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Save Appalachian League baseball

Johnson City Press • Oct 23, 2019 at 9:00 AM

Say it ain’t so. They can’t take our baseball away from us, can they?

The Appalachian League might be a thing of the past if a proposal made by Major League Baseball passes. MLB wants to reorganize the minor leagues and the plan reportedly includes eliminating the two Advanced Rookie leagues, the Appalachian League and the Pioneer League.

In Johnson City, the Cardinals games have become a summerlong form of entertainment for entire families. TVA Credit Union Ballpark has turned into a virtual amusement park, which is one reason the franchise continues to flourish.

The team has won the league’s promotional award several times, thanks in no small part to an exciting atmosphere created by the current administration put in place by Boyd Sports.

What’s better on a warm summer night than having a hot dog and a cold beer while watching a baseball game? And in the rookie leagues, it’s all done on an affordable basis.

With $5 tickets, $1 sodas and beers on many nights and food promotional discounts, it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to attend a Cardinals game. That’s one reason more than 80,000 fans went through the gates this year. It was the fourth year in a row that the franchise attendance record was broken.

If MLB has its way, it will all be taken away after the 2020 season.

In all, the MLB proposal, originally reported by Baseball America, calls for the elimination of as many as 42 teams. Eighteen towns would be without Rookie League baseball. Many of these municipalities have had baseball for decades and have poured their souls — and resources — into supporting the home team.

That’s where it might get dicey for MLB. Hopefully the towns don’t go down without a fight.

Johnson City taxpayers footed the bill for the new lights at TVA Credit Union Ballpark. It’s true that Science Hill also plays its home games there, but the city wouldn’t have coughed up more than half a million dollars for lights just for the high school team.

The city of Elizabethton was basically forced to come up with $1.5 million to renovate the clubhouse at Joe O’Brien Field under the threat of the Twins moving elsewhere.

Now that taxpayers have ponied up the cash, the possibility of the league disbanding has to be harrowing.

If the proposal passes as it stands, MLB is likely to be subject to numerous lawsuits from cities that were told to spend taxpayers’ money for ballpark improvements only to have the teams vanish into thin air.

For now, the proposal is just that — a proposal. Further negotiations will take place with offers and counteroffers being made before anything is decided.

The next negotiations between MLB and Minor League Baseball are scheduled for November. Hopefully whatever agreement is reached doesn’t ultimately include taking cities like Johnson City and Elizabethton out of the ballgame.

Save for a stretch in the ’60s and early ’70s when the Phillies and Yankees were here, Johnson City has been affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals since 1939. An attack on the Appalachian League is an attack on our history and our way of life.

If you’d like to express your displeasure with MLB’s proposal, write to Commissioner Rob Manfred at The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, 245 Park Avenue, 31st Floor, New York, NY 10167 or call 212-931-7800.

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