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Mike Veeck photo

Mike Veeck, a member of the ownership group of the Normal CornBelters baseball team, makes a point during a 2008 appearance in Normal. Veeck plans to take an active role in what he promises will be a change of direction for the Frontier League franchise in the 2017 season.

NORMAL — Renowned baseball owner/showman Mike Veeck has been part of the Normal CornBelters' ownership group from the inception of a Frontier League franchise that completed its seventh season in September.

For the 2017 season and the offseason preparation for it, Veeck will "absolutely" be more involved in what he promises will be a change in direction for the occupants of the Corn Crib.

"There is tremendous potential untapped," Veeck said. "We've missed some opportunities. We got away from the idea of making baseball enchanting. We need to reapply some joy and see what happens."

That application will be spearheaded by new Normal general manager Mike Petrini, who was promoted from an assistant GM role. Former GM Steve Malliet will remain the club president and focus on attracting non-baseball events to the Corn Crib.

"Petrini will work like a dog, and when he doesn't know something he works even harder," said Veeck, who previously worked with Petrini with the Charleston River Dogs of the Class A South Atlantic League.

"We needed to free up Steve so he could be the face of the company, and we needed to give youngsters like Petrini the chance to see what he can do building his own operation."

Petrini said the Belters will be "investing in our fan experience" in 2017.

"We're working on fan engagement and family fun," Petrini said. "Where we feel we've been lacking is on field promotions the last three or four seasons. We want to put on the best show we can for our fans.

"We always want to get better in our concessions. We know that didn't turn out how we wanted it to this past season."

Veeck expects Malliet's shift in responsibilities to result in more concerts at the Corn Crib. "Concerts are an area we haven't exploited as much as we could," he said.

The son of former Chicago White Sox owner and Hall of Famer Bill Veeck, Mike Veeck has increased his ownership share of the Normal franchise over the past few years.

"Somewhere along the line I've been buying up some stock with my son Night Train. Whether I have the most or second most, I don't really know," he said. "I'm not buying it because I'm disinterested. I sold my affiliated (ownership) interest effective last year. I think that says everything about how I feel about independent ball."

Veeck, who was behind the White Sox's infamous Disco Demolition Night in 1979, was thinking outside the box before there was a box. He helped found the independent Northern League and is a co-owner of the independent St. Paul Saints with actor Bill Murray.

"I think silly works," said the 65-year-old Veeck. "This is a very unhappy country right now. We want them to come to the Corn Crib and forget how unhappy they are. I can't remember a time in my life that fun was more necessary.

"We need to rededicate ourselves to drawing children to our wonderful game. For adults, it's three hours you can actually talk to your kids. You can buy a ticket and not mortgage your house."

As an example of the type of unique promotions he would like to bring to the Corn Crib, Veeck mentioned a Nitro Circus action sports event that drew 6,000 to Charleston's stadium and a cat video fundraiser that attracted 13,000 to an art institute.

A black tie dinner on the playing surface or the team throwing its own Oktoberfest are two other ideas tossed out by the son of the man who signed midget Eddie Gaedel to bat for the St. Louis Browns in 1951

"For other events at your building, 10 percent if they have a great time will come back and try your primary product. That's so much the better attracting new fans," Veeck said. "We'll offend some people, no question. I've offended people by going too far. But it's not intentional."

Veeck called the Corn Crib "such a great facility. We need a community meeting place. One of the problems we have in our society is we need places for people to come together."

The Belters will again hold a Legends Game with former St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs players. Petrini said he is looking to bring in more recent ex-major leaguers for the July 29 event.

Petrini expects the Normal franchise to benefit greatly from the added influence of Veeck.

"Having his clout and his expertise in the field of sports marketing," said Petrini, "is a resource not many teams in the country have."

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Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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