The status of the Normal CornBelters for 2019 is now clear: the team is joining the summer-collegiate Prospect League after being sold to an existing circuit ownership group.
It was announced earlier this month that the CornBelters would no longer operate in the independent Frontier League, but that a summer-collegiate squad with the CornBelters name and branding would play at the Corn Crib in 2019. Normal has been confirmed as a new Prospect League entry for 2019, with the ballpark and team purchased by Normal Corn Belters Baseball, a group that includes Rick DeStefane, Jimmie Louthan and Matt Stembridge. This move gives Normal three leaders with Prospect League experience, as DeStefane and Louthan own the Hannibal Hoots and Quincy Gems, respectively, while Stembridge is the general manager in Hannibal. Team president Steve Malliet will reportedly remain in Normal to handle day-to-day operations.
“Words cannot express the thrill and pride by which this announcement is being made,” said Prospect League Commissioner Dennis Bastien. “Steve Malliett and I have known each other for several years and we are keenly aware of the professional operation by which the CornBelters have evolved. To say that they are being welcomed with open arms would be a major understatement. Our league is being elevated by the addition of what might be one of the finest facilities in all of summer collegiate baseball in the Corn Crib. Being a ballpark fan, I have been here several times and have marveled at this ballpark and all of its features. CornBelters fans will be amazed at the quality of play of high level collegiate players we have, as well as building fierce rivalries with identifiable teams in Springfield, Danville, Quincy, plus the rest of the league members. The bonus in all of this is the highly respected new ownership operator group here. Rick, Matt and Jimmie will definitely put their stamp all over this already successful franchise.”
“Baseball is here to stay in Normal, Illinois,” said DeStefane, who will serve as CEO of Corn Crib and Associates/Cornbelters Baseball.
“We strongly believe the passion these athletes will bring to the field everyday will translate into a high energy and exciting atmosphere for the whole family,”said Louthan. “We look forward to not only building the Corn Belters into a successful baseball team but also making the team and stadium a viable asset for the city and surrounding area.”
This announcement puts the Prospect League at 11 teams for 2019. It competed with 11 in 2018, but the Kokomo Jackrabbits are moving to the Northwoods League and the Butler BlueSox announced in August that they were seeking a new league. The Cape Catfish (Cape Girardeau, MO) is also on tap to begin Prospect League play next year.
RELATED STORIES: CornBelters Leaving Frontier League for Summer-Collegiate Circuit; Normal CornBelters: No Decision on 2019 League; Normal CornBelters Staying in Frontier League; Normal CornBelters Considering Frontier League Exit