Appalachia’s “Minor League Baseball at its best” Threatened
Walter Davis| February 13, 2020
Appalachian baseball fields provided generations of young people “a field of dreams” growing up. Locations were sheltered in town parks, school yards and small stadiums. Look around Appalachia today. There are fewer places to see or play ball than in the past. Some small towns have been fortunate to have a semi-pro team. These teams became Minor League rookie teams or farm teams of MLB. Such Appalachian teams may also vanish after this year’s season. if Major League Baseball (MLB) owners don’t reverse course,
Major League Baseball’s leaders are now proposing “contraction” to include ending relationships with 42 Minor League teams. The Professional Baseball Agreement expires following the 2020 season. Teams have been told not to enter into new contracts.
It is difficult to understand how a big-profit sport could so neglect and even abandon its roots. Appalachian Leagues of professional baseball go back to 1911. The latest form of the Appalachian League started in 1937 as a D-level minor league. Under the MLB proposal there will be no Appalachian League and only the Pulaski, Virginia team will not be cut.
Ten current Appalachian League teams: Bluefield Blue Jays – Bluefield, WV; Bristol Pirates – Bristol, VA; Burlington Royals – Burlington, NC; Danville Braves – Danville, VA; Elizabethton Twins – Elizabethton, TN; Greeneville Reds – Greeneville, TN; Johnson City Cardinals – Johnson City, TN; Kingsport Mets – Kingsport, TN; Princeton Rays – Princeton, WV; Pulaski Yankees – Pulaski, VA. Another Appalachian team, Chattanooga Lookouts of Southern League is on the chopping block. Out west, regional baseball’s Pioneer League in Rockies is to disappear. WVLT News was told the Tennessee Smokies of the Southern League will be “restructured.”
The “Save Minor League Baseball Task Force” was created in December by over 100 members of U.S. House of Representatives. Congressman Phil Roe signed on. His Tennessee 1st District includes four of the teams to be cut in the Appalachian League and another is in neighboring Bristol, Virginia.
Team sports are community assets in Appalachia contributing to an inclusive sense of identity. Small town sports teams involve young people in shared activities cutting across many things that divide us. Minor League baseball even provides some employment.
“The local communities would all lose their baseball teams; all the employees, from the full-time staff to the game-day staff; let alone to the players. I think they’re projecting 1,200-plus players – and not just players, but coaches and umpires, too. It’s a big shock to the system right now,” Jeremy Boler of Boyd Sports says.
Johnson City resident Larry Schmidt, 70, quoted in the Knoxville Ledger said, “It would hurt the small towns. It would hurt towns such as Johnson City and all the towns in the Appalachian League.”
Elizabeth Lawson, Johnson City, said. “We have had players that we’ve kept at our house that we then see at spring training. … We just feel like it’s such a good community thing, … it’s really the wrong decision… so many people that appreciate it and follow it and just love the team, the players.…”
The 10 teams in the Appalachian League through various donations (and) in-kind giving impacted their communities in excess of $2 million.
Kenny Loveless, 52, Johnson City, told the Knoxville Ledger, “I tell anybody and everybody, if you want to experience minor league baseball at its best, you come to a Johnson City Cardinals game because we get with it.”
Cover photo is of Vlad Guerrero, Jr., Bluefield Blue Jays. Photo by Permission and not for reproduction by the Appalachian League and Minor League Baseball. Thank you to the Knoxville Ledger for information included here.