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Appalachian League announces changes for 2021

By DAVID GRAVELY

editor@southwesttimes.com

 

Batter up!

 

Tuesday saw a major announcement issued by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball concerning the future of the Appalachian League.

 

In a video press conference, it was announced that the Appalachian League will operate as a summer wood-bat league for select rising college freshmen and sophomores.

 

USA Baseball, which has ties with the Collegiate National Team development program, will assist in the selection of players for the program. USA Baseball runs the USA Baseball National Training Center in nearby Cary, North Carolina.

 

With the new format, fans can expect to see not only quality baseball but more players who are likely to make it to the Major League Baseball level.

 

According to the Appalachian League website, the new league format will include teams from all of the current Appy League programs, including Bluefield, Bristol, Burlington, Danville, Elizabethton, Greeneville, Johnson City, Kingsport, Princeton and Pulaski.

 

One change concerning players will be that players will remain on the team for the length of the season, rather than having players moved either up or down during the course of the season based on their performance.

 

The plan for the season will include a 54-game regular season and an annual All-Star Game. The rosters will include 320 of the top college freshman and sophomore players in the game. MLB and USA Baseball are already in the process of identifying and inviting those players to take part in the 2021 Appalachian League schedule.

 

Pulaski General Manager Betsy Haugh has also confirmed that there will be a playoff setup at the end of the season.

 

“This is a great opportunity for Pulaski Baseball,” Haugh said. “We’re very excited about the opportunities this provides and will be releasing more information in the coming weeks concerning our team and organization.”

 

One piece of information that fans will be waiting on will be the new team name.

 

“We’re in the process of going through the legalities of all that right now,” said Haugh. “We plan to present a name that fans can be proud of and identify with.”

 

“We are thrilled to partner with USA Baseball and the Appalachian League communities to create a one-of-a-kind summer league that will attract the nation’s top collegiate players and allow local fans to see top prospects and future big-league stars in their hometowns,” said Morgan Sword, MLB’s Executive Vice President, Baseball Economics and Operations. “This announcement continues MLB’s commitment to preserving and growing baseball in communities around the United States. The road to the big leagues now runs through Appalachia.”

 

“Minor League Baseball has a storied history in the Town of Pulaski and we so are proud and excited that our community will be a big part of preserving and improving America’s pastime,” commented Jonathan Sweet, Pulaski County Administrator. “The new Appalachian League format ensures high-level baseball will continue being played right here in Calfee Park for a long time to come. I look forward to seeing the next generation of big league stars come through our town, and as a community of baseball fans, we are committed to supporting these players and our teams.”

 

The Appalachian League was born in 1911 has been in operation, on and off, since then. As an Advanced Rookie League hosting some of the top young talent in baseball, a normal schedule includes 68 games between June and September.

 

While the teams of the Appalachian League have always provided excellent family entertainment at an affordable price, it has also been the starting point for many players now in the Hall of Fame.

 

Pulaski fans have seen three teams win the Appalachian League Championship, including 1986, 1991 and 2013.

 

Many notable players have made their way through historic Calfee Park. Alabama football head coach Urban Meyer played there in 1983. David Justice came through in 1985. Steve Avery and Turk Wendell played here in 1988. Mark Wohlers played for Pulaski from 1998-99. Javy Lopez played in 1989. Tony Graffanino came through the system in 1990. Brad Clontz and Jason Schmidt both played at Calfee during the 1992 season. Make Lamb arrived in 1997. Kevin Mench played here in 1999. Travis Snider made his way through Pulaski in 2006.

 

The 2015 season brought about much change as the Shelor Automotive Group purchased Calfee Park and made numerous renovations and improvements. Calfee Park and the Pulaski Yankees have led the Appalachian League in attendance, topping even that of other Yankee affiliate teams in the upper levels of Minor League Baseball for the same amount of games.

 

Continued improvements at Motor Mile Field are expected, along with a full slate of promotional nights and community involvement activities.

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