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K-Mets planning ahead with cautious optimism

Joe Avento • Mar 24, 2020 at 1:30 PM

The way the teams in the Appalachian League are looking at it, it’s better to be prepared than surprised.

With that in mind, Kingsport Mets general manager Brian Paupeck says the team is doing what it can to prepare for this summer’s season, even if nobody is certain if and when it will start.

“We’re getting ready for the season like any other year,” Paupeck said. “I think we have to be cautious of what’s going on in the country. But as far as getting ready for the season, you don’t want to not be ready when the time comes.”

Paupeck is hoping that time does, indeed, come. While spring training was brought to a halt and the start of the major league and minor league seasons were pushed back indefinitely because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Appalachian League has a little more time.

Games aren’t scheduled to start until mid-June, so there’s hope the season might start on time.

“We’re getting ready with operations,” Paupeck said. “We do everything at the ballpark, from tickets to merchandise to concessions. We’re just catching up.”

Paupeck spent most of February in Florida at spring training, helping with clubhouse operations, and was there for “nine or 10 games.” Shortly after he returned, the baseball world came to a stop.

Should the Appalachian League season go on as scheduled, or even modified, it would provide an entertainment outlet at a time when local people, baseball fans or not, might need it the most.

“Each and every year we look forward to the local aspect of it and having fans and the people that have come out for years to support us,” Paupeck said. “There are a lot of unknowns, but maybe this season, even more than others, we’re looking forward to having everybody come out to the ballpark this summer.”

The K-Mets went 34-34 last year under Rich Donnelly, narrowly missing the Appy League playoffs.

This year, the team will be managed by Chris Newell, a former independent league manager who previously served as a scout for the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays. Newell will have an entirely new coaching staff with him in Kingsport. Glenn Abbott will serve as pitching coach, Trey Hannam will be the hitting coach and Gilbert Gomez will be the bench coach.

Zac Clark, the Johnson City Cardinals’ GM remains optimistic his team will get the chance to defend its Appy League championship.

“Our season hasn’t been delayed or affected just yet,” Clark said. “We’re completely business as usual, still trying to sell tickets and everything. We’re planning our promotional calendar like we normally would. It’s hard. We say business as usual,but we’re trying to make sure we get it done doing it from home.”

Clark said if — a word being used more and more these days — the season gets underway, he expects fans to flock to the park.

“I think the folks would be really excited,” he said. “Our fan base is so strong anyway, but I think people would love to get out and get some fresh air and be entertained. We might be able to provide those folks a little bit of normalcy. We’re going to put on a show. If everybody pitches in and does their part to take care of this virus — social distancing and washing their hands — hopefully we’ll be OK.”

The Cardinals won their fifth title since 2010 last season. Robert Espinoza will be back for his fourth year as manager, joined by a new staff consisting of hitting coach Daniel Nicolaisen and pitching coach Renee Cortez.

Clark said all activities scheduled for TVA Credit Union Ballpark before May 16 have been postponed. That includes high school games, travel baseball tournaments and the Tri-Cities Otters FC’s opening game.

The Elizabethton Twins will enter the season with experience on their side. If the season gets going, it will be Ray Smith’s 27th year as manager and 42nd with the Twins organization as a player, coach or manager. His managerial record is 1,048-701 and his teams have finished in first place 14 times.

Jeff Reed will be back for his 19th season as hitting coach and Richard Salazar returns for his second season as pitching coach. Jimmy Alvarez will be on the Elizabethton staff for the first time.