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How MLB's Decision To Eliminate Dozens Of Minor League Teams Is Affecting Communities

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

When Major League Baseball announced this month that it was eliminating affiliations with dozens of minor league teams, those communities were stunned. In cities big and small, these teams are as much a cultural identity as they are a fun and inexpensive family outing. Dave Mistich of West Virginia Public Broadcasting takes a look at one team left stranded by the MLB reorganization.

DAVE MISTICH, BYLINE: On most summer nights, Rod Blackstone can be found behind home plate at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston, W.V., riling up the crowd and tossing pieces of toast into the stands after the opposing teams' batters strike out.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROD BLACKSTONE: Power up...

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: The toaster.

MISTICH: Since the early '90s, he's been coming to games and is known simply as the Toast Man.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: You are toast.

MISTICH: Now Charleston's team may be toast. MLB threw the West Virginia Power a curveball when it announced it was not one of the teams that would be part of the 120-team minor league lineup next season. Three other squads from West Virginia were also thrown out. Of the 42 teams that will lose MLB affiliation, 18 are in the Appalachian region. Blackstone, aka the Toast Man, used to work in politics but now works for the Power. He says the contraction is a disservice to communities like Charleston, which has hosted a minor league team for most seasons dating back to 1910.

BLACKSTONE: It's harder to swallow when you look at how there is now a large, gaping hole in this region of the country that has been expelled from the major league-minor league system.

MISTICH: When Major League Baseball announced the reorganization, officials said one of the aims was to cut down on travel times between games and also ensure the facilities are up to date. The ouster still hasn't sunk in for many people. Charleston's Mayor Amy Goodwin says catching games at Appalachian Power Park has always been a go-to for families.

AMY GOODWIN: My kids grew up in that stadium. My kids know that that is something fun for them to do, whether you're a baseball fan or player or not.

MISTICH: Goodwin says the community has long rallied around the team and the ballpark and vice versa.

GOODWIN: Not only does Charleston have a long and really robust history of baseball, but this stadium and this place brings so much happiness.

MISTICH: Local officials are still sorting out what the economic fallout will be. Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Tim Brady says it's not just those who work at the stadium who will be affected. It's the hotels where teams stay and the restaurants and bars frequented by fans in the surrounding area.

TIM BRADY: So one small change to a local economy like this, which is really a living organism, affects much broader than just right there within the stadium.

MISTICH: The team commissioned the Visitors Bureau to conduct an economic impact study a year ago. It found the Power brings in more than $3 million each year. In Charleston, the ballpark wasn't built in a suburb or off an interstate. Brady says it was designed to rejuvenate part of downtown.

BRADY: But in Charleston, a concerted effort was made to build the ballpark in the warehouse district to help spur development over there. And you've seen that. You've seen bars and restaurants and high-rise apartment buildings spring up around the ballpark.

MISTICH: While the owners of the West Virginia Power promise baseball will be back next season, it's unknown what league they'll be a part of. It's almost guaranteed, though, not to be the attraction it has been, at least not without a major league affiliate.

For NPR News, I'm Dave Mistich.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID BOWIE SONG, "LAZARUS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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