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July 3, 2013

Minor League Baseball: the Appalachian League (Advanced-Rookie Classification).

Filed under: Baseball,Baseball: MiLB >Rookie — admin @ 6:28 pm

milb_2013_appalachian-league_post_.gif
Minor League Baseball: the Appalachian League (III) (Advanced-Rookie Classification)



Minor League Baseball attendance – ‘2012 Affiliated Attendance by League‘ (ballparkdigest.com).

There are 6 leagues within Organized Baseball which are Rookie Class leagues: the Appalachian League, the Pioneer League, the Arizona League, the Gulf Coast League, and 2 foreign-based leagues, the Dominican Summer League, and Venezuelan Summer League. But in only two of them are attendances measured. Those 2 are also classified a bit differently, as Advanced-Rookie. They are the Appalachian League and the Pioneer League.

The Advanced-Rookie classification
From the en.wikipedia.org page ‘Minor League Baseball…{excerpt}…”Leagues in the Rookie classification play a shortened season…starting in mid-June and ending in late August or early September. … Advanced Rookie leagues (Appalachian and Pioneer) play between 67 and 75 games”…/
…”The Appalachian and Pioneer leagues are actually hybrid leagues; while officially classed as “Rookie” leagues, eight major league teams have their highest-class short season teams in those leagues. These eight teams also maintain Rookie-level teams in other leagues as well. The Gulf Coast and Arizona leagues are informally known as “complex” leagues, nicknamed for the minor-league complexes where most games in those leagues are played.” …{end of excerpt}.

{Excerpt from the ‘Pioneeer League‘ page at en.wikipedia.org} …”Classified as a Rookie league, the Pioneer League [as well as the Appalachian League, are]…predominantly made up of players out of high school and [are] almost exclusively the first professional league many players compete in.”…{end of excerpt}.

    A brief history of the Appalachian League, with present-day locations of teams noted

The Appalachian League (III) is the third league which has used that name, the first being located in eastern Tennessee, far western North Carolina, and far western Virginia in the early part of the 20th century. The original Appalachian League (I) existed for 4 seasons from 1911 to 1914, and was a totally Independent league (with no teams having any Major League affiliation). The 6 teams in the first season were – Asheville (NC) Moonshiners, Bristol (VA) Boosters, Cleveland (TN) Counts, Johnson City (TN) Soldiers, Knoxville Appalachians, and Morristown (TN) Jobbers. [1911 was the first appearance of 2 locations which have present-day teams [2013] in the Appalachian League – Bristol, Virginia, with the present-day Bristol White Sox (CWS); and Johnson City, Tennessee, with the present-day Johnson City Cardinals (STL).].

The second Appalachian League (II) existed for 5 seasons from 1921 to 1925 and again was entirely comprised of Independent teams (this is probably the reason why the first and second versions of the Appalachian Leagues both failed). The 6 teams in the first season of the second version of the Appalachian League (II) in 1921 were – the Bristol State-Liners, the Cleveland Manufacturers, the Greeneville (TN) Burley Cats, the [second iteration of the] Johnson City Soldiers, the Kingsport (TN) Indians, and the Knoxvlle Pioneers. [1921 was the first appearance of 2 locations which have present-day teams [2013] in the Appalachian League – Kingsport, Tennessee, with the present-day Kingsport Mets (NYM); and Greeneville, North Carolina, with the presnt-day Greeneville Astros (HOU).].

The third version of the Appalachian League was a D-level minor league, which was the lowest level in the pre-1963/64 Organized Baseball set-up. The Appalachian League (III) started in 1937 and had 4 teams, one of which, the Elizabethton Betsy Red Sox of Elizabethton, Tennessee, had an affiliation with a Major League Baseball team, the Boston Red Sox. That was the first Appalachian League team in leagues (I), (II), or (III) to have a Major League affiliation. The 4 teams in the first season of the present-day Appalachian League in 1937 were – the Elizabethton Betsy Red Sox (BOS-AL), the [third iteration of the] Johnson City Soldiers (Independent), the Newport (TN) Canners (Independent), and the Pennington Gap (VA) Lee Bears (Independent). [1937 was the first appearance of one location which has a present-day team [2013] in the Appalachian League – Elizabethton, Tennessee, with the present-day Elizabethton Twins (MIN).].

Unlike many other minor leagues, the Appalachian League was not forced to cancel seasons during World War II, but it did play with a smaller league-size of only 4 teams. After the War in 1946, in the 10th season of the Appalachian League (III), the league expanded from 4 to 8 teams with the inclusion of teams from West Virginia (2 of them) for the first time with the Bluefield Blue-Grays (BOS-NL) (located in Virginia and West Virginia, with the ballpark, Bowen Field, sitting right on the border of the two states); and the Welch (WV) Miners (Independent). The two other new teams in 1946 were the Pulaski (VA) Counts (Independent); and the New River (VA) Rebels (Independent). By this time the majority of teams in the Appalachian League had been able to attain affiliation with a Major League ball club (affiliation with an MLB team basically increases the likelihood of the minor league team’s survival), with the exception in 1946 being 3 of the 4 aforementioned new teams. [1946 was the first appearance of 2 locations which have present-day teams [2013] in the Appalachian League – Bluefield, Virginia/West Virginia, with the present-day Bluefield Blue Jays (TOR); and Pulaski, Virginia, with the present-day Pulaski Mariners (SEA).].

The Appalachian League shrunk back to a 6-team league in 1951, and it continued as a D-level minor league up to 1955. In 1956, the league was forced to go dormant for one season due to several teams having financial problems. In 1957, the Appalachian league re-started. It continued as a D-level minor league until 1962. In 1963, as part of Major League Baseball’s re-organization of their minor leagues [which occurred in 1963 and 1964], the Appalachian League was re-classified as a Rookie League.

Here are the 6 teams in the 1963 Appalchian League (III), which was the first season the league played as a Rookie class league – the Bluefield Orioles (BAL), the Harlan (KY) Yankees (NYY), the Kingsport Pirates (PIT), the Middlesboro (KY) Cubsox (Independent), the Salem (VA) Rebels (SFG), and the Wytheville (NC) Twins (MIN).

To round the first-appearance of each present-day Appalachian League location, here are all the first appearances of 2013 teams’ locations -
1911, in Appalachian League (I): Bristol, VA and Johnson City, TN.
1924, in Appalachian League (II): Greeneville, NC and Kingsport, TN.
1937, in Appalachian League (III): Elizabethton, TN.
1946, in Appalachian League (III): Bluefield, VA/WV and Pulaski, WV.
1986, in Appalachian League (III): Burlington, NC [present-day team called the Burlington Royals (KC)].
1988, in Appalachian League (III): Princeton, WV [present-day team called the Princeton Rays (TB)].
1993, in Appalachian League (III): Danville, VA [present-day team called the Danville Braves (ATL)].

Of those 3 most recent new locations of present-day Appalachian League franchises, 2 can be seen as representative of an expansion-of-range by the Appalachian League, because two of those locations – Burlington, North Carolina and Danville, Virginia – are not really in or near the edge of the Appalachian Mountains, but are in the Piedmont region of the American Southeast {see this, ‘Piedmont (United States)‘ (en.wikipedia.org)}. You can see the difference in topographic terms, because both Danville and Burlington are the only locations in the Appalachian League that are under 650 feet elevation, while all 8 other Appalachian League teams are well above 1,000 feet elevation and a few are well above 2,000 feet elevation. Princeton, WV is the highest-elevation Appalachian League location, at around 2,438 feet (or .46 of a mile high), and Bluefield VA/WV is the second-highest-elevation Appalachian League location at around 2,389 feet [note: elevations are listed on the map page for each teams' location, right above each team's large logo within their profile boxes, as well as in the 10 illustrations at the bottom of this post.]

In 2012, the Appalachian League averaged 914 per game. That was up 32 per game from the 882 per game that the Appalachian League averaged in 2011. Attendance for the Appalachian League is the smallest of all the 15 minor leagues, from Triple-A-level to Rookie-level, within Organized Baseball in which attendance is measured. But that is mostly a function of the fact that Appalachian League locations are among the smallest municipalities in the USA to have pro baseball teams. Several Appalachian League municipalities – 6 of them – have city or town populations under 16,000, and even the largest, Johnson City, TN, has a city population of only around 63,000 (note: metro-area populations also listed below)
Populations of Appalachian League teams’ locations -
[note: all figures from each municipalities' Wikipedia page and are from 2010, except Kingsport, TN from 2008, and Pulaski, VA from 2000.]
[Note: Johnson City, TN and Elizabethton, TN are part of the Johnson City metropolitan area, which has a population of around 193,000 {2008 figure}. Kingsport, TN and Bristol, VA are part of the Kingsport, TN/Bristol, VA/Bristol, TN metropolitan area, which has a population of around 302,000 {2008 figure}.]
-Johnson City, TN : city, 63,152 population/ metro-area, ~193,000 population {see above}.
-Kingsport, TN: city, 48,205 population/ metro-area ~302,000 population {metro-area combined with Bristol, VA}.
-Bristol, VA: city, 17,853 population/ metro-area ~302,000 population {metro-area combined with Kingsport, TN}.
-Burlington, NC: city, 49,963 population/ metro-area, ~148,000 population.
-Danville, VA: 43,055 population.
-Bluefield VA/Bluefield WV: {5,444 + 10,447} ~15,891 population.
-Greeneville, TN: 15,198 population.
-Elizabethton, TN: 14,176 population.
-Pulaski, VA: 9,473 population.
-Princeton, WV: 6,432 population.

So Princeton, West Virginia has around 6,400 inhabitants, and its pro baseball team drew 816 per game in 2012. That means 12.5 percent of the equivalent population of the community, on average, went to Princeton Rays baseball games last season. Now that is what you call community baseball.

    The 10 teams of the Appalachian League [2013], with photos of their stadiums and with notable former players listed

Appalachian League East Division

Bluefield Blue Jays, est. 1963.
Notable Bluefield/ Appalachian League alumni: Boog Powell (1959), Sparky Lyle (1964), Eddie Murray (1973), Cal Ripken, Jr. (1978), Jayson Werth (1998).
bluefield-blue-jays_bowen-field_.gif
Photo credit above – littleballparks.com/Bluefield.

Burlington Royals, est. 1986.
Notable Burlington/ Appalachian League alumni: Jim Thome (1990), Manny Ramirez (1991), Bartolo Colon (1994), C.C. Sabathia (1998).
burlington-royals_burlington-athletic-stadium_c.gif
Photo credit above – careeringcrawdad.wordpress.com//labor-day-and-the-end-of-baseball-season-2012.

Danville Braves, est. 1993.
Notable Danville/ Appalachian League alumni: Jermain Dye (1993), Andruw Jones (1994), Rafael Furcal (1998), Jason Marquis (1998).
danville-braves_american-legion-field_e.gif
Photo credit above – stadiumjourney.com/stadiums/american-legion-field .

Princeton Rays, est 1988.
Notable Princeton/ Appalachian League alumni: Carl Crawford (1999), Josh Hamilton (1999), Jonny Gomes (2001), Jeremy Hellickson (2005).
princeton-rays_hp-hunnicutt-field_c.gif
Photo credit above – littleballparks.com/Princeton.

Pulaski Mariners, est. 1982.
Notable Pulaski/ Appalachian League alumni: Dave Justice (1985), Jason Schmidt (1992), C.J. Wilson (2005).
pulaski-mariners_calfee-park_c.gif
Photo credit above – baseballdiaries.blogspot.com/2012/01/pulaski-mariners-vs-danville-braves

Appalachian League West Division

Bristol White Sox, est 1969.
Notable Bristol/ Appalachian League alumni: Lance Parrish (1974), Lou Whitaker (1975), Alan Trammell (1976), Carlos Lee (1995).
bristol-white-sox_boyce-cox-field-at-devaault-memorial-stadium_c.gif
Photo credit above – ballparkbiz.wordpress.com/impressions-of-a-ballpark-hunter-surrealism-in-bristol

Elizabethton Twins, est. 1974.
Notable Elizabethton/ Appalachian League alumni: Kent Hrbek (1979), Gary Gaetti (1979), Kirby Puckett (1982), Justin Mourneau (2000).
elizabethton-twins_joe-obrien-field_2012-champions_c.gif
Image credit above – ‘Twins Win Championship [2012]‘, (Screenshot of video at Elizabethtoon Twins’ page at milb.com/multimedia.

Greeneville Astros, est. 2004.
greeneville-astros_pioneer-park_.gif
Photo credit above – ‘Attendance History‘ (milb.com/[Greeneville]).

Johnson City Cardinals, est. 1937.
Notable Johnson City/ Appalachian League alumni: Terry Pendleton (1982), Jeff Fassero (1984), Coco Crisp (2000), Yadier Molina (2001).
johnson-city-cardinals_howard-johnson-field_.gif
Photo credit above – appalachiantreks.blogspot.com/howard-johnson-field.

Kingsport Mets, est. 1969.
Notable Kingsport/ Appalachian League alumni: Dale Murphy (1974), Darryl Strawberry (1980), Dwight Gooden (1982), José Reyes (2000).
kingsport-mets_hunter-wright-stadium_.gif
Photo credit above – kingsporttn.gov.

___

Attendance data from milb.com, here.
Base map of USA byThesibboleth at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Blank_US_Map.svg.

Photo credits on the map page –
Bluefield Blue Jays/ Bowen Field, Heath Bintliff at network.yardbarker.com/bowen_field_bluefield_wv .
Burlington Royals/ Burlington Athletic Stadium, littleballparks.com/Burlington-NC.
Danville Braves/ American Legion Field, littleballparks.com/DanvilleVA.
Princeton Rays/ H.P. Hunnicutt Field, writeopinions.com.
Pulaski Mariners/ Calfee Park, baseballdiaries.blogspot.com/2012/01/pulaski-mariners-vs-danville-braves.

Bristol White Sox/ Devault Memorial Stadium, thesportstraveleronline.com/byrce-cox-fielddevault-memorial-stadium.
Elizabethton Twins/ Joe O’Brien Field, ballparkreviews.com/Elizabethton.
Greeneville Astros/ Pioneer Park at Tusculum College, charliesballparks.com.
Johnson City Cardinals/ Howard Johnson Field, appalachiantreks.blogspot.com/howard-johnson-field.
Kingsport Mets/ Hunter Wright Stadium, littleballparks.com/Kingsport.

May 29, 2013

Minor League Baseball: the Pioneer League (Advanced-Rookie Classification).

Filed under: Baseball,Baseball: MiLB >Rookie — admin @ 8:46 pm

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Minor League Baseball: the Pioneer Baseball League (Rookie Classification)



Pioneer League [official site].

Minor League Baseball attendance – ‘2012 Affiliated Attendance by League‘ (ballparkdigest.com).

There are 6 leagues within Organized Baseball which are Rookie classification leagues – the Appalachian League, the Pioneer League, the Arizona League, the Gulf Coast League, and 2 foreign-based leagues – the Dominican Summer League, and the Venezuelan Summer League. But in only two of these leagues are attendances measured. Those 2 are classified as Advanced-Rookie. They are the Appalachian League and the Pioneer League.

The Advance-Rookie classification
From the en.wikipedia page ‘Minor League Baseball’,…{excerpt}…”Leagues in the Rookie classification play a shortened season…starting in mid-June and ending in late August or early September. … Advanced Rookie leagues (Appalachian and Pioneer) play between 67 and 75 games… .

The Appalachian and Pioneer leagues are actually hybrid leagues; while officially classed as “Rookie” leagues, eight major league teams have their highest-class short season teams in those leagues. These eight teams also maintain Rookie-level teams in other leagues as well. The Gulf Coast and Arizona leagues are informally known as “complex” leagues, nicknamed for the minor-league complexes where most games in those leagues are played. …”{end of excerpt}.

{Excerpt from the ‘Pioneeer League‘ page at en.wikipedia.org} …”Classified as a Rookie league, the Pioneer League is predominantly made up of players out of high school and is almost exclusively the first professional league many players compete in.”…{end of excerpt}.

The teams in the Pioneer League are situated on either side of the Continental Divide in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, with 4 teams in western and central Montana, one team in eastern Idaho, 2 teams in north-central Utah, and one team in western Colorado.

    Below, a short history of the Pioneer League, with all present-day team locations noted...

The Pioneer League was established as a C-level minor league in 1939, and initially had teams in it from the states of Idaho and Utah and was a 6-team set-up that featured 4 Independent ball clubs. The teams in the first season of the Pioneer League in 1939 were – the Boise Pilots (Independent), the Lewiston (Idaho) Indians (Independent), the Ogden Reds (a Cincinnati Reds’ farm team), the Pocatello Cardinals (a St. Louis Cardinals’ farm team), the Salt Lake City Bees (Independent), and the Twin Falls Cowboys (Independent). One of those cities – Ogden, Utah – has a team in the present-day Pioneer League [the Ogden Raptors]. In the Pioneer League’s second season, in 1940, a New York Yankees’ farm team joined the Pioneer League – the Idaho Falls Russets. The present-day Pioneer League has a team in Idaho Falls [the Idaho Falls Chukars]. In the seventh season of the Pioneer League in 1948, the league expanded from 6 teams to 8 teams with the inclusion of 2 teams from Montana – the Billings Mustangs and the Great Falls Electrics. Both those teams were Independents. The present-day Pioneer League has teams from Billings and Great Falls [the Billings Mustangs {who have maintained the same name their entire existence}, and the Great Falls Voyagers {who are nicknamed after a UFO incident that took place at the empty Great Falls' ballpark in 1951 and was witnessed and filmed by the team's general manager, see this, second paragraph 'Great Falls Voyagers' (en.wikipedia.org); see this, 'Nick Mariana UFO Footage - 1950 - Great Falls, Montana' (youtube.com).}.

The Pioneer League existed from 1939 to 1962 as a Class C minor league (with the 1943 through 1945 seasons not played, due to to manpower shortages because of World War II) , then the circuit spent one season as a Class A minor league in 1963, then, in 1964 (as a 4-team league), it was placed several rungs further down the minor-league-ladder, when Major League Baseball overhauled their minor league system in 1963-64. So the Pioneer League became a Rookie classification league in 1964.

Here were the teams in the 1964 Pioneer League (the first season the league played under the Rookie classification): the Treasure Valley (Caldwell, ID) Cubs (CHC), the Magic Valley (Magic Valley, ID) Cowboys (SFG), the Pocatello Chiefs (LAD), and the Idaho Falls Angels (ANA). Two seasons later, in 1966, Ogden, UT returned to the Pioneer League, with the inclusion of the Ogden Dodgers (LAD). That team was managed by Dodger legend and Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda, who managed the Ogden Dodgers to 3 consecutive titles in 1966-68. [Ogden has had a Pioneer League team from 1939 to 1955, from 1966 to 1984, and since 1994, when the Ogden Raptors were formed. The Ogden Raptors are the highest drawing Pioneer League team. In 2012, the Odgen Raptors averaged 3,434 per game at their 5,060-capacity Lundquist Field. The Ogden metro-area has a population of around 547,000 {2010 figure}.]

The 4-team Pioneer League of the mid-1960s grew to a 6-team league in 1969 with the return of two other longtime Pioneer League cities, Billings, Montana and Great Falls, Montana. In 1975, the still-6-team Pioneer League crossed the border and had a Canadian team in the league for the first time with the inclusion of the Lethbridge (Alberta) Expos. Two more Canadian teams (in Calgary and in Medicine Hat, Alberta) were added 3 seasons later in 1978, when the Pioneer League became the 8-team league it is today. Today, all 3 Canadian teams are gone, however – the Pioneer League team the Calgary Expos relocated to Salt Lake City in 1985 to make room for a Triple A team in the PCL called the Calgary Cannons (but that franchise moved to Albequerque, NM in 2003); the Pioneer League team the Lethbridge Black Diamonds moved to Missoula, MT in 1999 and became the present-day Pioneer League team the Missoula Opsrey; and the Pioneer League team the Medicine Hat Blue Jays existed in the league for 25 years (but always struggled to get decent attendance) then moved to Helena, MT in 2003 to become the second incarnation of the Helena Brewers (II) (est.2003). That franchise still struggles with attendance, though, as Helena draws the least in the Pioneer League by some margin, at 880 per game in 2012. The original Helena franchise in the Pioneer League is still alive – the team was based in Helena, MT (1987-99); then in Provo, UT (2000-01) before moving to a suburb of Provo: Orem, UT, as the Orem Owlz (est.2002). The newest team in the Pioneer League began last season in 2012 – the Grand Junction Rockies, from western Colorado. This team was based in Butte, MT (1978-2000); then in Caspar, WY (2001-11).

By and large, the Pioneer League draws very well, with 6 of the 8 teams drawing above 2,300 per game. Plus the backdrops are stunning – the views from the stands in most Pioneer League ballparks are spectacular (as you can see on the map page above and in the 2 illustrations below).

When one considers the raw talent level of the players in the league, and the small size of several of the teams’ municipalities, the Pioneer League can be seen as having extremely healthy attendances – in 2012, the Pioneer League as a whole averaged 2,317 per game, better than a couple higher-placed affiliated minor leagues in Organized Baseball (the Pioneer League drew better than the California League and the Florida State League, both of which are Class A-Advanced minor leagues). Remember, that is 2,300 per game on average, to watch kids just out of high school. The best example of a tiny mountain community supporting it’s pro baseball team so well would have to be Missoula, Montana. Missoula has a population of only around 66,000 {2010 figure}, yet is able to come close on most game days to filling their 3,500-capacity Ogren Park, with an average crowd of 2,363 last season.

    The two highest-drawing teams in the Pioneer League -
    the Ogden Raptors and the Billings Mustangs.

Ogden Raptors, average attendance of 3,434 per game in 2012.
ogden-raptors_lindquist-field_ogden-raptors-cap-and-jersey_.gif
Photo credits above –
raptors.milbstore.com.
mbuckee at panoramio.com.
lcscbaseballhof.com.
Eric & Wendy Pastore at digitalballparks.com/Pioneer/Lindquist.html.

Billings Mustangs, average attendance of 3,045 per game in 2012.
billings-mustangs_dehler-park_.gif
Photo credits above –
mustangs.milbstore.com.
Phil Bell Photography at milb.com.
Joe Hedin at panoramio.com via tripomatic.com/United-States/Montana/Billings/Dehler-Park.
Phil Bell Photography at milb.com.
___

Photo credits on the map page -
Billings Mustangs/ Dehler Park, Joe Hedin at panoramio.com via tripomatic.com/United-States/Montana/Billings/Dehler-Park.
Great Falls Voyagers/ Centene Stadium, the baseball travele…at panoramio.com.
Helena Brewers/ Kindrik Legion Field, digitalballparks.com.
Missoula Osprey/ Ogren Park at Allegiance Field, murphsroadtrips.blogspot.com/2011/06/missoula-osprey-vs-billings-mustangs.

Grand Junction Rockies/ Suplizio Field, the baseball travelle… at panoramio.com.
Idaho Falle Chukats/ Melalaueca Field, ballparksite.host56.com.
Ogden Raptors/ Lundquist Field, the baseball travelle… at panoramio.com.
Orem Owlz/ Brent Brown Ballpark, utahvalley.com.

Thanks to Theshibboleth at en.wikipedia.org, for the USA blank map, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Blank_US_Map.svg.
Thanks to milb.com for attendances, http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?sid=milb&t=l_att&lid=123.
Thanks to baseball-reference.com/minors, http://www.baseball-reference.com/.

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