For more than a century, our cities have supported the sport with professional teams, first as independents and eventually as farm clubs of Major League Baseball.
It all started in 1911, when the the Johnson City Soldiers and the Bristol Boosters helped form the original Appalachian League. The teams’ names and affiliate organizations have changed over the years, but with the exception of two brief hiatuses, bats have been swinging here ever since.
In recent years, our cities have pitched big bucks to keep the teams here. Just last year, Johnson City approved $555,000 for lighting improvements at TVA Credit Union Ballpark, which residents here will always call Cardinal Park. The St. Louis Cardinals organization would only commit to a one-year agreement to keep the Cards in Johnson City until the lighting was fixed.
For two years, the Minnesota Twins have been hurling high heat at Elizabethton, where their Appalachian League affiliate has played since 1974. The Twins have threatened to pack their bags unless the city funds renovations at Joe O’Brien Field.
The city issued issued $2.6 million in bonds last year, and $1.5 million of those bonds were for improvements at Joe O’Brien. City officials even made a trek to Minneapolis in hopes of sealing a deal.
But as Press Elizabethton Bureau Chief John Thompson reported in Thursday’s edition, the Twins and the city have yet to reach an agreement on those renovations, and city officials are talking about how they might spend that $1.5 million in other ways should the team not return in 2019. But Elizabethton isn’t balking at negotiations just yet.
“We are closing the door, but we are not locking it,” Elizabethton Mayor Curt Alexander said Wednesday evening in a city budget session. He said if a new agreement comes to the table, the city would consider it and make adjustments.
What a shame it would be to see Joe O’Brien go dark. Quality of life in Elizabethton would suffer. Elizabethton has been home to professional baseball off and on since the 1930s when the Betsy Red Sox were in town.
City officials are right, however, to leave the ball in Minnesota’s hands. Let’s call it as it is: The Twins are extorting Elizabethton into spending more of taxpayers’ money — much the same way major franchises in all sports have stuck it to big cities.
There’s no doubt that Joe O’Brien needs a facelift, but a $1.5 million commitment from a city the size of Elizabethton should have been enough to keep the boys of summer coming back each year. One would hope the two parties can find a solution.
If not, Elizabethton has plenty of other needs that $1.5 million would cover.