League champ Giants lean on Rantoul connection

Seven of the nine Royal Giants baseball players with Rantoul connections are shown on Sunday — from left, front row, Cody Flowers, Adam Crites and Hayden Cargo; back row, Jesse Remington, Tom Wolken, Casey Dillman and Chad Vermillion. Not pictured: Nolan Roseman and Nolan Riddle, both from Rantoul Township High School, and Isaiah Robles from Armstrong Township High School. 

ROYAL — Royal’s Eastern Illinois Baseball League team entered the weekend leading the league with a 4-0 record. Several players with Rantoul connections have played a big part in the Giants’ success.

Call Royal, “Rantoul East.”

Nine of the 20 players on the Royal roster have Rantoul connections.

Royal Manager Tim Dillman has known many of them from a young age.

“A lot of kids started at Gifford Grade School. I coached them through their grade school years. In the fall I coached a wood bat league and coached Junior Legion in the summer. I’ve been in contact and watching these kids play ball since the fifth and sixth grades.”

One of the players is his son, Casey, who is one of the Giants’ catchers.

“He knows his role is primarily catching one game of a doubleheader,” Dillman said.

Casey Dillman’s strong suit is his defense (“any offense is a plus,” his dad said), but at one point last season he was leading the team in batting and ended up hitting over .300.

Dillman will play club baseball at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville in the fall, majoring in engineering.

Hayden Cargo is in his second season playing for Royal.  

Cargo plays center field.

“He played a little last year,” Dillman said. “He did a really great job. He’s part of the group that call themselves the ‘ATC,’ the Air Traffic Controllers.”

Adam Crites, who will play at Illinois Central College, Peoria, is a relief pitcher and had yet to give up a run in two appearances.

“He’s doing a great job coming in after Nolan Roseman,” Dillman said. “I can get five or six innings out of Roseman, and Crites does a good job throwing strikes.”

Cody Flowers is a versatile player who primarily plays second base but can also play third base and shortstop, where he filled in during last year’s league tourney when regular shortstop Blake Hoveln  got hurt.

“He’s a veteran,” Dillman said. “This is like his eighth or ninth year.”

Jesse Remington, a left-handed starter, has played all over the world in his bid to play the game professionally. He had planned to play for the Southern Illinois Miners in Marion this summer, but the season got canceled due to the pandemic.

“We were fortunate to get him back in town,” Dillman said.

Remington is the Giants’ game two starter and entered the weekend with a 2-0 record. He started Royal’s 10-0 game two win over El Paso last Monday, striking out 12 and allowing just three hits in five innings.

Nolan Riddle is a rookie for the Giants.

Riddle plays either center field or left field.

Nolan Roseman is the team’s game one starter on the mound. He will be a sophomore this season playing at Quincy College.

He picked up the victory in Royal’s 9-1 win against El Paso, throwing five innings and allowing just two hits while striking out eight.

He played center field in high school and can fill in there.

“He’s fast with a good glove,” Dillman said.

Chad Vermillion is a Swiss Army knife for the Giants.

“He does a little of everything,” his manager said. “When he’s not playing he likes to coach first base. He’s got some innings on the mound and has played second base and can also play third.”

Tom Wolken, who bats cleanup or in the five spot, nailed his first homer of the season against El Paso.

“He hasn’t stopped hitting,” Dillman said. “He was part of that (Kankakee Community College) team that won the World Series three or four years ago.”

Dillman said Wolken is also “a great first baseman.”

Also on the team is Armstrong-Potomac grad Isaiah Robles, a left-handed reliever who threw an inning of shutout relief in game two against El Paso.

Bad weather washed out last week’s Sunday doubleheder against El Paso, so the game was rescheduled to Monday. Dillman was impressed by the turnout of players — nearly his entire roster, which was more than the hosts had.  

“They’re all young, and they’re all missing baseball,” Dillman said. “They know it’s a short season. I was pretty happy.”

Dillman said the Giants have “pretty much clinched” the No. 1 seed in the postseason tournament, which begins the first Sunday in August. The E.I. is playing with only four teams due to the virus (Buckley and Paxton are the other two).

The Giants also have some players from St. Joseph-Ogden.

“St. Joe and Rantoul have been putting out some quality players,” Dillman said. “It also helps when they bring their parents and family and friends to the game. It helps our crowd.”

Royal and Buckley have probably the two biggest fan bases in the league, he said. The July 12 opener between the two teams drew at least 150 people.

“I think there were cars and lawn chairs completely down both sides,” Dillman said. “I kept getting texts, ‘Hey, is there going to be baseball? On Sunday that’s what (Royal fans) do. They’ve done if for 30 years.”

Dillman, who lives in Gifford and catches some grief from Gifford-Flatville fans, played for Royal in the ‘80s. The team then folded. Dillman moved to the Collinsville area due to a job transfer. Dillman said when he was transferred back, he attended an E.I. game his first weekend back, “and somebody said, ‘There’s somebody who will run Royal.’”

Since 2002, he’s done just that. Dillman is manager, general manager and groundskeeper. Whatever the team needs.