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Johnson City declares support for Minor League Baseball

Jonathan Roberts and David Floyd • Feb 9, 2020 at 6:57 PM

As rising tensions between Minor and Major League Baseball threaten the future of the Appalachian League, the Johnson City Commission has entered the fray, passing a resolution expressing it’s “formal support” for the hometown Cardinals, the Appalachian League and Minor League Baseball at a commission meeting on Feb. 5. 

“The (Cardinals) play such a big role in our community, and we feel very strongly that (Major League Baseball) should make a wise decision,” said Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock, who’s part of a task force of dozens of mayors opposing the proposal. “We’re willing to take a stand on it.”

Zac Clark, the Johnson City Cardinals’ general manager, told commissioners that the support from the city is exactly what the team needs to ensure the Cardinals and the rest of the Appalachian League remain. 

“This resolution is extremely important to us,” Clark said at the meeting. “It means the world to us. I appreciate you all coming to this conclusion that it is important to save our teams.” 

In a statement to the Press Friday afternoon, Clark called the city’s support “nothing short of amazing,” adding that “without this unwavering support the Johnson City Cardinals would not have made the significant strides we have in becoming an important piece of the fabric of this community.”

Under the current proposal from Major League Baseball, 42 minor league teams would be eliminated in an attempt to give players better working conditions and higher salaries. The proposal, first reported by Baseball America, would reduce the total number of minor league teams from 160.

Assistant City Manager Charlie Stahl told commissioners that the elimination of those teams would be devastating to the nation and Johnson City, noting that Johnson City and Boyd Sports (which operates the Cardinals, as well as the Elizabethton Twins and Greeneville Reds) have made significant monetary investments in the team. 

In the past eight years, the city and Boyd Sports — which has operated the team and stadium since 2016 — have invested $3 million in facility improvements at Cardinal Park, which includes $820,000 collectively over an eight-year period in operating expenses by the city at TVA Credit Union Ballpark. That figure also includes $1.3 million in capital investments in the ballpark by the city and $880,000 in stadium and field improvements by Boyd Sports. Boyd Sports has an annual operating expense of about $650,000.

In 2019 alone, the Cardinals produced more than $668,000 in economic impact, not including more than half a million dollars in charitable contributions in the community.

“The argument that the major leagues are making that we’re not investing enough to support our team in the minor league and others similar to us is simply erroneous,” Stahl said Wednesday.

If the region does end up losing its minor league teams, Stahl said Friday there’s also a lot at stake for Major League Baseball. MiLB, he said, can act as an entry point for people who want to learn more about the game.

“They are a link for getting people in middle America, in small communities throughout America excited with Major League Baseball,” he said. “If they want to see attendance grow and excitement from a cross-section of America, this is one way to keep it going.”

“This is one more facet of activities in this community that not only bring people to Johnson City, but ... one additional community past-time that we can be proud of,” Stahl said.

Johnson City’s leaders aren’t the only government officials getting involved, however, as dozens of other local governments have passed similar measures, including Sullivan County, whose commissioners unanimously passed a resolution of support in January. Congress has also thrown its support behind MiLB, with more than 100 representatives joining a “Save Minor League Baseball Task Force.”

On Jan. 28, members of the bipartisan task force introduced a resolution of support for MiLB with 79 co-sponsors, including U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st. 

“With 5 teams in our region, perhaps no area in America would be more affected by the proposed restructuring of minor league baseball than East Tennessee,” Roe said in a statement released by task force chairwoman Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.). “Baseball is an integral part of so many communities, and a significant source of community pride and entertainment. I will do everything I can to ensure America’s pastime is preserved for generations to come across East Tennessee. That is why I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing a bipartisan resolution to help preserve Minor League Baseball in 160 communities across the nation.” 

The next round of negotiations is set for Feb. 20 in Dallas. In his statement, Clark declined to comment on negotiations, instead looking forward to the upcoming season, which will be played in full, as the current MLB-MiLB agreement doesn’t expire until after the 2020 season. A new agreement must be ratified before the start of the 2021 season, however.

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