Greeneville replaces M-Astros as new rookie league affiliate

Astros to open their '04 season at E-Twins on June 21

from staff reports

   HOUSTON, TX -- The Houston Astros and Tusculum College announced Friday that they have entered into a six-year agreement to bring professional baseball to Greeneville, Tn. The Greeneville Astros, the new Appalachian League rookie advanced affiliate of the Houston Astros, will begin play on the campus of Tusculum College in June with a 68-game schedule (34 home, 34 away). The move is subject to the approval of Minor League Baseball, as well as review by Major League Baseball.
   For the first time in more than 60 years, professional baseball will return to Greeneville. When the Astros open the 2004 season, they will begin play in a temporary stadium that will be the future home to a new 2,400-seat baseball stadium on the Tusculum College campus.
   Set for completion in June 2005, the $5 million completed ballpark, designed by architect John Fisher of Fisher + Associates, will feature covered seating areas, built-in concession stands and restrooms, and clubhouses for both the home and visiting teams. The facility will be shared with the Tusculum College baseball team.
   "The Houston Astros are very excited to begin our partnership with Tusculum College and bring our brand of professional baseball to East Tennessee," said Tim Purpura, Houston Astros assistant general manager and director of player development. "We are also very grateful to Scott Niswonger and the extraordinary effort he has personally put forth to bring professional baseball to Tusculum College and the Greeneville area.
   "We believe that when completed, the baseball stadium at Tusculum College will be the finest facility in the Appalachian League for both fans and players alike, and will rival many of the top stadiums at the higher classifications of professional baseball. From the point of view of the Astros, this move completes our longstanding goal of having the finest facilities in professional baseball available for our players and fans. From our home in Houston, Minute Maid Park, throughout our minor league system, and to our Spring Training facility in Kissimmee, Florida, we now are among the elite in the game as far as the quality of the venues we play in."
   "We look forward to demonstrating to fans of the region a high caliber of baseball as well as a high caliber of baseball player," Purpura said. "The Houston Astros have high standards for the manner in which we play the game, high standards for the type of managers and coaches we hire, and we have high standards for the way our players behave both on the field and in the community. We are certain that we will provide the Greeneville and Tusculum communities with reasonably priced, high-quality family entertainment on a nightly basis throughout the summers. We look forward to many fun-filled evenings at the ballpark, and maybe even an Appalachian League championship or two!"
   For Greeneville businessman and community philanthropist Scott M. Niswonger, chairman of Forward Air Corporation, the building of the stadium is the capstone of a major athletics complex he personally funded for Tusculum College. Niswonger is an alumnus of the school, and for several years, he has served as an active member of the college's board of trustees.
   Key prior developments in the sports complex, which was dedicated by the college last year as Niswonger Sports Complex, include major improvements to the college's football and soccer stadium, Pioneer Field, and construction of a large indoor athletics practice facility. The Niswonger Sports Complex also includes a softball field, soccer practice fields, and other athletic facilities.
   Niswonger commented, "The Houston Astros place tremendous emphasis on player development. Recognizing that most professional athletes have relatively short playing careers, the Astros want their players prepared for successful careers after baseball - another reason the Tusculum College venue is so appropriate."
   The Astros will play in the 10-team Appalachian League and open the 2004 season on Monday, June 21, at the Elizabethton Twins. Greeneville begins its 34-game home slate on Friday, June 25, against the Pulaski Blue Jays.
   "The Appalachian League is extremely excited to be coming to the Greeneville, Tn. area and Tusculum College with our good partners, the Houston Astros," said Appalachian League president Lee Landers.
   "Houston assistant general manager Tim Purpura, chairman of the Appalachian League's Executive Committee, and Houston's director of minor league administration, Dave Gottfried, are to be commended for their choice. In this endeavor, the Astros have always made the concerns of their partners in the league paramount in a most professional way. And, Greeneville Astros general manager Lynsi House has the respect of her peers in the league."
   "What an honor to have opportunity to be surrounded by people with a passion for their community such as Niswonger, Dr. Dolph Henry, president of Tusculum College, Ed Hoffmeyer, Tusculum College athletics director, and Tom Ferguson, president of Ferguson Development Network," said Landers.
   "All are men of action and not of mere words; men whose vision blend perfectly with the Astros mission statement: 'Through the strength of the National Pastime, we will enhance the quality of life in our community through educational, health, and spiritual endeavors.' This is what minor league baseball should be all about."
   Greeneville will replace Martinsville in the Astros minor league system. Last season, the Martinsville Astros finished with an Appalachian League-best record of 42-33, and captured the East Division title. The M-Astros posted a league-leading team batting average of .286, and their pitching staff recorded a team ERA of 3.54 which ranked third in the AL and included a league-best 25 saves. Martinsville was affiliated with the Houston system for five seasons and captured the league crown in 1999.
   "We are pleased to welcome the Astros to Tennessee and particularly to Tusculum College," said Dr. Dolphus E. Henry, president of Tusculum College. "Tusculum College has always been dedicated to its community, and this affiliation with the Astros fits perfectly with that community emphasis. We look forward to welcoming not only the Astros to Tusculum College, but also their fans who will visit our town and campus to attend games."