In a sport where young talent was exhibited across the country, baseball suffered a major loss recently. With Major League Baseball’s contraction of 42 minor league baseball affiliates, cities across America lost their biggest league affiliation points. For Citizens of Washington, it means that a team like Class-A Short Season Auburn Doubledays is looking for some form of resolution, a feeling that is common among minor level clubs.
In the Appalachian League, which consisted mainly of teams in or around the Tri-Cities area, a combination of three cities on the Tennessee and Virginia borders is unknown territory in front. While many places only lose a single team, Tri-Cities sees several teams dissolved and reformed in a way that only resembles what it once was. The Johnson City Cardinals, Kingsport Mets, Elizabethton Twins, Greeneville Reds and Bristol Pirates – all within about an hour of each other – have been thrown aside.
Although residents of East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia were not all thrilled by minor league baseball – they prefer our local college basketball team, East Tennessee State University, or, more generally, the University of Tennessee or Virginia Tech – the teams played a role in society. Perhaps one of the most unique things that comes from the smaller league model is to testify that young players begin their careers on the small stage, and hope to drive to the show. It seems that fans were proud to know that development and that journey.
Take, for example, the Kingsport Mets, a rookie league club until recently. They have seen such as AJ Burnett, Jacob deGrom, Dwight Gooden, Carlos gomez, Dale Murphy, Darryl Strawberry, and David Wright pass through the small town of Tennessee. The locals were linked to the players’ travels – they were also linked to the subsidiary itself, and are proud to be a step on the way to the big leagues for teams like St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets, Gemini from Minnesota, Cincinnati Reds, and Pittsburgh Pirates. These teams helped ignite a cult that followed in the country’s pockets far outside the big league club’s residence.
Now all these clubs have had to change gears. They are no longer looked at for a larger league organization, which may have its own benefits, but they also do not want the name and brand recognition they once did. As for the Appalachian League, they have managed to move on to a summer league for upcoming talent that expects to be drafted and put on a list elsewhere. It will probably get some attention, especially for Death who are hoping for a glimpse of what may come next for their organization.
But baseball in small towns, if that model holds, will begin to feel much more like summer turbo tournaments and less like players trying to hone their craft and climb the ranks of baseball. But in time, everything will be forgotten. Of course, there will be a period in the future where no one really remembers professional baseball in the small corners of the country.
All this is without mentioning hundreds of players who will now be without jobs, and hundreds more who would otherwise have been picked in the draft. Because with the decline in the minor league landscape, even though cost cuts and more efficient as it may be, list places will be much more limited. Therefore, the draft will continue to shrink, probably more similar to the five rounds we saw this year than the 40 or more rounds we have seen before – and probably land somewhere near the middle.
So when fans start archiving back to ball parks, for someone who participates in the lower echelons of the sport, whenever it may be, it will look a lot different – as in the Appalachian League. For others, it may not be a game at all to participate in. As for the players on the outskirts, they can only be present instead of on the field.