JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Three years ago, the future of baseball in Johnson City was uncertain.
The Johnson City Cardinals left town as part of a restructuring of the MLB’s minor league baseball system.
The new Appalachian League took its place, with Johnson City’s team officially becoming the Doughboys.
Attendance in the inaugural 2021 season was meager, and the team saw little success on the field.
Players, coaches and staff on the 2023 Doughboys squad told News Channel 11 there was something different about the past season.
“It was an energy like I’ve never felt before playing baseball,” said Doughboys first baseman Braden Spano, who is playing collegiate ball at Milligan University.
In 2023, a roster filled with talented players like Spano took the Appy League by storm, securing a 35-10 record.
For second-year General Manager Patrick Ennis, it was a ride he will never forget.
“On all aspects, between fans and what happened on the field and promotion, you couldn’t ask for a better season,” Ennis said.
The Doughboy faithful showed out every home game, and let the other teams know it.
A hot home crowd helped the Doughboys on their way to a 21-3 home record at TVA Credit Union Ballpark. It was, by far, the at-home record in the league in 2023.
“It’s a long summer, your bodies get tired,” Spano said. “But the fans picking you up is absolutely awesome every night.”
The players and their performances drew big cheers from that crowd, but some of the biggest cheers came for Rocky the Bat Dog every night. The new addition to the Doughboys may have been their secret to success.
Rocky’s owner, Meg Hackett, said the three-year-old black lab loves his job: picking up the Doughboys’ bats after they hit.
Hackett said players and coaches were more than happy to have Rocky around.
“Every time we’d walk in, they’d greet him and want to throw him the baseball to warm up before the games,” Hackett said.
Rocky not only fired up the fans. He also provided a morale boost whenever needed.
“Maybe it’s our emotional support dog as well when things aren’t going well,” said Doughboys pitching coach Ryan Mossman.
Hackett confirmed Rocky the Bat Dog will be back in 2024, and he’s already jumping at the chance to get back on the diamond.
Whether fans are coming out to see Rocky, root on the team or just enjoy some time socializing, Ennis said he hopes to keep bringing fun to the ballpark.
“We have a great crowd, but I just want to make sure everyone has a great time when they come here,” Ennis said. “Making sure they have the best experience.”
The championship-winning coaching staff will also return in 2024.
Mossman said he’s excited to see how the team comes together as they try to repeat as Appy League champions.