When you think of minor league baseball action, you would probably say the Tennessee Smokies (Class AA), Lexington Legends (Class A) or even Asheville Tourists (Class A) because these teams are not too far away to watch.
But there are other minor league teams that are about as close as the Smokies that you can watch in person.
How about the Kingsport Mets of the rookie 10-team Appalachian League?
The New York Mets’ affiliate is about 1 hour and 34 minutes from Middlesboro, according to the Google map. (In comparison, the Smokies Park is about 1 hour and 28 minutes.) There are other teams nearby playing in the Appalachian League, too.
You have the Greeneville (Tenn.) Astros, who play in a beautiful 2,572-seat facility on the campus of Tusculum College, and they are only 1 hour and 39 minutes away from here. Greeneville is also about a 41-minute drive from Morristown. And we got to see the Astros whip the Bristol White Sox last Saturday night in a 14-2 blowout in Greeneville.
In addition, we saw a couple of big names on the field. They were Bristol manager Pete Rose Jr. and Greeneville coach Cesar Cedeno.
The son of baseball’s all-time hits leader, the younger Rose, 42, is in his second year as the manager for Bristol club. The 61-year-old Cedeno, meanwhile, is serving as the hitting coach for Greeneville. A four-time all-star outfielder for the Houston Astros during the 1970s, he returned to the Astros organization in a full-time role this year for the first time since 2001.
Greeneville, which rejoined the league in 2004, has seen some of its players promoted to the big leagues, including pitcher Fernando Abad (who played at Greeneville in 2007), outfielder J.D. Martinez (2009) and infielder Jose Altuve (2008 and 2009). All three are currently playing for Houston with the 5-foot-5 Altuve earning All-Star honors for the National League this week.
A short-season rookie circuit, the Appalachian League begins play in mid-June (after the annual MLB Draft) and ends in late August. It has teams in Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. In addition to the other teams mentioned earlier (Kingsport, Bristol and Greeneville), it has teams like Johnson City (Cardinals) and Danville, Va. (Braves), among others.
By the way, the local old-timers will remember some of the minor league teams in Middlesboro. While the records are kind of sketchy, Middlesboro once had teams in the Appalachian League as well as the old Mountain States League during the 1950s and early 1960s, according to baseball-reference.com. Middlesboro was affiliated with the old Washington Senators (now the Minnesota Twins) for a couple of years in the early 1960s.
Just a thought: Could we have a minor league club here in the future?
Well, it certainly would be awfully nice to see a tri-state baseball team in Middlesboro. Perhaps some of the local county/city government officials and business leaders will band together and explore the baseball issue, and see what develops.
Nevertheless, it’s a very exciting and fun thought if you’re a baseball fan.
* * *
Switching to another sport, college football campaign is less than two months away.
And that means you’ll find several pre-season yearbooks in the newsstands.
Not surprisingly, they are not predicting a banner season for the football Wildcats, who are coming off a 5-7 performance in 2011.
Lindy’s Sports (lindyssports.com) has ranked Kentucky at No. 61 overall in the nation, meaning UK is the worst team from the powerful, newly-expanded SEC. All of the other 13 conference teams are ahead of the Wildcats in the magazine’s national poll.
Athlon Sports (athlonsports.com) has UK at No. 75, behind (again) all of the other SEC teams.
UK’s 2012 season-opening opponent is Louisville, which are rated No. 23 in both yearbooks.
And USA Today’s 2012 College Football yearbook is predicting a 3-9 season for the Cats with no SEC victories.
Sounds like a very long season for Joker Phillips’ Cats and the Big Blue Nation, huh?
Maybe they won’t be that bad, and look for my annual UK “game-by-game prediction” column in August.