Thousands of people have sat in attendance over the decades and cheered on their favorite players, such as Dale Murphy, Dwight Gooden and Daryl Strawberry. But having a minor league baseball team in town is more than just a day at the park.
It brings a sense of community, name recognition and a certain amount of legitimacy to Kingsport.
“When we go and recruit other athletic tournaments to our area, having a minor league team gives you a leg up,” said City Manager Jeff Fleming. “It doesn’t change everything, but it gives you legitimacy, it gives you a standing in the eyes of others and a second look. It’s important that we maintain that relationship.”
Kingsport has had a minor league baseball team since 1921 and the Mets for the past 38 years. The team is a rookie affiliate of the New York Mets and is a member of the Appalachian League. Out of the 165 minor league teams across the country, Kingsport's relationship with the Mets is the eighth longest in the nation.
Frank Lett, senior associate with Visit Kingsport, said the cities with the sixth and seventh longest relationships are Elizabethton and Johnson City — two other teams in the Appalachian League — which shows the strength of minor league baseball in our region.
The Mets are good for “quality of life,” Lett said. “It’s something for people to do, and it gives us name recognition. It’s good for us when we’re looking to host events (at Hunter Wright Stadium) outside of the Mets. This carries a lot of weight.”
Baseball season runs for about three months during the summer, and in that time more than 29,000 fans come out and watch the Mets play. The operation of the Mets organization in Kingsport has roughly $350,000 in spending, which generates just north of $1 million in economic impact, Lett said.
The Kingsport Mets will face the defending champions, the Elizabethton Twins, Friday night in the first game of the Appalachian League playoff series. Game time is 6:30 p.m. at Hunter Wright Stadium in Kingsport.
The last two times the Mets made it to the playoffs, in 2013 and 2015, they lost both times to Greeneville. Today, the Mets are looking to secure their first league championship since 1995.
“We’re ready for the challenge,” said Brian Paupeck, general manager of the Kingsport Mets. “When a lot of people think of Kingsport, they think of the Mets. For the people of Kingsport to call the Mets their own, I think is special. It gives them an identity over other communities.”
Three years ago, city leaders approved a five-year contract extension with the Mets to keep the team in Kingsport through the 2021 season. Since then, Kingsport made improvements to Hunter Wright Stadium — adding a 1,000-square-foot fitness facility to the clubhouse, replacing the original scoreboard and reconfiguring the seating for better access.
Fleming said he believes the relationship between Kingsport and the Mets organization is the strongest it’s ever been.
“I’m hearing from more and more people, seeing social media photos and hearing about organized groups going together, whether it’s an outing for a company, friends or family,” Fleming said. “That’s what baseball is about. Bonding with each other and the community.”