Friday, August 28, 2015

Time to Put an Appalachian League Team in Wise

So far this Summer I have visited all the Appalachian League teams except Danville and Burlington (next weekend). As I traveled to park after park a nagging question kept coming top my mind: "Why is there no Appalachian League team in Wise County, Virginia?" Between Wise County and Norton, the population in WiseCo is somewhere between 40-45 thousand. This means that WiseCo has a larger potential fan base than Princeton WV (Rays), Elizabethton Tn (Twins), Greeneville Tn (Astros), the combined Bluefields WV & Va (Blue Jays), and Pulaski Va (Yankees). It puts WiseCo on par with Danville Va (Braves) and the combined Bristols Va & Tn (Pirates). Of the remaining three venues - Kingsport Tn (Mets), Burlington NC (Royals), and Johnson City (Cardinals) - the only one with a much larger population is Johnson City at 65,000. It makes no sense to me that there is no Appalachian League team in WiseCo.

Earlier this week, quite by accident, I tripped over an article from earlier this year talking about how the league may expand. Here's our chance. And here's my plan for Appalachian League baseball in WiseCo.

First, while you dance with the best suitor you can get, WiseCo should try to attract an affiliate with the most irrationally loyal fan base it can find - probably either the Red Sox or Cubs. A Wise Red Sox team would come with a built in rivalry with the Pulaski Yankees that could make things fun. However, I think a Wise Cubs team would probably work better. For one thing, if the Appalachian League expands it will probably add one team to each division and a Red Sox team would be a better fit in the Eastern Division in Wytheville, Abingdon, or Martinsville (same division as the Pulaski Yankees).

THE CASE FOR THE CUBS


WiseCo is closer than any other rookie league team would be to Chicago and we're only a couple hours down the road from the Cubs' AA team in Tennessee (the Smokies) and almost in a direct line at the halfway point between Chicago and their A+ team in Myrtle Beach (The Pelicans). Likewise, it is almost halfway between the Cubs' single A team (the South Bend Cubs) and the Pelicans in Myrtle Beach. WiseCo would be the most convenient rookie location both for Chicago's scouting purposes and for those Chicago fans who run around making what amount to pilgrimages to all their minor league teams (you doubt their existence, but I've met them). Thus, the Cubs would benefit because of location and WiseCo would benefit from a built in fan base.

BUILD THE STADIUM

One important factor in making something like this work is the stadium. A stadium built something along the lines of what Greeneville has would be ideal, a Pulaski style park would be good, and a clone of the Kingsport stadium would be perfectly workable. Important considerations for the stadium should be shade for the bleachers (a huge failure of Kingsport's Wright stadium), parking (an equally huge failing of Pulaski's Calfee Stadium), and findability (the main flaw of the otherwise excellent Pioneer Park in Greeneville). The stadium needs to be built close enough to a four lane highway that it can be easily and constantly seen and built with a large parking area (gravel would be fine)

There are certain traps to avoid in building a stadium in WiseCo. These poison pills would seriously damage any attempt to put together a viable team. The first is associations and the second is location.

PROBLEMS TO AVOID

Associations: This needs to be a Wise County team, not a team associated with one of the towns. Those of you not from around here won't get this and there are a number of locals who will deny it. People hereabouts are extremely loyal to their local town. Thus, a 10 minute drive from Norton to Big Stone Gap or Coeburn becomes a trip to a foreign land and association with one of the towns will drive people from any other town away. Any local person who tells you this is not true is misleading you - most likely for the purpose of getting you to limit your options by attaching your stadium to his town.

As well, this stadium must not be built on the campus of either the university or the community college. I don't really think the community college would be interested (I don't think it has any sports programs). However, the college has a strong lobby, sports programs of its own, and a deep need for money and publicity. There would be someone who pushed for the team to be located there because it would benefit the college. This would lead to multiple serious issues for any rookie league team suckered into it. If associating the team with a town would cause people not to come associating it with the college would probably double down on that effect. Like any college people who attend, are alumni, and are local elites who gain prestige from the college love it. Most others at best are neutral toward it or look at it with dislike for various reasons. Beyond that, the university is on a small back road, inconvenient to just about 95% of the county, and has horrendous parking. Putting a rookie league team there would guarantee low attendance.

Mind you, if the university were to kick in to aid in the building of a stadium in a proper location and play its baseball at that stadium I think it would be a good thing and helpful. However, the stadium must remain primarily for the rookie league team and in a proper location.

So what would be a proper location? Glad you asked.

THE LOCATION

It would have to be somewhere near the intersection of US-58 and US-23. This means outside of Norton (or maybe barely inside the city line). Probably the best location would be on US-58 heading toward Coeburn slightly past the Virginia-Kentucky Regional Shopping Center. It would be off a major thoroughfare. It would avoid going through any town. It would be near hotels for any traveling team (or fans). It would be convenient for anyone coming from other parts of the county and even people coming from other counties or states (the intersection being 30 minutes from Letcher County, Kentucky and maybe an hour from Tennessee). It would be in a location where it would be seen by people traveling along the major local highways (called "the four lanes" locally).

Less optimally, it could be placed off of US-23 between Norton and the Town of Wise (seat of government in Wise County). It carries most of the same advantages of the prior location except each would be slightly less convenient.

Anyway, it's doable and advantageous to all concerned. I nominate local prominent attorney J.B.F. (you know who you are) to put together a committee of prominent citizens to raise funds and convince the Cubs. Let's make this happen folks!

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