NORMAL — Normal CornBelters general manager Todd Kunze stood in the front of a Radisson Hotel conference room Tuesday morning, decked out in an eye-catching bright yellow suit and spouting enthusiasm for the coming season into a microphone.
In the back and much more conservatively attired sat team co-owners Matt Stembridge and Jimmie Louthan.
Although their approaches were in stark contrast, the goal of preparing for Normal’s first season in the summer collegiate Prospect League was shared by all three.
“We’re going to have a lot of fun this summer,” Kunze emphasized. “If you’re going to dress like this, you’ve got to have fun.”
After nine seasons as an independent professional team in the Frontier League, Normal has shifted to a college-based roster in the Prospect League.
The new-look CornBelters open their season on May 30 and have Opening Day at the Corn Crib on June 1.
“Right now is an exceptionally busy time,” said Stembridge. “You’re bringing together all of the offseason work as it relates to sponsorships, tickets, all the planning that goes into game day productions and what the fans will see during the season.
"In addition, you’re bringing on the game day staff to help you produce that.”
The Belters and field manager Rick White currently have 31 players on their roster, including former University High standout Billy Mote of Heartland College.
“Rick was behind the eight ball in regards to the league calendar,” Stembridge said. “But he’s done a tremendous job gathering a roster of highly talented, good character kids. He’s in a good spot on his roster.”
The franchise is promoting a new concept of Corn Bash Nights. For five of the 30 home games (June 1, 21, 28, July 12 and 20) an all-you-can-eat buffet will be available along with extra giveaways and theme nights.
“We will have a different buffet every Corn Bash Night,” Louthan said.
The team’s emphasis on regular evenings will be to make concession offerings “consistent and make the quality high. Simple ballpark food. That’s what we’re looking at,” said Louthan.
Louthan believes Kunze is well suited for the team’s general manager role despite not having a baseball background.
“His energy and everything he does is working out very well for us,” Louthan said. “We were looking for somebody who could be the face of the team and go out in the community and show them exactly what we’re going to be about.”
Concert and car show: The team announced Tuesday a Sept. 7 concert at the Corn Crib headlined by country act Sawyer Brown in conjunction with the Corn Crib Classic Car Show.
Also on the bill with Sawyer Brown are The Classics IV, The Natu Band and Jury’s Out. Tickets go on sale May 9.
“We want to get baseball launched and have this show at the end of the season and provide that to the community,” said Kunze. “As we grow and get into 2020, keep your ears open. We’re already working on something for 2020 that is going to be real exciting.”
All-Star Game: The Prospect League All-Star Game will be at the Corn Crib on July 23 with a Home Run Derby on July 22.
Former Chicago Cub and Hall of Famer Andre Dawson will appear at all-star festivities.