The Appalachian League of Professional Baseball reluctantly made the announcement Thursday that it would operate as a nine-team circuit in 2007.
League president Lee Landers and Sylvia Lind, Major League Baseball's senior manager of Minor League operations, had spent the better part of the last five months looking for a team to fill the opening left in Pulaski, Va. But when that exhaustive search and discussions with 29 Major League franchises -- Toronto pulled out of the Appy League at the end of the 2006 season -- failed to yield a suitable relationship, the league was left with no other choice.
"Without a doubt, this has been a very unfortunate sequence of events that has left Pulaski without a team for the upcoming season," Landers said. "Since they returned to the league in 1997, they have made over $1.6 million worth of improvements to their ballpark and have met every requirement that has been set before them. Everyone associated with our league has spent countless hours trying to find a solution for this dilemma."
In addition to credibility issues, the league is faced with a scheduling problem. With only nine teams, there will be days, including consecutive days, when one team will not be playing. Two-game series will become the norm, and that's something the league has avoided having on its schedule.
Landers said there is already a nine-team schedule in place and that it will be released within the next several days. Opening Day is slated for June 19. He added that by making this announcement now, the league's remaining teams will have enough time to insert promotional dates on their respective home schedules as well as the time needed for teams to execute needed contracts for their busing and hotel reservations.
Both he and Lind remain committed to finding a 10th team for the Appy League in time for the 2008 season.
"We really tried to do something for 2007," Lind said. "We worked with the league and tried so many options but none really ended up working out. So it came time where we had to make the determination to go with nine teams. But we have assured Pulaski that in a few weeks we will begin trying to find a 10th team for next season."
Pulaski has a long history of hosting affiliated Minor League baseball. Prior to the Blue Jays' four-year term, the city had hosted Major League affiliates from the Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers since 1947. The franchise captured Appalachian League championships in 1948, 1969, 1986 and 1991.
This is the third time since 1992 that Pulaski has searched for a team. The Braves pulled out in 1992 and the Rangers did the same a decade later. The Blue Jays had said they made the move because they wanted to downsize their Minor League operations in order to provide better resources for their remaining clubs. Yet Toronto added a Gulf Coast League affiliate last month to fill the void created by pulling out of Pulaski.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.