met up with the CornBelters during their road trip in northeast Ohio. A hopeful Smith explained of his move here, “Talking to Charlie and Brooks, it sounded like I’d get to throw here, show what I’ve got, and hopefully, get to showcase it and see if any affiliated teams are interested.”

Smith said he had been contacted during the two months he had been off the diamond by other clubs but nothing came of those contacts. He said knowing Gillies was among the bonuses he considered when he made his decision to join Normal.

The pair has yet to be in a game where Gillies started and handed off the ball to Smith to complete the job. The closest they have come since reteaming was during the recent road trip, at Washington, with a middle reliever getting some innings between them.

“For this league, Gillies and Smith can be dominant at times,” Carey said of Gillies and Smith, adding the same could be said of a third pitcher the manager said he believes belongs in the same category, right hander Mike Ellwood. “All three are top notch guys we’ve got here. Gillies pitches like he’s an ace, and Smith out of the bullpen was throwing 95 miles an hour plus. That’s a pretty good fastball for these parts. Gillies, Smith, and Ellwood have turned us into a pretty good pitching staff right now.”

Frontier League‘Belters Still In Playoff Hunt: As this week began, Normal was 33-32 before Tuesday’s games started, 2 ½ games out of second place, currently held by the Evansville Otters. That would appear to give them a look of contenders as the last month of the season begins. Three Normal players — outfielders Nolan Meadows and Dillon Haupt, and first baseman Aaron Dudley began this week in the top three slots leading the Frontier League in home runs with 18, 15, and 14, respectfully.

Dudley and Meadows are second and fifth, respectfully, in the league in runs batted in. Dudley has 56; Meadows has 50, and they are both pursuing league leader Steve Marino of the Southern Illinois Miners, who had 59 as this week began.

On the mound, pitcher Michael Schweiss is in a tie for fourth league-wide in strikeouts with Evansville hurler Tyler Vail. Each man has 73, while Gateway’s Vincent Molesky leads the league with 89. Normal’s Chris Carmain is sixth in the league with 71 Schweiss had the league’s seventh lowest earned run average – 2.71 – as this week began.

CornBelters Return To The Corn Crib Aug. 12: After Monday’s league-imposed day off, Carey’s team becomes a road company for nine games over 10 days. The tour began with three games Tuesday through Thursday, Aug. 2-4 at Joliet. Friday through Sunday, Aug. 5-7, they will move to Traverse City for three games. Following another Monday off on Aug. 8, they will conclude the road trip with three games at Southern Illinois Miners Aug. 9-11. Their next home game at The Corn Crib will be a three-game tilt against River City Rascals starting Friday, Aug. 12 with a 6:35p.m. first pitch.

By Steve Robinson | July 27, 2016 - 7:19 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Unit 5As a society, many folks believe it would be wonderful if all children were on a level playing field for the school year from the very first day. That means holding to the belief that all families could afford the supplies needed for a child’s routine school day. Sadly, there are students who need a little help to accomplish this.

Those students in need to acquire those supplies will receive that help by attending a by invitation only “Back 2 School” Party, to be held at U. S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington on Tuesday, Aug. 9 from 1p.m.-5p.m. Also at this event, from 5p.m.-6p.m., an express line to pick up supplies will also be available.

The “Back 2 School” Party is jointly sponsored by the Back To School Alliance through Illinois Prairie Foundation in conjunction with Normal-based Unit 5 School District and Bloomington School District #87.

Students eligible to participate at this party are entering Kindergarten through 8th grade at either a Unit 5 or District #87 school, and qualify for a free or reduced lunch, as identified by the school, and have met all registration requirements for this coming school year. Those requirements include having physicals and immunizations prior to entering certain grades.

Students can get an invitation to the party when they register for school next month. Unit 5 is nearing wrapping up online registration, as that will end on Monday, Aug. 1. After Aug. 1, parents will need to walk-in at their school to register their children. Registration for Unit 5 elementary and junior high students will take place on Tuesday, Aug. 2 from 3p.m.-6:45p.m. High school students can be registered Monday through Wednesday, Aug. 8-10, between 11a.m.-3p.m., and again from 3p.m.-5p.m. at those schools. District #87 schools will hold registration for various grades beginning on Thursday, Aug. 4.

District 87In order for students to qualify for the “Back2School” Party, they will receive an invitation at their registration site. They must have the invitation with them and be accompanied by a parent or guardian to the party.

“This event is a great opportunity to make sure that all students start on the same playing field,” said Dayna Brown, director of communication and community relations for Unit 5. “It’s so important to the success of students that they have the supplies they need to start the school year.”

Brown said the Back To School Alliance is made up of numerous volunteers in the community who work year-round raising funds and accepting donations for this event. The Alliance is headed by a 12-person leadership team, she added.

Brown said more than 5,000 invitations were issued. She added the Back To School Alliance is still collecting supplies currently. One location for making donations will be the McLean County Fair, which will be held at County Fairgrounds from Aug. 3-7. On Thursday, Aug. 4, the Fair will hold a “Pack The Bus” drive collecting needed supplies.

Patrons coming to the Fair Aug. 4 who bring a backpack or a zippered binder to the gate will get in to the Fair for $1. Other donated items which will qualify for the dollar admission include: A 2-pack of glue sticks; a 4-pack of highlighters; 1 set of Binder Dividers; 2 packs of Wide-Rule notebook paper; Two 70 Page Wide-Ruled spiral notebooks; 1 Standard/Metric 12″ ruler; or one set of colored pencils.

Brown said both school districts are also accepting donations at either Unit 5 district headquarters, 1809 W. Hovey Ave., Normal; or Bloomington District #87 headquarters, 300 E. Monroe St.

“It’s overwhelming the support we receive from the community for students,” Brown said. “We know students are more successful because they go into the school year with all the tools they need. We couldn’t do this without the community.”

BaseballThe life of an independent league ball player in the early stage of his career could involve being on a number of teams or possibly going to a number of cities for tryouts, hoping a manager looking for untested talent likes what he sees in terms of potential and skills and decides to sign that player to a contract.,

Normal CornBelters utility Mitch Elliott might have gotten a sampling of what that life was like before becoming serious about baseball becoming a factor in his life. A native of Peoria, Elliott’s father’s work had the family moving to St. Louis when Mitch was 11. The family stayed there until the younger Elliott was 16.

From there, the Elliott family moved to Cincinnati, and then to Pittsburgh all before Mitch earned a high school diploma. During his high school years in the Steel City, Mitch was recruited to play college baseball at Xavier University in Cincinnati.

What’s funny about going to Xavier, Mitch said, was that Xavier recruiters weren’t interested in him when they saw him, but rather in one of his high school teammates. But Xavier recruiters perked up about Mitch seeing him have a good game.

CornbeltersAfter graduating from Xavier in 2014, Elliott inquired about playing with various teams including Normal, but was turned down due to many of those teams having established their rosters with the season well underway. He was able to sign with the St. Paul (Minn.) Saints of the American Association that summer and had been part of that squad until the end of last season when the Saints released him.

He was with another Frontier League team, Florence Freedom, for spring training this year but was again released. He made inquiries again after that and CornBelters Manager Brooks Carey signed him roughly 20 days into this season, while Normal was in the midst of a losing streak.

“They needed speed,” the 25-year-old explained as the reason he was signed. “So I said OK. It has turned out to be a good fit.” That fit has become a bonus for Elliott and his parents – father Tye and mother Beth, who now live in Peoria. Elliott stays with them when the ‘Belters are in town.

As of Monday, Elliott has appeared in at bat 83 times in 30 games, gotten 19 hits, including a double and a home run, scoring three runs batted in, and been walked eight times. He has gotten on base from being hit by a pitch three times. All that has led to a .229 batting average.

Frontier LeagueOutfielders Meadows, Haupt Leading League In Homers: CornBelters Outfielders Nolan Meadows and Dillon Haupt are first and second in the Frontier League in hitting the ball out of the park. Meadows, one of the ‘Belters five players who made it to the Frontier League All Star Game this year, has belted 16 pitches out of the park as a new week started. Haupt was right behind him with 15.

First baseman Aaron Dudley is tied for third in homers with Steve Marino of the Southern Illinois Miners. Marino and Dudley are dueling to be the league’s top RBI hitter, as Marino holds the title for now with 56 and Dudley is in second place at 51. Meadows is seventh in that category with 45.

On the mound, ‘Belters pitchers Chris Carmain and Michael Schweiss are fourth and fifth in the league in strikeouts, with 68 and 67, respectfully.

CornBelters Return From Road Friday: Normal is still struggling to get to .500 and will have spent Tuesday through Thursday at Washington as part of a 7-day six-game road trip. They will return to The Corn Crib this weekend for a three-game series against Lake Erie, with Friday and Saturday first pitches at 6:35p.m. and Sunday’s game starting at 4:35p.m. Fans will need to enjoy the team while they are here for the short stay because after Monday’s league-imposed day off, Manager Brooks Carey’s team becomes a road company for nine games over 10 days. The tour begins with three games Tuesday through Thursday, Aug. 2-4 at Joliet. Friday through Sunday, Aug. 5-7, they will move to Traverse City for three games. Following another Monday off on Aug. 8, they will conclude the road trip with three games at Southern Illinois Miners. Their next home game at The Corn Crib will be a three-game tilt against River City Rascals starting Friday, Aug. 12.

By Steve Robinson | July 22, 2016 - 10:15 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – Mandava Rao said it was his work with the McLean County Indian Association that gave him “the passion to work within the community, with its leaders and it resources” when his efforts began 16 years ago.

It was that dedication that helped him and his family thrive in the area. His efforts with that group helped him join other groups in the area as an active member. For those reasons, at Normal ’s annual Appreciation Reception, Mandava, the name he is more commonly known in the community by, was named the Town’s “Citizen of the Year” on Thursday, July 21.

Roughly 250 invited guests attended this year’s event which was held at Illinois State University ’s Hancock Stadium Club.

Mandava has also served as co-chair of the McLean County Police Partnership, as well as either founded or help lead numerous organizations including the Central Illinois Cricket Association; For A Better Tomorrow; and the Telugu Association of Bloomington-Normal. He also helps organize Kite-Fest, an event which raises funds to support non-profit groups focused on the needs of children in emerging countries.

Mandava explained once he began his involvement with one group in the community, getting his name out, other groups sought out his interest in being involved. He currently also is a member of Normal ’s Human Relations Commission.

When Normal Mayor Chris Koos announced Mandava’s name, it wasn’t until that moment that he had any idea about the honor. But his wife, Manasi, and his grown children, son Manish, and daughter Bhavita, all had been aware Mandava was to be recognized.

Mandava said after the ceremony formally recognizing him that the biggest thing that has changed in the time he has been in the area is “a change in perception toward Indian residents in the community from when I first arrived,” something he said he helped to foster through holding various gatherings. He said he is continuing such work with Hispanic members of the community, as well.

In his work, Mandava, a State Farm employee, credits his organizational skills with making such efforts appear seamless to those he’s worked with and for.

In his introduction of Mandava, Normal Mayor Chris Koos called him “a natural community leader who embodies the spirit of this recognition. He has worked selflessly to organize community events, assisted the disenfranchised, and welcomed new faces to the community.”

“Mandava serves as a cultural ambassador, looking for unique ways to bring the community together,” Koos told the gathering. “He has founded numerous organizations that have helped youth explore their heritage and traditional language.”

Mandava is the 60th honoree of the Citizen of the Year honor, first given out in 1957. Included in the list of honorees are five couples.

Numerous local dignitaries such as State Rep. Dan Brady (R-105th), Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner were present, as were Normal Council members Kevin McCarthy, Kathleen Lorenz, R. C. McBride, and Cheryl Gaines. Former Mayors Kent Karraker and Paul Harmon, and McLean County Board Chairman John McIntyre were also in attendance.

By Steve Robinson | July 18, 2016 - 10:18 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – With one alteration, Normal Town Council members voted unanimously to conditionally approve an amended site plan for Grossinger Motors, 1430 Ft. Jesse Rd. The alteration came in the form of allowing the parking lot to have lighting of 25 footcandles, a measurement which exceeds the measurement of 10 footcandles allowed by Town Municipal Code. Grossinger had considered 30 footcandles at one time before dropping that number down by five.

Normal Planning Commission members, upon being presented with Grossinger Motors’ lighting request calling for illumination of 30 footcandles, approved the request earlier this month.

Mayor Chris Koos and Council member R. C. McBride voted against the amended lighting proposal, McBride arguing the lighting standards were set by the Town for a reason, objecting to the increase.

Community Design Standards established by the Town do not apply to the building currently because those standards were established by the Town in 2003. However, now that such standards are in place, Grossinger Motors would need to adhere to current standards after the remodel is completed, Koos explained.

The site plan also includes the addition of 100 new parking spaces proposed for west of the building. The sales company said this would permit for clusters of cars to be displayed at parking areas south, east, and west of the building. Employees would have a parking area north of the building.

Four Reappointments To Children’s Museum Board Announced: Four members of the Children’s Discovery Museum were announced as reappointed toward the close of the meeting. Gina Mandros, Jeff Mavros, Mark Jontry, and Caroline Halperin will continue serving on that Board as a result.

Visitors From “Friends Forever” Welcomed: Prior to the business portion of the Council meeting starting, Koos took the opportunity to welcome 10 teen visitors – five Israeli and five Arab – to the meeting. They were from the “Friends Forever” program, which the Town has been involved with since 2013. The participants, ages 15 and 16, will be involved in a variety of intercultural exchange and team building activities while visiting our area. Both the Town of Normal and the City of Bloomington will serve as sponsors of this exchange program along and various civic groups throughout the community.

“We’re thrilled you’re here and we’ll see you many times over the next two weeks,” Koos told the guests. After the Council session, the entire Friends Forever delegation, numbering 20, including chaperones and organizers, took group photos and mingled for a few minutes with Council members.

Liquor Commission Approves Hotel’s Fine: Prior to the Council session, Council members, meeting as the Normal Local Liquor Commission, unanimously approved a fine levied against CY Heritage Inn of Bloomington Opco, LLC, doing business as Bloomington Normal Courtyard, 310A Greenbriar Dr., for selling liquor to a minor under age 21 during a liquor audit on April 21. It was a second offense in three years for the hotel. Because of that, the hotel agreed to pay a $1,000 fine.

In other action taken, Commissioners unanimously voted to approve the minutes of their regularly-scheduled meeting on March 21 and a special meeting called on May 16.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the Council’s regular meeting held July 5, 2016.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of July 13, 2016.

• A resolution to accept bids for the FY 2016-17 miscellaneous sidewalk improvements – 50/50 sidewalk and ADA ramps project and award a contract to Bloomington-based George Gildner, Inc. in the amount of $204,790.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing a contract with Champaign Signal and Lighting Company for the maintenance of traffic control equipment, highway lighting, and utility locate services.

• A resolution authorizing additional funds in an amount not to exceed $300,000 for extra work required to remediate unsuitable subgrade soils on the Raab Rd.-NCHS to Towanda Barnes Rd. improvement project.

• A resolution accepting the low bid and authorizing a contract with Wilcox Electric& Service, Inc. for the upgrade of lighting systems at the Normal Theater in the amount of $56,949.

• A resolution to appropriate $1.4 million of Motor Fuel Tax funds for the bituminous resurfacing of various streets for the 2016 MFT street resurfacing project.

• An ordinance accepting permanent sanitary sewer easements from the property owners of 801, 803, 8-0, 807, and 809 W. College Ave. and approving compensation of $1,000 per property owner for the easements.

• An ordinance amending the FY2015-16 operating and capital investment budget.