Two major 2022 Appalachian League awards are out: the Burlington Sock Puppets is the summer-collegiate league’s Organization of the Year, and Danville Otterbots GM Austin Scher is Executive of the Year.
This Organization of the Year Award is given to the club that exemplifies the standards of the complete baseball franchise, based upon franchise stability, contributions to the league stability, contributions to baseball in the community and promotion of the baseball industry.
Since the reformation of the Appalachian League from a Rookie-level affiliated league to an MLB partnered summer collegiate league in 2021, the Sock Puppets have been the only team to finish in the top three in attendance and increase attendance each year. In 2022, the Sock Puppets eclipsed 50,000 total fans, a feat the club had not accomplished in over a decade.
“When Brittany and Ryan Keur bought the club in 2020 and put together this staff, we knew we had a unique opportunity to really create something special here in Burlington that featured more than just high-level baseball,” said Sock Puppets general manager Anderson Rathbun via press release. “Being recognized in this way really shows that from ownership to the full-time staff, to our players, interns, grounds crew and everyone else that worked with us this summer, we did things the right way, and, to me, it’s been a lot of fun being a part of it.”
This past year saw the Burlington Sock Puppets finish as the East Division Champions while setting the highest win total of a team since the Appy League changed over. The Sock Puppets hosted the first ever two-night All-Star event in league history broadcast nationally on MLB Network, the first-ever ‘Bros v. Pros’ Exhibition event featuring some of the best-known baseball content creators on the Internet and broke the franchise record for the highest attended game at Burlington Athletic Stadium on July 1, when they welcomed 4,217 fans.
Under Scher’s leadership, the Otterbots saw sizable increases in attendance and sales, groundbreaking community programming recognition and a wide array of inclusivity measures and promotions have been cornerstones of the growth. From 2021 to 2022, the Otterbots have increased average attendance from 990 to 1,202 fans per game, a 21 percent increase. Total contracted sales rose 61 percent, including a 225 percent increase in group sales and a 35 percent increase in corporate partnership sales.
“I am beyond honored and humbled to have been voted 2022 Appalachian League Executive of the Year,” said Scher via press release. “The success of the Otterbots this season is a testament to the tireless efforts of my incredible full-time staff, our 2022 intern class and the best game day staff in all of baseball. We made it our mission to become a true Community Champion, and I cannot thank our incredible fan base enough for their support.”
Under Scher, the Otterbots unveiled the Appalachian League’s first sensory room, Luca’s Place. The room was designed to welcome those, especially children, with sensory sensitivities to the ballpark. The club improved “The Wreck,” the ballpark bar, added to the kids zone and unveiled a History of Danville Baseball concourse mural featuring the logos of the Danville Braves, Danville 97s, Danville Leafs and Danville All-Stars. Otterbots promotional theme nights focused on inclusivity, hosting their second annual Pride Night, Juneteenth Celebration, Sensory Night, Cancer Awareness Night, Foster Parent Appreciation Night, Military Appreciation Night and First Responders Night.