By Geoff Wilson
November 25, 2002
While the Royals still aren't guaranteed a short-season affiliation, it appears Major League Baseball has stepped in and will provide for the addition of an 11th team to the Rookie-level Appalachian League for the 2003 season.
League president Lee Landers confirmed that MLB's minor league department, which oversees the affiliation process, has contacted him about expanding by one team for the upcoming season. However, plans beyond that remain fuzzy.
“(MLB) said that they might have to ask us because this is the league they can expand,” Landers said. “They asked about any facilities we had that might be ready to go into (for 2003), but we don't have any.”
“What we'll probably do is expand the Appy League,” said Sylvia Lind, MLB's senior manager of minor league operations. “We're still trying to figure out the exact parameters of how we do that.”
Landers said several communities within the league's territory–which covers southwestern Virginia, parts of North Carolina, northeastern Tennessee and southeastern West Virginia–were interested in building a new facility or renovating an older one to draw a franchise. However, those communities would want a team for more than just one season.
“If we're looking long-term, then I might be able to work on some municipalities that have been in the league in the past,” Landers said. “In talking to Kansas City, they're looking for long-term.”
Royals assistant GM and acting farm director Muzzy Jackson said he had spoken with Landers about joining the league, and the organization was interested in being there for more than just 2003. “I think we'd love to be in that league long-term if we could,” Jackson said.
Landers thinks the best solution for the upcoming season, should the league decide to go with 11 teams, would be for the Royals affiliate to be a traveling squad with a base in the Tri-Cities area on the Tennessee-Virginia border. There are already three teams in that area (Kingsport, Bristol and Johnson City), and providing a fourth would allow the league to make a needed geographic adjustment in moving Pulaski to the Eastern Division.
The primary drawback to adding a team would be a schedule that has at least one team off every day, and one that would last about 10 days longer than it does now, incurring extra expenses for each team. But Landers chooses not to concentrate on the negatives.
“The positive spin is that it will be a more balanced schedule,” he said. “If this is something we have to do we'd better make it positive, because it's going to have to happen anyway.”