MARION - Hal Lanier put the stat sheet down long enough Wednesday to explain why, at 69 years old, he's still interested in coaching young people.
After all, independent baseball has long been about more than numbers to Lanier, a former major league coach with the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros.
"I enjoy the game. My mind is still active. I like working with the young kids," Lanier said. "I like trying to get players that were not drafted, or never got an opportunity, to play organizational ball. I'm very proud of that. Not only during the season, but in the offseason and during spring training, because I live in Florida.
"I go around all the minor league camps, and meet all the minor league player directors, the ones that I don't know, so I still have some contacts there. This is my 16th year in independent baseball. We've gotten, probably, I'd have to say over 150 players back with organizations, five of them at the major league level. I'm very proud of that."
Lanier was hired as the Normal CornBelters' first manager after two years with the Sussex (N.J.) Skyhawks of the Can-Am League. With more than 21 years coaching major, minor and independent league squads, the Denton, N.C. native came to Normal with a big name.
He was the third base coach for the Cardinals in 1982, when they won the World Series in seven games over the Milwaukee Brewers, and was named National League Manager of the Year in 1986 after leading the Astros to a 96-66 record. It was Houston's best record to that point.
Houston won the National League West by 10 games, but lost to the eventual World Series champion New York Mets in a six-game National League Championship Series.
Lanier is still close to former Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog, he said, and got to re-connect with former players Andy Van Slyke and John Tudor at a Cubs-Cardinals legends softball game last year.
To try to start Normal's franchise off on the right foot, he brought two guys with him who knew him well: Brooks Carey and Nick Belmonte. Carey, the CornBelters' pitching coach, was on Lanier's 2008 Sussex squad that won the Can-Am League title and has worked with him for the last four years. Belmonte, Normal's director of player procurement, and Lanier go back even further, 16 years.
When they're not around each other during the season, they occasionally run into each other in the offseason. Lanier, who lives in St. Cloud, Fla., near Kissimmee, visits a lot of the major league and minor league camps in the winter. Brooks lives in the Tampa area, and Belmonte does TV and radio spots for the University of Florida when he's not working for Normal.
Still having the ability to play golf in the winter, Lanier said he has the best of both worlds. He has been able to avoid major health problems, and still takes the top stair in the dugout, standing most of the game. In the offseason, when he's not golfing, he is with his wife of 11 years, Pam, and catching up with his two daughters.
"I've been very fortunate to stay in the game this long," Lanier said. "The good Lord has taken care of me, health-wise, knock on wood. I still enjoy it. When I stop enjoying it, you know, a lot of people ask me when I'm going to retire, and I'm not ready to do that. I can play golf all winter. I guess I got the best of both lives."
On Twitter: @Todd_Hefferman