The Johnson City Cardinals began their defense of their Appalachian League crown last week. And as Press Managing Sports Editor Kelly Hodge reported last week, the 2011 Appy League champs are hoping for big things from Carson Kelly, a 17-year-old phenom from Portland, Ore.
Kelly is just one of the many rookies who arrived at one of the franchises that make up the Appy League every summer with dreams of making it to the big leagues.
It’s an innocent introduction to professional baseball, and for every Appy League alum like Joe Mauer (All-Star catcher for the Minnesota Twins) who go on to enjoy a stellar career in the majors, there are hundreds of others who never make it beyond chasing ground balls at a local ballpark.
Their stay here, regardless of how short or productive it may be, is something players will remember for the rest of their lives. Many Appy League players find themselves adopted for the summer by families in their host cities. A number of local families have offered not only their time, but also their homes to complete strangers.
The Johnson City Cardinals and Elizabethton Twins have become models for other franchises in the league when it comes to building community support. Players from the Cardinals and Twins routinely make appearances in churches and civic clubs. This community interaction helps to create a favorable buzz for the teams both on and off the field.
It’s true crowds rarely pack into the stadiums to watch Appy League games. But it is also true those who do attend regularly are die-hard fans who are absolutely devoted to their respective teams.
The league is made up of franchises from relatively small towns in Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina.
The Appy League has become an important institution in many local communities. Going to a game is a nostalgic trip back to a less complicated time.
In short, the Appy League epitomizes all the good we remember professional baseball as being.