NORMAL — Traverse City formally left the Frontier League on Wednesday as new ownership announced the Beach Bums would shift to the summer collegiate Northwoods League for 2019.
Is Normal next to depart the Frontier League?
Indications continue to be strong that the CornBelters will leave professional independent baseball to join the summer collegiate ranks of the Prospect League for next season.
In response to an email inquiry, Normal team president Steve Malliet said Wednesday that “no final decision has been made.”
When asked when he anticipated that decision would be finalized, Malliet replied, “I am hoping soon.”
A source told The Pantagraph that Normal did not have a representative at the Frontier League meetings earlier this week.
Frontier League commissioner Bill Lee said any announcement regarding the Belters’ future would have to come from Malliet.
“Right now, I’m going to leave that to him. We’re working with him and we’ll see what happens,” Lee said Wednesday. “I really like Normal as a market, yes I do. I would like to know as soon as possible.”
A message on the Normal team website reads in part, "We're currently making some big preparations for next season to make 2019 our best year yet."
An open letter to Belters fans written by Malliet soliciting suggestions for the 2019 season was posted Tuesday. The letter does not mention remaining in the Frontier League or leaving it.
Normal has played the past nine seasons in the Frontier League.
Lee said the Frontier League could proceed with 11 teams by evening out the schedule with a traveling team. Various reports indicate the Frontier League is looking into Jefferson City, Mo., and the Indianapolis suburbs as possible locations for new teams for 2020 and beyond.
“We’re currently at 11 teams,” Lee said. “It’s not something new to the league to have an odd number.”
Speaking of odd numbers, if Normal alone joins the Prospect League, that circuit would have 11 teams.
The 10-year-old league, which was a result of a merger with the now defunct Central Illinois Collegiate League, contested the past season with 11 teams in two divisions. The Prospect League has since lost Kokomo, Ind., and Butler, Pa., but added Cape Girardeau, Mo.
The Prospect League’s nine returning teams are located in Danville; Quincy; Springfield; Hannibal, Mo.; Terre Haute, Ind.; Lafayette, Ind.; Springfield, Ohio; Chillicothe, Ohio; and Beckley, W.Va.
Prospect League commissioner Dennis Bastien did not return a call seeking comment.
Another Normal option previously mentioned by Malliet is the Northwoods League, which is expanding to 22 teams for 2019 with the additions of Kokomo and Hudson, Wis. The closest Northwoods League team to Normal is in Rockford.
Northwoods League chairman Dick Radatz Jr. said last Friday “the last serious conversation” his league had with the Normal franchise was in May and there were no plans to add the Belters for 2019.
“Their model is obviously not working,” said Radatz. “I’m not sure what the future holds.”