PRINCETON — Mercer County Commissioners joined the ranks of those trying to save local Minor League Baseball teams Thursday morning by passing a resolution urging Major League Baseball (MLB) to reconsider the importance of the Appalachian League.
Under the MLB proposal, 42 minor league teams nationwide would be lost, including the Bluefield Blue Jays and Princeton Rays.
“The Appalachian League has an incredible history in Mercer County,” said Commissioner Bill Archer. “It dates back even prior to the current structure of the Appy League.”
Archer said athletes getting paid to play baseball was an early part of the region’s culture, and the Appy League started in 1911, but co
al mines and lumber camps fielded teams in the latter part of the 1800s.
“It’s been a part of our history for many years,” he said.
Commissioner Greg Puckett said it’s also a part of the childhood of many area residents and “very personal” to him.
“I grew up having my aunt take me to the games in Bluefield,” he said. “Before I left the house, I got my glove and was ready to catch foul balls.”
Puckett said they would leave early and sit near the dugout to meet the players.
The economic impact the teams have on the area is significant, he said, but it’s about far more than that.
“It is also extremely personal for the families that house these athletes,” he said, adding that many lifelong friendships are formed.
Baseball is part of the country’s landscape, he added.
“It creates a true sense of Americana. If Major League Baseball decides to get rid of the teams, they are losing a lifestyle of what is truly American.”
The resolution reviews some of the history of baseball in the area as well as some of the players who started out in the minor leagues and went on to be stars in the MLB, including Stan Musial (started with the Williamson, W.Va. Colts) in 1938 and in recent years Tampa Bay pitcher Blake Snell who played for the Princeton Rays in 2012.
Economic benefits are also highlighted in the resolution.
“The presence of two Rookie League baseball teams in Mercer County represents a substantial component of the local economy during the June through August season in terms of motel occupancy for visiting teams and families, residential rentals, restaurants, hygiene and personal needs,” the resolution says, adding that the area also benefits from “quality of life” aspects of the teams with “positive public morale and young athletes who promote countywide good will through their participation in fairs and festivals …”
Commissioners said in the resolution they are committed to Minor League Baseball in the county.
“In addition, this commission wishes to join its voice with the voices of our baseball fans throughout the Appalachian Region to urge Major League Baseball to reconsider its plan to eliminate some or all of its Rookie League affiliates in the near future. In Mercer County, professional baseball remains a popular, affordable, family-oriented pastime. It is this commission’s prayer that it will remain as such for future generations to enjoy.”
The issue recently surfaced because the current Professional Baseball Agreement between the Major League Baseball (MLB) and Minor League Baseball expires at the end of the 2020 season.
Negotiations continue but more than 40 minor league teams may be on the chopping block at the end of the 2020 season, including nine of the 10 teams in this region’s Appalachian League.
State and federal legislative leaders are also committed to trying to save the teams.
Gov. Jim Justice issued a statement Thursday after speaking with Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred regarding the Minor League Baseball realignment plan.
“Last Friday, I had a very positive conversation with Commissioner Manfred about their realignment plan and its potential effect on West Virginia’s four Minor League Baseball teams,” Justice said. “I reiterated to him the importance of these teams and the jobs they provide to our communities, our economy, and the entire state. He pledged to stay in touch and continue to listen to our concerns as this process moves forward.”
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