After a one-year hiatus and a 15-month search, professional baseball has returned to Pulaski, Va. In a press conference on December 21, the Appalachian League announced that the Seattle Mariners will become the seventh Major League team to affiliate itself with the city.
Pulaski Baseball Inc. President and General Manager Tom Compton was elated after the announcement.
"We're excited to have a team back in Pulaski, which has a long and storied history in Minor League Baseball," said Compton. "It happened so quickly that we haven't had time to put much in motion, but we're going to proceed like we always have and meet after the New Year to put a plan together."
Appalachian League President Lee Landers, who's headed the circuit since 1996, was equally thrilled with the news.
"I feel this will be a great partnership between Seattle and Pulaski," stated Landers in a press release. "The people of Pulaski have worked so hard to put forth all the improvements in their facility and we are happy that professional baseball is returning there."
Calfee Park opened in 1935, making it one of the oldest ballparks in the country. It has undergone renovations worth nearly $1 million since the team's re-entry in recent years.
Despite four league titles and a Minor League history that dates back to 1947, Pulaski has had to search for an affiliate four times since the Braves severed ties with the organization following the 1992 season.
"It's very discouraging, and I take it personally because I have a passion for this league," Landers told MiLB.com last year about the absence of baseball in Pulaski.
The agreement comes just two weeks after baseball's Winter Meetings, when Landers expressed pessimism about finding a partner for Pulaski, even though the city and league had been in contact with the Mariners about an affiliation.
"We talked and nothing happened," he said of discussions with Seattle on Dec. 4. "We're giving the club a little more time to see where they stand. I'm very disappointed about this whole situation because it has happened under my watch."
"We've been working [on a partnership] since August, so while it may come as a surprise to some, a lot of work has gone into it," said Greg Hunter, director of player development for the Mariners. "The addition of Pulaski gives us a seventh club in the States and allows us to get more innings and at-bats for our prospects at the lower levels. We've been pretty active internationally with academies in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic and this allows us to be more aggressive bringing foreign players to the United States and speeding up the acclimation process. Domestically, it enables us to give players selected in the draft a chance to get their feet wet in professional baseball without exposing them to the more advanced Northwest League if they're not ready."
The Toronto Blue Jays were the last team to place an affiliate in Pulaski, but a late pull-out in 2006 left the league with only nine teams in 2007, creating scheduling conflicts.
The Pulaski Mariners will make their debut on June 17 in Princeton, W.Va. against the Princeton Rays. Their first home game will be on June 20 versus the Elizabethton Twins.
Michael Avallone is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.