Bristol Baseball A Big Hit in the Community
Bristol has long been known as the home of iconic Bristol Motor Speedway and the Birthplace of Country Music – but did you know that Major League Baseball has been part of the community longer than both of them?
Bristol’s Appalachian League team made its first appearance in the Twin Cities of Bristol, Tenn. and Bristol, Va. in 1911, 16 years before Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, and others made their historic recordings downtown and five decades before NASCAR first came to town. Bristol teams were rookie league affiliates for several major league clubs throughout those years, including the Detroit Tigers, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Chicago White Sox.
Hall of Famer Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, and Mark Fidrych are just a few big-name players who started their careers here in Bristol. One of Bristol’s most prominent sports stars, Ron Necciai, played for the Bristol Twins in the Appalachian League in 1952. Necciai struck out 27 batters that year while throwing a 7–0 no-hitter against the Welch Miners. He is still the only pitcher ever to do so in a nine-inning, professional-league game.
Now a summer college scouting league run by Major League Baseball, the Appalachian League is about to get the ball rolling on the 2022 season. But before the Bristol State Liner bats start cracking, a couple of former major leaguers visited Bristol recently to check out the city where they played as rookies.
Bruce Chen, who pitched for 17 years in the majors with 11 teams, and Jason Marquis, who pitched for 15 seasons in the big leagues for nine teams, both started their careers in the Appalachian League. They visited Boyce Cox Field and DeVault Memorial Stadium in Bristol when they played for the Danville Braves.
The pair met up at Bristol Motor Speedway earlier this year to film a video for the Appalachian League that focused on Bristol. To see the full video, visit https://www.mlb.com/video/baseball-roots-marquis
Chen and Marquis visited BMS just prior to the Food City Dirt Race in March and then kicked their trip into high gear when they hit Bristol Dragway. The pair found themselves behind the wheel of a hotrod, speeding down the quarter-mile strip in Thunder Valley. Chen was clocked at 102 mph, but Marquis bested him, hitting 104 mph to win that duel between the former pitchers.
Chen visited Downtown Bristol and talked with Mahlon Luttrell, the Mayor of Bristol, Tenn., who is also the president of Bristol Baseball, Inc. Luttrell talked about the importance of baseball in small communities, and the impact the Appalachian League and the State Liners have had on Bristol. He also led Chen to the middle of State Street, where the former Atlanta Brave did his best gecko impression, bouncing back and forth on the state line from Tennessee to Virginia, ala Martin, Geico’s famous lizard, who did the same in a commercial featuring Bristol a few years ago.
Chen and Marquis enjoyed their time in Bristol, getting to know the city and reliving their rookie league days while looking forward to a new season in the Appalachian League – just like the rest of us! And we don’t have to wait long because the State Liners begin play on June 2 at Princeton, W.Va. Their home opener is June 4 against Greeneville Flyboys.