Sullivan commissioners express support for Appy League

Rick Wagner • Jan 20, 2020 at 8:30 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County commissioners last week approved a resolution against Major League Baseball’s plan that could negatively impact Appalachian League baseball in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

The commission voted 22-0, with two absent, to approve a resolution sponsored by Commissioner Alicia Starnes of Sullivan Gardens and co-sponsored by Commissioner Angie Stanley of Colonial Heights. It urges Major League Baseball to back away from consideration of shutting down the Appalachian League and was amended by Stanley to have County Mayor Richard Venable send Mayor League Baseball a letter about the resolution.

The resolution cites an annual economic impact of $749,000 in the region. Stanley’s mother has hosted Kingsport Mets players at her home during the baseball season, and Starnes’ family has done the same for the Kingsport and Bristol teams.

Mahion Luttrell, president and general manager of Bristol Baseball Inc., which operates the Bristol Pirates, said nine or 10 Appy League teams stand to dissolve under Major League Baseball’s plan to cut 42 teams across the nation.

“Everyone is getting on board with this,” Luttrell said, adding that officials in Kingsport, Bristol, Elizabethon and Greeneville are being asked to approve similar resolutions. He said the Bluefield Bluejays and Princeton Rays also have local government support in their communities, as do teams in the neighboring Pioneer League. He said the Virginia House of Delegates opposes the plan, as do some presidential candidates.

However, he said because the Kingsport Mets are operated by a Major League parent club, Mets officials have been asked by Major League Baseball not to speak out on the matter. Asked by Commissioner Sam Jones about the teams that could join independent leagues, Luttrell said dream leagues and wood bat leagues generally last only a few years before folding.

Luttrell said 400,000 to 450,000 people attended Appy League games last year, and Commissioner Terry Harkleroad of Bloomingdale said the minor leagues give folks the “opportunity to have a very good time for a very small price.”

In other action, the commission approved 22-0 with two absent a $250,000 matching grant to fund an entrepreneurship program. The money would be used by the Sullivan County Industrial Development Board, with no appropriation until a governing board is set up and running, under an amendment by Commissioner Mark Hutton of Bristol.

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