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Planned summer baseball league has roster questions

Douglas Fritz • May 10, 2020 at 2:30 PM

When the Tennessee Smokies announced the formation of the East Tennessee High School Baseball League, it seemed like a nice opportunity for seniors who lost their last season of eligibility.

But what if the schools aren’t interested in going that direction?

The eight-week competition is scheduled for TVA Credit Union Ballpark in Johnson City, Northeast Community Credit Union Ballpark in Elizabethton and Smokies Stadium in Kodak. The regular season, on tap for a June 8 start, would be followed by a World Series between the first-place teams in each of the two divisions. To enter, teams must pay $1,000, which covers jerseys, hats and league fees.

Roster makeup is a key question, however. Sullivan South coach Anthony Richardson said his school decided not to participate in the league but had planned to use returning players only before the decision was made.

“I have so many young guys who we need to take a look at,” Richardson said. “We probably would have started five or six sophomores. And that was the tough thing. I hate the (2020) season was lost, but I need to see the younger guys.”

Science Hill coach Ryan Edwards said if he gets approval from school administrators, city officials and public health professionals, he plans to enter a team.

“We would use the league for both developmental purposes and graduated seniors,” Edwards said.

Dobyns-Bennett coach Ryan Wagner said he is not sure about his team, especially based on the timing. But should D-B field a team, Wagner said he didn’t know if he would use graduated seniors.

“I’d have to talk to my administration and go from there,” he said.

David Crockett plans to enter a team, which coach Spencer Street said will be for developmental purposes.

Johnson City Cardinals general manager Zac Clark said the idea of the league came from Chris Allen, president of Boyd Sports.

“His kid was a senior at Jefferson County High School,” Clark said. “He saw firsthand the impact on the kids losing their season. The goal of the league is twofold: giving young kids a chance to develop and letting graduating seniors go out and play a couple of games.

“We left it up to each school and their coach to make a decision on what they wanted to do. We also told them they could even put two teams in the league if they wanted.”

Clark said as of Friday six area schools had verbally committed to participate.

Elizabethton coach Ryan Presnell said it’s a tough call to make on what the main purpose of the league should be.

“It’s a tough question because normally it is the time of year we start dedicating towards next year’s team,” Presnell said. “Believe it or not, nine months is a quick turnaround to get the guys ready for the start of official practice. So every rep counts. But on the other hand, you’ve got players who lost a senior season of competitive baseball and that hits you right in the gut just to think of it.

“For us, I’m not sure just yet. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past two months preparing and working towards things that didn’t happen, which is tough psychologically. I’m going to let it all play out a little more before I start figuring out a direction to go. I’m just glad we’re at least talking about heading in a direction towards some normalcy.”

The schools would avoid issues with TSSAA calendar rules by playing under an independent team name.

Clark said the June 8 starting date is a target.

“We have hurdles to clear,” he said. “The current executive order in Tennessee is for things to be shut down until May 29. That would give teams a week for batting practice, working out and intrasquad games.”

Richardson said the idea was first mentioned to him as a free league, but the $1,000 fee caused him to reconsider.

“We were on board with a free league at Cardinal Park,” he said. “But I don’t feel like we can pay $1,000 just to play. It would be tough.”

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