Future of Appalachian League baseball in question


TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL)- A proposal by Major League Baseball is threatening the existence of a quarter of minor league teams, including those in the decades-old Appalachian League.

The news, first reported by Baseball America, comes amid negotiations between the MLB and the MiLB, the organization that oversees Minor League Baseball.

MiLB Senior Communications Director Jeff Lantz said five teams in our region could lose their affiliation with the MLB after the 2020 season.

If the MLB’s current proposal stands, Lantz said only about 120 of the 160 minor league teams across the country would remain.

“It’ll be a long process,” Lantz told News Channel 11 Monday. “There will be several more proposals made on both sides and obviously we are going to do everything we can to keep things as close as possible to what we have now.”

Johnson City native Hanes Torbett still remembers signing with the Kingsport Mets at age 22 and winning the Appalachian League Championship in 1995. Torbett now coaches his son’s travel ball team, the East Tennessee Crusaders, to help local kids achieve the same goals.

“To be able to watch a high-quality pro-team play, it’s a huge asset to every kid in this area that has plans of playing at the next level,” he said.

That’s why he was disappointed when he heard Appalachian League teams could lose their MLB affiliations.

Lantz said there’s talk of the teams being converted to an amateur wooden bat league in which players wouldn’t be paid.

“In my opinion, it’s going to be hard to recruit guys from Florida, California, from other parts of the region to come to East Tennesse to play in a wooden bat league,” Torbett said.

Alternatively, Lantz said the Appalachian League could become an independent league. This way, he said players could sign with any MLB team, as opposed to being contracted with one.

In this case, he said players would be paid by the league, not the MLB, which could be unsustainable.

“It’ll be a great loss in our area to lose the Appalachian League,” said Elizabethton’s Parks and Recreation Director Mike Mains. “So hopefully major league and minor league baseball can work things out to where this league will continue for years to come.”

Lantz said the MLB is trying to re-classify teams and realign them geographically. He said the MLB is also trying to improve stadium quality across the country.

The proposal comes after the City of Elizabethton, home of the Elizabethton Twins, spent $1.5 million on clubhouse renovations. The Minnesota Twins contributed $800 thousand.

“We’ve had to make some improvements, just like the other teams in the league have done, to set the bar for professional baseball and to continue with operations,” Mains said.

There’s recently been discussion in Kingsport of building a new stadium for the Mets.

A study is currently underway to decide whether or not to move the Bristol Pirates stadium from Virginia to Tennessee.

SEE ALSO » Study to move Bristol Pirates stadium to Tenn. underway

City leaders in Bristol and Kingsport didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Mains said it’s too soon to tell how changes to the league would impact future investment.

Appalachian League teams declined to comment on Monday.

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