By Steve Robinson | June 23, 2016 - 10:46 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

BaseballThis column starts with what was considered at the end of last season a final act for one of the Western Division Champion Normal CornBelters’ better-known players. First baseman Aaron Dudley turned in his retirement papers to his manager, Brooks Carey, at the end of the team’s first playoff season last September. After six seasons in baseball which included being in a CornBelters uniform since 2013, he felt it was time to move on.

Then fate, in the form of Frontier League rules, intervened. When this season began, left fielder Cameron Monger would have been the ranking member of the club this season with shortstop Pat McKenna having moved on in his career. Dudley hoped he could rejoin the team. But Carey’s player roster was full forcing Dudley to become the odd man out. That was until he dealt Monger to the Sioux Falls Canaries of the American Association for shortstop R. J. Perucki.

That move, as it turned out was what was necessary for Dudley, now 28, for his return to The Corn Crib to become a reality. As a result, Dudley could step into the role of sole veteran under Frontier League rules. The league allows each of its 12 teams to have one veteran age 27.

A non-drafted free agent in 2010, Dudley signed with the then-Florida Marlins and was assigned to their Class A team in Jamestown, N.Y. He moved from there to Class A teams in the Marlins system in Greensboro, N. C. and Jupiter, Fla., playing in just a handful of games at each stop before being advanced to their Class AA team, the Jacksonville Suns.

CornbeltersJacksonville turned out to be Dudley’s last stop before being released by the Marlins in 2013. At the time of his release, he had played in just 94 games over four years. When he arrived in Normal, Dudley felt he’d have a chance to contribute regularly – something that didn’t turn out to be the case with the Marlins organization.

Among his highlights in a CornBelters uniform, Dudley appeared in 27 games in 2013 for the Belters with a .289 batting average, eight doubles and four home runs, earning a .400 on base percentage. In 2014, batted .314 with 14 homers and 64 Runs Batted In including the longest home run in Corn Crib history in August that season, a 450-foot bomb that just missed clearing the right field patio. Last season, he batted .346 with 10 homers and a career-high 69 RBIs.

In 139 at-bats in 39 games this season, Dudley has scored 31 runs, and had 52 hits including eight home runs and 13 doubles knocking in 34 RBIs. He has walked 30 times and struck out 24 times leading to a batting average of .377.

As for his role in the game right now, Dudley said he wants to focus on the CornBelters right now. He said he would love another chance at the majors, and until that comes along again, helping Normal in his current post is his priority.

As a team, Dudley said, the CornBelters are waiting for “that long winning streak to come our way,” to offset a season-starting seven-game losing streak the team has been trying to erase.

“He has the right approach to the game,” Carey said of his 6 foot-2, 215 pound first baseman. “He’s a professional hitter in every sense of the word. He knows what he’s doing at the plate and everybody in the league knows it. He gets pitches thrown around him, and still is very patient and gets the pitch that he wants and usually barrels it into a line drive.”

The wait paid off for Dudley, and with the CornBelters in 5th place in the Western Division right now, his experience is sure to be a contributing factor as the season progresses.

Frontier LeagueJuly 4th Holiday Weekend In Schaumburg: After wrapping up a three-game home stand against Traverse City, the CornBelters will spend Friday through Sunday, July 1-3, at Schaumburg. Following a league-imposed day off July 4, the ‘Belters return to The Corn Crib to start a six-game home stand before the Frontier League All-Star Game festivities July 11-14 in Florence, Ky.

The Gateway Grizzles, currently in fourth place in front of Normal in the Western Division, will visit Normal Tuesday through Thursday, July 5-7, and will be followed by the Florence Freedom for three games on Friday through Sunday, July 8-10. Weeknight and Saturday games will start with 6:35p.m. first pitches while Sunday’s game begins at 4:35p.m.

A Week’s Worth Of Transactions: Carey has been busy filing transaction information about players to the league office this week. Among the moves made to help improve the team’s chances this season: Placed right-handed pitcher Jeremy Holcombe on the 60-day injured list, and placed infielder Ty Morris on the 7-day injured list, retroactive to June 25.

Lake Erie Hires New Manager: Newspapers in northeast Ohio are reporting the Lake Erie Crushers hired Cameron Roth to replace third-year manager Chris Mongiardo, who was fired by team operators, along with Mongiardo’s assistant coaches, after the team got off to a 17-20 start to begin the season. Roth had been part of the Schaumburg Boomers organization.

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