NORMAL — Shifting from a professional baseball team to a collegiate summer team has been done successfully.
And Normal CornBelters president Steve Malliet plans to follow the examples of Madison, Wis., and Savannah, Ga., to make that happen as Normal leaves the independent Frontier League and moves to a yet to be determined college league for 2019.
“We really studied those models. What we feel we have, compared to those organizations,” Malliet said. “The college wood bat leagues seem to really work in those communities. I’m not saying we’re going to draw 4,000 every game. But I do believe our attendance will increase with the right model for this market.”
The Madison Mallards are part of the Northwoods League, one possible destination for the Belters, according to Malliet. The Savannah Bananas play in the Coastal Plain League.
Stepping away from professional baseball will allow Normal to avoid $75.000 in player salaries and other related expenses.
“We’ll be able to put more resources toward what people really want when they come out to games,” said Malliet, “and add things to the ballpark at a faster pace.”
The Normal franchise will continue to play at the Corn Crib and will celebrate its 10th anniversary next season.
“It’s going to be an exciting year to be here,” Malliet said. “There will be a lot of positive additions.”
Malliet expects Normal to decide on a new league within two weeks, mentioning the Prospect League, Northwoods League and Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League as “some of the options out there.”
The Prospect League would be by far the best fit geographically and would offer a bit of a reunion.
Bloomington-Normal participated in the Central Illinois Collegiate League as the Bloomington Bobcats from 1963-79 and as the Twin City Stars from 1982-2006. The CICL merged with the Prospect League in November 2008.
The Prospect League played with 11 teams this past summer and currently stands at 10. Prospect League cities include Springfield, Danville, Quincy and Terre Haute, Ind.
Illinois State coach Steve Holm, who came to the Redbirds from Purdue, said the Boilermakers typically placed two or three players with the nearby Lafayette squad in the Prospect League.
“If that league aligns with the player’s talent level, you can put him in there, knock out a class or two in summer school and you’re that much closer to graduating,” Holm said of the possibility of Redbirds suiting up for a new Belters summer team. “They have leases for their apartment. They would love it.”
Holm believes it’s important for college coaches to fit their players with appropriate leagues. “We have a player we can match up with just about any league,” he said.
The Northwoods League is the new home of Traverse City, the other team that left the Frontier League this offseason. The Northwoods stands at 22 teams with the closest outpost to Normal being in Rockford. The circuit does the majority of its business in Wisconsin.
Northwoods League chairman Dick Radatz Jr. said in late September his league had no plans to make further additions for 2019 that would include Normal.
The heart of the Great Lakes league is in Ohio, with only one team as far east as Indiana in Richmond.