Saying goodbye?

The Princeton Rays along with the Bluefield Jays face the possibility of leaving the area due to an expiration of the current MILB contracts with teams. 

CHARLESTON — Area Congressional representatives are on board with keeping Minor League Baseball in the region, but no progress on the issue has been reported.

Both Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va. 9th District, and Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va. 3rd District, want to keep the Appalachian League together after Major League Baseball (MLB) recently announced that after the 2020 season the league and more in other states would disband, effectively shutting down 42 teams.

Those teams in this region include the Bluefield Blue Jays, Princeton Rays, Danville, Va. Braves and Bristol, Va. Pirates.

During a visit to Bluefield last week, Miller said these teams are needed.

“It’s such an important part of the community and the economy,” she said, adding that the teams also add an element of “hominess.”

On Monday, Griffith issued a statement saying local baseball is an attraction as well as an economic development boost.

“Minor League Baseball is a pastime many of us enjoy,” he said. “It is a family-friendly and affordable activity. A sense of community is often built around our Minor League teams, and area businesses depend on them as well.”

Griffith, who is a member of the Save Minor League Baseball Task Force, said he joined more than 100 members of Congress recently in a letter to MLB to oppose the cuts.

“During a recent stop in Bluefield, I heard more first-hand from representatives of the Appalachian League as well as individual Minor League clubs, including Bluefield, Bristol, Pulaski, and Princeton,” he said. “They expressed frustration with the actions of MLB.”

Griffith said one demand the MLB has made is for facility upgrades, “but it has not detailed the standards it would find acceptable for the facilities.”

“It also cites travel times between games, but the Appalachian League, which would be decimated by the cuts, has relatively short travel times compared to other leagues,” he said. “Meanwhile, as the threat of elimination looms, none of the teams that MLB plans to cut can prepare for their next season or make improvements. Even if the cuts do not go into effect, they are damaging Minor League teams now.”

Griffith reiterated the “outpouring” of support the Minor League teams have been getting, including support from local, state and federal officials and legislators.

“These teams are important to our communities and the communities’ economic well-being, and it is imperative that MLB recognize that fact,” he said.

Dewey Russell, a member of Princeton Town Council and president of the Princeton Baseball Association, said recently that the teams mean a lot to the area in many ways.

“What is disturbing to me is they (MLB) forget about the importance of a minor league team to communities like Princeton, Bluefield, Bristol and Danville,” he said, referring to other teams in the Appalachian League that stand to be gone. “Last summer, over 44,000 people visited the games (in Mercer County).”

Russell said the association, as in Bluefield, maintains the field and keeps them at professional levels and the MLB pays the players.

For the MLB, it’s all about money, he said, but that’s not at all true for localities, where “it’s all about people.”

“We just break even,” he said of the local expenses and revenue. “We are not out to make any money.”

Jim Spencer, community and economic development director for Bluefield, agreed.

“It’s not just about the city but the region,” he said, adding that the teams coming in to play stay at area hotels and eat at restaurants and shop. “It’s the financial impact.”

Families of players of visiting teams also come to the area to watch the games, he added, and even use Mercer County Airport on occasion.

Spencer said it’s also about adding a meaningful presence to the area.

“To me, it’s one of those quality of life issues,” he said of the teams that play every summer here.

“Minor League Baseball is a critical part of West Virginia’s future,” Gov. Jim Justice said earlier. “I am working to find a real solution on this issue, starting at the top with (MLB) Commissioner (Rob) Manfred. I am confident we can show Commissioner Manfred what a fantastic partner MLB has in the great state of West Virginia.”

Along with Justice, other West Virginia political leaders have come out in opposition to the proposal, including Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

“Minor league baseball has become a part of the fabric of many West Virginia towns,” she said when the proposal surfaced. “I have stressed to both Major League and Minor League Baseball my hope and encouragement to work together and also with the impacted communities and franchises.”

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., also issued a statement at that time, saying losing these teams would hurt the communities and people who support them.

“I will do everything I can to protect minor league baseball in West Virginia because many of these teams have been pillars of the community for decades,” he said. “I’m contacting everyone I know in the MLB to ask them to consider the consequences of scrapping our local teams.”

Last week, another task force, consisting of mayors, was formed, and on Tuesday Congressional Representatives Lori Trahan (D-MA), David McKinley (R-WV), Max Rose (D-NY), and Mike Simpson (R-NY) — co-chairs of the Save Minor League Baseball Task Force — introduced a bipartisan resolution expressing the sense of Congress that Major League Baseball (MLB) should maintain the current minor league structure rather than proceed with its plan to eliminate the 42 minor league clubs.

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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