By Marty Gordon
Minor league baseball will change in our region this coming year as Major League Baseball and USA Baseball jointly announced Tuesday a new format for the Appalachian League.
Teams in Pulaski, Princeton and Bluefield will now feature the nation’s top rising college freshmen and sophomores in wood-bat play each summer. This means major league affiliates as we have become accustomed to like the New York Yankees in Pulaski will go away.
Dan Moushon, the president of the Appalachian League, said the communities of the Appalachian League have supported baseball since its founding in 1911. “We are grateful to MLB and USA Baseball for bringing this exciting opportunity to our fans, and we look forward to welcoming players, coaches, major league scouts, and fans into our cities next summer,” he said.
The Appalachian League will become a part of the Prospect Development pipeline (PDP), the collaborative effort between Major League Baseball and USA Baseball that establishes a player development pathway for amateur baseball players in the United States. The league will be an integral part of the identification and development process for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team and other future national teams.
Appalachian League participants will receive extensive visibility from major league scouts through both in-person observation and state-of-the-art scouting technology. Players will receive instruction from former major league players and educational programming designed to prepare them for careers as professional athletes.
Plans include a 54-game regular season and an annual all-star game. Major League Baseball and USA Baseball will provide support for the league’s staffing, player participation and administrative functions. The parties involved are in communication with the NCAA to ensure athlete eligibility requirements are met.
Leaders in each community were optimistic about the plan as initially the new agreement with Major League Baseball would have eliminated every team in the Appy League. Now, there will be some form of the sport.
Pulaski County Administrator Jonathan D. Sweet said minor league baseball has a storied history in the Town of Pulaski, and he is proud and excited that the community will be a big part of preserving and improving America’s pastime.
“The new Appalachian League format ensures high-level baseball will continue being played right here in Calfee Park for a long time to come,” Sweet said. “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 team.”
Betsy Haugh, Pulaski baseball’s general manager, said the organization will be a part of the new
Appalachian League beginning play in 2021. She said the same game-day experience will remain in 2021, with continued ballpark improvements, fun promotions and family-friendly offerings.
“We will continue to build on all the great work that has been done as we transition into this new era of Pulaski baseball,” she said.
In July, Motor Mile Field at Calfee Park earned the title of best rookie-level ballpark in America for the second straight year.
Since the Shelor Automotive Group purchased Calfee Park from the Town of Pulaski in 2015, ownership has completed numerous upgrades including a renovated home team clubhouse; a new visiting team clubhouse; a new concession stand, press box and souvenir store; the addition of two VIP Towers, upgraded seating and a 35’ x 22’ JumboTron; a Bermuda grass playing field and new irrigation system; construction of new home offices for ballpark employees; and the expansion of the upper concourse.
Prior to the 2019 season, a three-tiered party deck and new boxes were added along the third-base line, increasing the ballpark’s capacity to 3,200. Additional upgrades that included 800 new seats behind the party deck and new concessions points of sale were planned for 2020 before being put on hold by the COVID-19 pandemic.
All 10 teams in the Appalachian League have agreed to change their names and logos to incorporate images that are important to their respective communities.
Haugh said an announcement on a new identity for the Pulaski franchise is expected by the end of the year.