Take me out to Cardinal Park

Johnson City Press • Jun 9, 2019 at 7:15 AM

Friday’s edition introduced readers to some serious girl power. Sports Writer Douglas Fritz brought you profiles of Julie Maupin and Kaylee Oiler, two Little League baseball standouts whose skills and drive landed them on Johnson City’s All-Star squads in their final year in the leagues.

“I want to have fun while it lasts and be competitive with the boys — and try to be better than them,” said Maupin, who started playing the game at 5 years old.

Her spirit exemplifies why the game of all games remains in our hearts. How we love the crack of the bat. No sound rings in our collective experience quite like that. Baseball may no longer be the national pastime of yesteryear, but its place in our culture remains firm.

Yes, the Super Bowl reigns as the country’s top sporting event. Friday night high school football and Saturday afternoon college games capture much of the fan fervor.

But if you thought baseball had lost its standing among youth sports, think again. The Sports & Fitness Industry Association estimates that 3.9 million U.S. children, or 13.1%, regularly participated in baseball in 2017, making it second only to basketball. About 2.3 million children, or 7.7%, played outdoor soccer, which peaked in 2010 at 10.9%.

Little League is alive and well.

And thankfully for Northeast Tennessee, so is minor league baseball. Within a 30-mile radius around Johnson City, five rookie-class teams enliven our summers each year.

We’re just nine days away from opening day at TVA Credit Union Ballpark (Cardinal Park to the faithful), where the Johnson City Cardinals will take the field for the 45th consecutive year. Save for a stretch in the ’60s and early ’70s, Johnson City has been affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals since 1939. Over the years, many a major-leaguer got his professional start right here in Johnson City.

Johnson City’s love for organized baseball is as old as the town itself. In our efforts to celebrate the city’s 150th birthday this year, we’ve been publishing a front-page column each day with tidbits about that particular day in the city’s history. Along with railroad development and veterans services, one thing has stood out in our research: baseball.

The earliest reference we found came shortly after The Comet, an early Johnson City newspaper, began publishing in 1884. On May 24 of that year, the editor quipped, “Some of our base-ball (as it was styled in those days) team seems to have been vaccinated. They can’t catch anything.”

Some of those early teams were known as the Reds, and in 1911, Johnson City was one of five cities that founded the original Appalachian League. The local team was the Johnson City Soldiers — an appropriate moniker given the recent opening of the National Soldiers Home.

In recent years, Boyd Sports has gone to considerable lengths to improve the fan experience at the Cardinals’ ballpark with amenities and promotions. Going to a game these days is a big-league experience with the intimacy of a minor league atmosphere.

If you haven’t been in a while, give the JC Cards, the Elizabethton Twins or any of other Northeast Tennessee teams another whirl. Take the family out to the old ballgame. It’s American culture at its finest.

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