By Steve Robinson | July 28, 2018 - 10:52 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

NORMAL – In today’s world, sometimes, to get noticed, there has to some level of flashiness to what they do to get noticed. In introducing Earl Kingman as Normal ’s Citizen of the Year at a function held July 26 at Destihl Brewery on the Town’s north end, Mayor Chris Koos began the event by quoting an old Yankee proverb which suggests that people should “be quiet and saw wood.”

“This honoree has sawed a lot of wood,” Koos said in concluding his introduction to this year’s recipient, Earl Kingman. The introduction brought cheers and applause from the gathering.

“Earl has worked to keep the Asahikawa-Bloomington-Normal Sister Cities Committee active and relevant over these many, many years,” Koos mentioned. “He has been instrumental in keeping that organization very, very active and relevant over all these many years. That group celebrates 56 years of operation this year.

Koos credited Kingman for organizing “about 25 Cubs Caravans and an equal number of ‘ Bloomington -Normal Day’” events at Wrigley Field. That began in 1983. His efforts earned him a designation as an honorary Cub in 2012. Partly because of his aspirations to be an Air Force Reserve pilot, Kingman was helpful in nurturing the growth of the Prairie Aviation Museum , Koos reminded. He was appointed and served on the Board of Central Illinois Regional Airport beginning in 2005.

After admitting he was “the most surprised person here” regarding his honor, Kingman told the gathering, “It’s been a pleasure to work with the Town of Normal and I appreciate this award.”

Speaking with reporters following the formal announcement, Kingman said he felt the Sister Cities Program was his best contribution to the Town. He was a member of that group for 33 years, which included visiting Asahikawa 10 times. He called forming and maintaining such a group “one of the important things for world peace because if you get to know those people real well, you don’t want to fight with them.”

Now 85 and a native of Gardner , Ill. , Kingman went to University of Illinois , entered ROTC, and moved on the Air Force for three years of active duty, exiting with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. But he reentered military service when the Air Force said they needed navigators. He also spent 12 years with the National Guard and Reserve dealing with refueling planes. The bulk of his 32-year non-military career was spent in the Crops Division at Growmark in Bloomington . He retired in 1996.

Wife Was Notified Of Honor 3 Weeks Earlier: His wife of 62 years, Rhea, was notified of the honor to be bestowed onto her husband three weeks before the ceremony. She readily admitted “it wasn’t easy” to keep the news from her husband. “City Manager Pam Reece called me but I wasn’t home, so Earl answered the phone,” Rhea Kingman explained. “So, Pam made some excuse about the Sister Cities Program for her call. In the meantime, they were able to call our son in Colorado ” and he informed his mother about the honor.

Dignitaries Present: Among the dignitaries present at the event, which the Town has held since the mid-1950s, were: Normal Town Council members Jeff Fritzen, Kevin McCarthy, Scott Preston, Kathleen Lorenz, Chemberly Cummings; City Manager Pam Reece; former Normal Mayors Paul Harmon and Kent Karraker; Dr. Larry Dietz, President of Illinois State University; Dr. Keith Cornille, President of Heartland Community College; Rep. Keith Sommer (R-88th Dist.), and Sen. Jason Barickman (R-53rd Dist).

By Steve Robinson | July 22, 2018 - 10:38 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

A 12th round selection in the 2015 draft following some college experience, Normal CornBelters first baseman Chris Iriart signed on with the Oakland A’s. But after playing in their system for three seasons, Oakland management cut him loose during spring training as this season was starting.

“Right after I got released, I talked to my agent who got me here,” the 23-year-old said about how he wound up playing at The Corn Crib this season. “I didn’t ask him many details because I trusted he’d get me somewhere good.”

A Chino, Calif. native, Iriart said he didn’t believe at first that such a place as Normal, Ill. existed until he and his father drove out to see it for themselves.

His introductory appearance in the Frontier League All-Star Game earlier this month showed fans why Normal signed him, as he went 2-for-3, smacking a home run and a double.

About his prior experience, Iriart said, the A’s organization “teaches the game from the ground up on fundamentals like defense to base running, and every other aspect of the game. They’re pretty thorough on developing players so I’d say I’d learned a lot from my coaches.”

Within the A’s system, he has suited up with teams from coast-to-coast – from Vermont, a member of the New York-Pennsylvania League to Stockton, Calif. to Beloit of the Midwest League.

And if any of his previous teams saw his present stats, they would probably be wondering why they let him get away. Currently, Iriart leads the Frontier League in home runs. As of Monday, he had 16.

About trying to find his way back to the minors, Iriart said, “What I learned from the A’s helped, and this off-season, I made some adjustments with my swing. I believe in my ability, so now, I just have to show the people they can’t deny the numbers. My goal is to put good enough numbers up to where they can’t deny it.”

About his time at The Corn Crib, Iriart said, “I love coming out here every day to compete every night. It’s just a blessing to play the game each and every day.”

CornBelters Manager Billy Horn praised Iriart for being the league leader in home runs. “He has a lot of power and is a really great kid,” Horn said. His manager added he’s working, as he does with all his players who have been there previously, to get Horn back into organized baseball.

Road Trip Upcoming: Following the league-imposed Monday off, the CornBelters got back on the bus for a three-game series at Florence, hoping three wins would help the CornBelters to hopscotch into third place. Next Friday through Sunday, July 27-29, Horn’s team is home at the Corn Crib for a three-game series against the Gateway Grizzlies. Friday and Saturday starts are at 7:05p.m., and Sunday’s first pitch is at 6:05p.m.

By Steve Robinson | July 19, 2018 - 10:03 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – Almost three years ago, in the summer of 2015, when an increase in the amount of Home Rule Tax dollars coming to Normal the next year was brought up, Normal Town Council members sought suggestions for how the cash ought to be spent. With soccer being the latest sports rage in the community, there was a push for a multi-field facility to be constructed with a share of those dollars. Doing that, soccer proponents said, would be a draw into the community.

Kicking around the notion of such a facility turned into Normal Town Council, Bloomington City Council, and the Bloomington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau pooling resources to spend $47,000 on a three-month study conducted by Sports Facilities Advisory (SFA), to see what the company which acts as a research group, recommended for this community.

A Clearwater, Fla.-based company, SFA researches and manages similar projects, and whose presentation was given to the group by Evan Eleff, that company’s chief operating officer. SFA had representatives visiting the Twin Cities in April. “In the end, we want to answer the question of why – why a facility in this community,” Eleff told the gathering, which took place prior to the scheduled Normal Town Council session.

SFA, during the presentation which was unveiled at the Astroth Community Education Center on Heartland Community College ’s campus in northwest Normal , indicated a facility which would need to be multifaceted catering to more than one sport, and would come with a total price tag of just over $43.5 million. The bulk of that amount, he said, would be for the fields and sports equipment, carrying a price tag of an estimated $14.4 million. He added the county, too, would see some benefit from such a facility.

Such a facility, if being considered, Eleff said, “must have an economic impact. It must become a regional destination, and must add to an area’s quality of life.”

SFA looked at all sites for all different sports, Eleff said. He stressed if a facility is to be built, “It must not support a single sport.” To that end, he explained, SFA looked at 675 regional events of varying sports at what he called 250 “tourney capable” facilities which would compete with the Twin Cities to hold events. He said a number of those facilities could be within anywhere between an hour to four hours from where those who want to participate live.

He said to create a facility that has a dome is something to consider because, as he explained, a dome “is flexible and costs less operationally.” He said if a dome is not preferred, an outdoor structure which incorporates synthetic turf would be preferred. But he said, if the facility were to have 16 fields, a mix of synthetic and natural grass ought to be considered. The property sought for such as facility, he added, should be 130,000 sq. ft.

An additional benefit Eleff threw in was that even after the kids who use this potential facility grow older, they would be healthier and years later would have the potential for earning more at a future job.

No site for this proposed facility has been mentioned. And just after the 75-minute meeting started, public comment by resident Karl Sila led off the session. He said he would like to see officials concentrate on other matters other than this. He cited any facility could wind up being another one which gets taxpayer funding – something he said he doesn’t want to see – and referenced Downtown Bloomington’s Grossinger Arena as an example of such a location getting such funding.

But according to a local radio report, there is talk that a second unnamed developer has interest in financing such a facility as was discussed at the meeting. Up until that point, developer Katie Kim and landowner Dave Stark had been talking to stakeholders for more than a year concerning such a project.

By Steve Robinson | July 16, 2018 - 10:19 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – It took a quorum of four Normal Town Council members to vote unanimously to split the proposed area which would be a restaurant at the Uptown Circle development into space for two restaurants, or at least one restaurant and another type of establishment. Council members voted unanimously to pass an ordinance amending the development agreement concerning the ground floor of the building during the governing body’s regular session Monday night on the fourth floor of Uptown Station.

The developer, Uptown Circle Development, Inc., requested the amendment, according to a report to Council members prepared by City Manager Pam Reece.

Council Members Kevin McCarthy, Chemberly Cummings, and Jeff Fritzen were not present for the meeting.

In recent weeks, as Reece explained in her memo, Uptown Circle Development had altered its strategy for attracting a ground floor eatery for the building, deciding upon putting in two restaurants. As a result, the 6,700 sq. ft. which would have been meant all for one tenant will now be arranged for two separate eateries, one of which will have 3,700 sq. ft. and the other 3,000 sq. ft.

The developer had hoped to find a restaurant for the larger space and a non-restaurant tenant for the smaller unit, Reece’s report explained, if no second restaurant owner shows interest. Under the developer’s agreement with the Town, if the developer is unable to secure a dining establishment for the larger space, the developer must get prior permission from the Town before signing any agreement with a business that wants to occupy the space.

Friends Forever Students Visit Meeting: Five students each from Israel and Arab states visited Normal for the sixth year and as part of their visit which lasts a couple weeks in Town, one of the places they visited was Monday’s meeting. And as has taken place in the past when these students have been here, one student from each side addressed Council members. Yogev Elnaton and Rania Hieb, both 16-years-old, each addressed Council members. Elnaton said as part of the group’s work, “We think about all the bad things that have been done and how to fix it,” she said about one of the goals to help produce unity. Hieb said it was hoped that even with their different backgrounds, it “is hoped we will always find we will have something in common.”

Liquor Commission Approves Meeting Minutes: Prior to the start of the Council session, Council members, meeting as the Normal Local Liquor Commission, met in a regularly scheduled session and unanimously voted to approve meeting minutes of two prior meetings – a regularly scheduled meeting on March 19 and a special meeting held April 16.

Joint Councils Meet To Discuss Soccer Complex Study: Prior to the Council session, both Normal Town Council, Bloomington City Council members, were joined by members of the Bloomington-Normal Area Sports Commission to hear the results of a three-month study conducted by Clearwater, Fla.-based Sports Facilities Advisory concerning whether a multi-million dollar facility which would include soccer fields would be something the Twin Cities should pursue. The joint meeting was held at the Astroth Community Education Center on Heartland Community College’s campus.

Last Meeting For Communications Director Irvin: Monday’s meeting was the last one for Dan Irvin, Town Communications Director, who is retiring. Irvin has been in the position for three years. Among his duties was to respond to inquiries from media.

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

•Approval of the minutes of the regular Council meeting of July 2, 2018.

•Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of July 11, 2018.

•A resolution to award the bid for a service truck with utility body for the Water Department to Bloomington-based Leman Chevy City at a net cost of $30,396 including trade-in.

•A resolution approving waivers from the Uptown Design Review Code, Chapter 15, Division 17, for 202 W. College Ave. (Ecology Action Center sign).

•A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing the purchase of a Bobcat S650 Skid-Steer Loader from Bobcat of Bloomington via the Sourcewell Cooperative Purchasing Program, Contract #042815-CEC.

•A resolution authorizing a contract with Watseka, Ill.-based Freehill Asphalt Co. for the 2018 concrete pavement crack and joint sealing in the amount of $29,135.34.

•A resolution authorizing the execution of an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Bloomington, the County of McLean, and the McLean County Soil and Water Conservation District for the administration and implementation of watershed management programs.

•A resolution to appropriate $926,654 of Motor Fuel Tax funds for the bituminous resurfacing of various streets for the 2018 Motor Fuel Tax street resurfacing project.

•A resolution to appropriate $1.38 million of Motor Fuel Tax funds for the 2018-19 Glenn Ave. bridge reconstruction project.

•A resolution authorizing a contract with Insituform Technologies, Inc. for the 2018 sanitary sewer lining contract in the amount of $310,717.70.

•A resolution considering the release of executive session minutes from June 19, July 5, July 17, Aug. 11, Aug. 21, and Oct. 2, all 2017; and Jan. 2, 2018.

•An ordinance approving a parking license agreement between Normal Public Library, Rutherford Suites, LLC, and the Town of Normal.

•An ordinance amending the FY 2017-18 operating and capital investment budget.

•An ordinance adding Division 9 to Chapter 8 of the Town Municipal Code concerning the regulation of small wireless facilities.

By Steve Robinson | July 14, 2018 - 10:46 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

The Normal CornBelters sent six players to the Frontier League annual All-Star Game at CarSheild Stadium in O’Fallon, Mo., home of the River City Rascals, but only one of those players – right fielder Derrick Lawless – saw action from first pitch to final out.

The game’s teams were divided a little differently other that by what division their home team belonged to. This year, the league billed the two sides as Rookies versus Experienced Players. And Lawless, having been through the minor league system of the Toronto Blue Jays, showed plenty of experience, hitting two home runs to help the Experienced squad win the game, 8-3.

“When we took the infield for the All-Star Game, our side only had four outfielders, so two of us would be playing a full game,” Loveless said of his most recent All-Star contest. “I wound up playing right field the entire game.” Not only did he shine in the outfield, but at bat, too, hitting two homers out of the park. This was his second such All-Star event, having played in the Midwest League’s mid-season affair.

If Lawless’ performance startled fans, they were not alone. “I was actually startled about that myself,” Lawless said, explaining he had only done that a couple of times his whole career.

The 25-year-old started his playing career in 2011 in the Toronto system until he was released at the start of this season when he didn’t get resigned and did some job hunting which didn’t see any offers from other teams materialize. But a player friend of his put him in touch with CornBelters manager Billy Horn to see if there was the possibility of playing here.

Coming to Normal wasn’t foreign to Lawless and not just because it’s within driving distance of his native Solon, Iowa, near Iowa City. But rather, his familiarity with Normal comes from having participated in a baseball showcase event at The Corn Crib when he was 17.

Lawless said his faith is helping him through his wait to get back into the minor league system. “God is a big part of my life and if it’s meant for me to go back into the minor leagues, I’ll put in the hard work and enjoy the time that I’m here.”

“I definitely hope that if I get looked at, teams will know ‘he’s a guy who knows what he’s doing and does it every day’ and hope it pays off,” Lawless said.

When he was in the Toronto system, Lawless played in six different cities, including with the Lansing Lugnuts of the Midwest League, an opponent of the Peoria Chiefs.

“When I came to Normal, I was just expecting a good crowd of people who love to come and watch baseball being played,” he explained.

Loveless and his wife of 2 ½ years, Ashley, live in another minor league baseball hub, Durham, N, C. and have a 5-month-old son, Derrin.

Statistically, just before games played July 15, Lawless has appeared in 49 games, had 54 hits including 5 home runs, 8 doubles, and 3 triples in 178 at-bats while playing for Normal. That has given him a .303 batting average. In addition, he has driven in 24 runs, been hit by a pitch once, and struck out 46 times.

Loveless said he has tried through actions moreso than words to show his teammates what they should do to get to the minors. If he gives advice at all, it would be “to learn from any failures you might experience,” he continued. “If you don’t learn from it, those failures could be repeated.”

Of Loveless, his current manager said, “He should still be in an organization’s system. There’s no doubt about it.” Horn said he has managed to interest 15 teams in Lawless, but those teams currently have full rosters, so it now a waiting game to see where a spot opens up. Horn added that since the annual draft in June, it takes teams about a month and a half or slightly longer to start thinking of making moves which would involve calling out for players if drafted players don’t pan out with some clubs.

“We’re just hoping Loveless gets picked up any day here and off he’ll go,” Horn said.

Until that day comes, the CornBelters and their fans are glad to have Lawless here.

Road Trip Upcoming: Earlier this week, Eastern Division leader Washington visited The Corn Crib to try to stay atop their division while attempting to spoil Normal trying to gain ground in the Western Division. Friday through Sunday, the CornBelters are at Schaumburg. Following the league-imposed Monday off, the road trip continues with Normal visiting Florence. As of Sunday, Florence was holding on to fourth place in the Western Division four games out behind division leading-River City. The CornBelters are were in fifth place 5 ½ games behind River City.

The CornBelters will be back at The Corn Crib on July 27-29 for a three-game homestand against Gateway Grizzles.