Soon to be a thing of the past?...

Miguel Hiraldo of the Bluefield Blue Jays slides home while Princeton Rays catcher Luis Leon attempts to make a play during an Appalachian League Mercer Cup game at Bowen Field, in Bluefield. Plate umpire Adam Clark called Hiraldo safe.

BLUEFIELD — A coordinated national effort is under way to try to save 42 Minor League baseball teams, including the Bluefield Blue Jays and Princeton Rays.

The bipartisan group, Save Minor League Baseball Task Force, was recently announced by several members of Congress, including Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia.

Last month, Major League Baseball said the current plan is to eliminate the teams after the 2020 season, mainly as a cost-saving measure. The Appalachian League is slated to end and all teams, with the exception of Pulaski, to disband.

Local and state officials have expressed dismay about the possible decision and the impact it would have on the communities.

The current Professional Baseball Agreement between Major League Baseball (MLB) and Minor League Baseball (MiLB) expires at the end of the 2020 season.

Dewey Russell, a member of Princeton Town Council and president of the Princeton Baseball Association, said recently the teams mean a lot to the area in many ways.

“What is disturbing to me is they forget about the importance of a minor league team to communities like Princeton, Bluefield, Bristol and Danville,” he said.

Jim Spencer, community and economic development director for Bluefield, agreed.

“It’s not just about the city but the region,” he said in a recent interview, adding that the teams coming in to play stay at area hotels and eat at restaurants and shop. “It’s the financial impact.”

The Save Minor League Baseball Task Force will advocate on behalf of the communities that stand to be most harmed by MLB’s plan to eliminate the 42 minor league franchises. They will closely monitor ongoing negotiations between MLB and MiLB as well as discuss potential legislative action if and when such a remedy becomes necessary.

“Baseball is America’s pastime, and minor league teams have a major impact on small communities across our country,” said McKinley. “While we understand the MLB has concerns: the idea that doing away with 42 teams is the only solution is not reasonable. We look forward to working with MiLB and MLB to find a compromise that will preserve affiliated baseball in these cities.”

“We appreciate the support of ... the members of the task force in standing up for Minor League Baseball and speaking out against MLB’s effort to cast off thousands of jobs, reduce affordable, family-friendly entertainment and undermine grassroots support for our great game,” said Rocky Malamisura, Bluefield Blue Jays general manager.

Minor league teams are vital to the social and economic lives of millions of Americans, he said. They support scores of local businesses and jobs, provide accessible entertainment, help promote tourism spending and donate tens of millions of dollars in charitable contributions.

“With this proposal, MLB is willing to break the hearts of dozens of communities across the country,” said Malamisura. “We are going to resist this plan and are gratified that so many in Congress are willing to join with us.”

“Major League Baseball can look at all the ‘sabermetrics’ it wants, but what they don’t understand is the serious impact that losing these baseball teams will have on our communities,” said Rep. Max Rose (D-NY), a member of the task force. “You won’t see it in any formula, but my colleagues and I have all seen the impact teams like the Staten Island Yankees can have on the faces of the children who show up at the ballpark every year. I’m proud to join this effort to urge the MLB to reconsider.”

“Minor League Baseball values the support of … the entire task force for America’s pastime and for recognizing our positive contributions to their communities and local economies as well as dozens of others across the country. While it is our hope to negotiate a fair agreement with MLB, the overwhelming support from elected officials on both sides of the aisle, at all levels of government, has been tremendous and shows that baseball helps to unite our nation,” a statement from MiLB said.

The formation of this task force follows a bipartisan effort along with 104 of their colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives to urge MLB to abandon its plan to eliminate 42 Minor League teams.

But the bottom line, Russell said, is that for the MLB, it’s about money.

“Money drives the major league teams,” he said. “People drive us.”

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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