By TIM ALEXANDER
PEORIA, Ill. — It was a special baseball weekend July 29-30 in central Illinois as both the Normal and Peoria baseball teams changed their monikers and wore special, ag-themed uniforms to promote local farmers.
First up to the plate, on Friday, July 29, the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) took over the Corn Crib, home of the Normal CornBelters, who compete in the Prospects League, for a special “Summer of Soy” theme night. On hand were hundreds of ISA members, leaders and volunteers who donned “Soy Busters” replica jerseys to coordinate giveaways of custom Soy from Illinois marketing items and other swag. Outside the stadium, a “Soy Protein Powerhouse” food trailer staffed by ISA volunteers offered free soy latte drinks to sports fans arriving for the game.
ISA district director Elliott Uphoff of Carbondale delivered a 60 mph strike to home plate during his ceremonial first pitch, starting the night off with a “hit” for the soybean crowd.
“Our Summer of Soy event features soy messaging all over the stadium, with banners and signs with soy statistics and features,” said Rachel Peabody, ISA communications director, who coordinated the evening of baseball and soybeans. “We’re hoping to put on downstate communities’ radars how important soy is to our economy. In agriculture we understand how important the fact that Illinois being number one in soybean production is important to our state’s economy. We want all of Illinois to understand that soy is a big deal, soybeans are a versatile crop and that we’re really proud of being known as the number one state in the country for soybeans.”
Peabody and her team were also able to speak to some guests about emerging uses and markets for soy. “Soy is coming off its most successful export year in 2020-2021 and that’s only continuing to gain speed and momentum. Not only are we maintaining markets like China and Indonesia, new markets are emerging all of the time,” she said.
“Egypt is now the number three importer of U.S. soybeans, and that’s really exciting. There is a lot of positivity and excitement in terms of soybeans (moving) globally, and new uses for soy are popping up all of the time. Asphalt products, hand sanitizers and lubricants are just a few of the things that soybeans are used in as a cost-efficient ingredient. We also want people to understand that soy is a protein powerhouse, and we want them to think about soy as a food product.”
300 free tickets were made available to ISA members and families for the game, which was actually a doubleheader. The CornBelters/Soy Crushers split the doubleheader with the Illinois valley Pistol Shrimp in the Summer of Soy “Classic” at the Corn Crib.
Some 35 miles to the west down Interstate 74, the Peoria Chiefs Class A professional baseball team sported special pork tenderloin-inspired uniforms and hats for Ag Night, sponsored by the Peoria County Farm Bureau (PCFB). Also on hand for the Saturday, July 30 game were the Peoria County Corn and Soy Promotion group and Peoria County Extension 4-H. All three groups manned promotional booths near the main entrance to Dozer Field, where around 3,000 Chiefs fans passed through the gates. Many guests stopped to spin a prize wheel or answer ag trivia questions for prizes, walking away with hats, cups, koozies and other assorted ag-themed swag.
Hundreds of PCFB members and leaders were well represented at the game, filling most of sections 104 and 105. The Chiefs/Pork Tenderloins won the game 7-6 over the Fort Wayne TinCaps. Bob Janssen ably represented the PCFB with an outstanding on-field rendition of the National Anthem prior to first pitch.