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Sports

Vanaman, McDonald find summer homes

Brant Vanaman (left) and Cam McDonald celebrate a victory during the Hall Red Devils' state championship run in 2018. The former Hall teammates are both playing in college leagues this summer.
Brant Vanaman (left) and Cam McDonald celebrate a victory during the Hall Red Devils' state championship run in 2018. The former Hall teammates are both playing in college leagues this summer.

Two members of the 2018 Hall Red Devil state baseball champions are keeping in the swing of things this summer.

Brant Vanaman, who transferred to Parkland College this spring after one year at Kent State University, will be suiting up for the Normal CornBelters in the four-team Kernels Collegiate Baseball League, which will run July 1 to Aug. 9 at the Corn Crib in Normal.

With many collegiate summer leagues being canceled – including the Prospect League, which Vanaman played in last year and the Cape Cod League – the Normal CornBelters put together the four-team Kernels Collegiate Baseball League.

Vanaman is excited to get back on the field after his spring season at Parkland was cut short.

“This is huge,” said Vanaman, who played for the Hoots in the Prospect League last summer.
“Originally with summer ball teams not having seasons due to COVID-19, I planned on going to Champaign. Parkland was going to have a training camp type of thing to hit and get somewhat live ABs (at-bats). Now, being able to play these games, it’s a lot better.

“With Parkland having a long fall season, it will be perfect because as soon as this summer season gets over, it will lead right into fall ball, and I’ll kind of be in a groove.”

Vanaman is looking forward to playing for former Putnam County High School and Parkland College coach Dave Garcia, who is the CornBelters coach.

“I just want to see what he says about the game and what he can teach me,” Vanaman said. “From what I learned from him in the past, he knows the game a lot. Playing for a coach like that will be exciting.”

Garcia, who had a hand in getting Vanaman on the roster, said he can’t wait to have Brant in his outfield.

“I was able to see him play a little bit this spring for Parkland. I think the kid is just a pure athlete. I know he had a lot of success in the Prospect League last summer.

“I’ve known Brant since he was 7. To see him now and the player he’s turned into, I can’t wait to get the opportunity to coach him.”

Cam McDonald, Vanaman’s partner in crime at Hall, will play for the Rockford Rivets in the Northwoods League, which is one of the top collegiate leagues in the country. He is one of four University of Illinois players to land on the Rivets’ roster.

McDonald played for the Rivets last summer, batting .281 with four doubles and two triples over 26 games with the Rivets while tying for fourth on the team with 19 RBI.

The former Hall standout proved to be a big smash on campus when he arrived at Illinois in 2019. He led the Illini with 34 RBI as a freshman, while also tying for sixth most hits by a freshman in team history with a season total of 63.

He hit .250 with one RBI in the Fighting Illini’s NCAA tournament appearance last year, and he had seven hits with two doubles and was 2-for-2 in stolen base attempts this spring before the season was canceled.

While he struggled in Illinois’ abbreviated spring season, Rivets manager Josh Keim said McDonald is ready to go.

“Last year he was a young player who made a huge impact for the University of Illinois. We were fortunate to have him last summer,” Keim said. “Cam has gained a lot of strength and has put on some weight since we last had him in Rockford…He struggled a little bit this last spring, so Cam has a chip on his shoulder right now, where he’s out to prove people wrong. I have the utmost confidence in Cam’s ability…and I expect him to come out with a little bit of edge, because he’s ready to prove people wrong.

“I truly believe that Cam can handle the bat like no one I’ve seen.”

McDonald will be joined by Illini teammates Brody Harding, Ryan Hampe and Branden Comia.

Also suiting up for the Rivets is former St. Bede Bruin standout Jarrett Olson of Michigan State University. The senior southpaw went 1-1 with a 2.03 ERA in four starts for the Spartans. He struck out 28 in 26.2 innings.

More than 230 Northwoods products have gone on to reach the Big Leagues, including Curtis Granderson, 2016 Chicago Cubs World Series MVP Ben Zobrist, three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and 2019 N.L. Rookie of the Year Pete Alfonso.

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