Just as Major League Baseball and its minor league counterparts do, the Prospect League held a home run hitting contest prior to its annual All-Star Game, held this year at The Corn Crib, home of the Normal CornBelters. CornBelters infielder Canyon McWilliams faced off against 11 competitors each representing the other teams in the league.

The competition had two rounds with every home run accounted for to see how many the players could knock out of the park in a 45 second time period. Each man was permitted to call a time out during his time allotment and they certainly took full advantage of that, with supporters coming to give water or just an encouraging word before the player stepped back into the batter’s box. The participating batter was allowed to choose the person who would be pitching to them. In many cases, it was teammates, or a coach, or in one case, the player’s father did the honors.

McWilliams, a junior attending Ohio Wesleyan University, chose CornBelters head coach Rick White to do the honors. But by no means did McWilliams, or any of the other competitors look like they were facing so-called softball pitches to swing at during the event.

In the first round, Cole Andrews of the Chillicothe Paints, Alex Ludwick of the Spingfield Sliders, and Joey Polak of the Quincy Gems were eliminated, Andrews and Ludwick getting 3 out of the park each, Polak 2. The second round would take the total homers from round one and add the homers from the second round for a combined score.

The man to beat was Andrew Stone from the Cape Girardeau Catfish who hit four out in the first round and 11 out in round two for a !7 total. McWilliams, the second man in batting sequence on the night, hit six out in round one. He said he knew what he was up against. In the second round, spectators marveled at the 10 homers McWilliams sent flying over the fence for a total of 16. Only Stone and McWilliams had numbers which reached that level.

In the two-man runoff final, Stone blasted 8 out of the park to the delight of fans, but McWilliams kept his cool and steadily blasted 13 homers skyward to take the title outright. “I just kept swinging, and I trusted Coach to put it where it needed to be,” McWilliams said. “At these home run derbys, it’s so much on the thrower. I just appreciate everything he did.”

During a recent CornBelters-Cape Girardeau game, McWilliams said Stone hit what he described as “an absolute moon shot in a game against us recently, so I knew he had a ton of power, so I was definitely thinking I was the underdog. But I’m very, very happy to get the win.”

White said he assumed he’d be the man throwing to McWilliams “because I throw to him all the time. I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t think he was going to hit that many today,” White added. “Once he got in a groove, he just took off.” White said McWilliams’ “short, quick swing gives him an advantage over everybody else.”

East Squad Tops West In Game: As for the All-Star Game itself, the Prospect League East All-Stars outpaced the West All-Stars, 11-2, on July 23.

Former Players Madlock, Ankiel, Dawson, Manager Herzog Make Appearances: Four names easily recognizable to baseball fans signed autographs and shook hands with fans prior to the Home Run Hitting Contest. Former Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Bill Madlock, former St. Louis Pitcher Rick Ankiel, former Cards Manager Whitey Herzog, and former Chicago Cubs outfielder Andre Dawson signed autographs over two days for fans at The Corn Crib. Due to a scheduling conflict, Dawson appeared July 23 while the other men were present to sign mementos the day of the home run contest.

A native of Decatur, Madlock, now 68, played 15 years in the majors including with the Cubs from 1974-76, and with Pittsburgh in the late ‘90s when the Pirates adopted the Sister Sledge disco tune “We Are Family” as their theme and motto. About making appearance such as the one here, Madlock said, “Anytime, you come to a minor league park, you can interact with fans, you can talk to them, and it’s fun that way.” He said that’s not the kind of atmosphere you can expect at major league parks.

Ankiel, who was a fielder who turned into a pitcher, played from 1999-2001 for St. Louis under then-manager Tony LaRussa before injury forced him to be sidelined from the game for two years before returning to Busch Stadium in 2004, said although he could play both sides of the game, “it was clear my strength was pitching. I was throwing with the speed in the mid 90s with a big time curve ball that helped me in the big leagues.”

Such events are humbling because fans remember you and the good times,” added Ankiel, who turned 40 July 19. “You hear the stories they have and you remember the good times and the bad. To be able to shake their hand and say thank you is fun.”

Herzog, now 86, played in the outfield and at first base from 1956-1963 for four teams – Kansas City A’s, Washington Senators, Detroit Tigers, and Baltimore Orioles. But many folks around here will long think of Herzog as the manager who brought St. Louis a World Series title in 1982 and got three National League Pennants in 1982, 1985, and 1987.

“The fans I saw today came from all over Illinois and they were wonderful,” Herzog remarked. “A lot of Cubs fans, Cardinals fans, other teams. But they were really baseball fans and they really enjoyed it and they were so respectful. He was impressed with how polite the teen members of the public were when they asked for autographs. “I appreciate that,” he said. He said he still attends most of the home games at Busch Stadium and takes in spring training games, too.

Dawson, who turned 65 July 10, started his 20 year career with Montreal in 1976 and was granted free agency at the end of the 1986 season signing with the Cubs for the 1987 season where he played for six seasons until beging granted free agency again in 1992. He went to the Boston Red Sox for one season before joining the Florida Marlins, where hefinished his career in 1996.

Dawson spent the weekend before coming to Normal at Cooperstown, N. Y. for the annual Baseball Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony. Dawson has been a member of the Hall since 2010 going in on a plaque with the team he entered the Majors with in 1976, the Montreal Expos. Now that he’s in, and has been for some time, he said he goes “to enjoy the festivities and enjoy the weekend.”

He signed all manner of items including balls and bats for fans here as did the other guys who visited. “The fans who go to the ceremony are excited about showing their support for the players who get in,” Dawson said.

“It’s always good to see Cubs fans wherever I go, and as close as I am to Chicago, getting to hear people talk about witnessing me as a player and enjoying me as a player is something that’s always good to hear.”

All in all, it sounds as though, whether fan, player, retired player, or casual spectator, the Prospect League event had a little something for everyone and everyone enjoyed the festivities being held here at home.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019 at 10:50 pm and is filed under Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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