The Houston Astros will not field a team in the Rookie-level Appalachian League in 2018, leaving a hole in the circuit and at Pioneer Park, home of the Greeneville Astros.
The Appalachian League is unique among minor leagues in that all the teams are owned by MLB teams. The Astros had been in Greeneville since 2004.
“The Greeneville club played a key role in our player development and minor league success throughout our rebuilding years,” Astros GM Jeff Luhnow said in a press release. “We are very thankful to Tusculum College, Scott Niswonger, the Greeneville community and to the fans for their support over the years. This decision enables us to focus and prioritize our player development efforts in a way that delivers the best long-term results.”
Niswonger, a Tusculum College alumnus, funded the construction of Pioneer Park. He told the Greenville Sun that efforts would be made to bring in a new Appy League team to Greeneville. In prior years finding an MLB team willing to participate in the league has been a challenge for President Lee Landers, but he’s managed to keep the league going — and thriving, with league attendance up in 2017 again — but it’s no secret that some MLB teams don’t see the lower minor leagues as a good investment. From the Sun:
“I think there’ll be dialog next week on who’s next,” said businessman Scott Niswonger, a Tusculum College alumnus, who funded construction of 2,572-seat Pioneer Park….
[GM David] Lane concurred with Garland and Niswonger that the future is bright for a non-Astros minor league team in Greeneville.
“Somebody’s going to jump on it,” Lane said. “If Tusculum wants a baseball team, I’m sure they’re going to have one very soon. I’m sure they’ll have a team there, but I do not know who it will be.”
Lane added, “The fan support and sponsor support are there.”
Photo by Mark Cryan.