E-Twins, staff preparing for new season

By Wes Holtsclaw

   While many youngsters across the county are playing on youth league diamonds, one of the city's biggest summer traditions is almost a pitch away.
   The defending Appalachian League champion Elizabethton Twins will begin their 2004 campaign at home on June 21 in a championship series rematch against the Greeneville Astros.
   Martinsville's Astros club shut its doors after last season's loss against the Twins, and the Houston organization moved to Greeneville.
   "It's going to be a rematch of the championship and the first game for Greeneville," said Elizabethton Twins general manager Mike Mains. "It will be a special evening for the fans."
   Elizabethton will also close out its home schedule with a three-game stand against the former East Division champs.
   Expect many promotional events this season from Mains and the Elizabethton staff that received the league's Promotions and Marketing Award.
   That first game will begin a season filled with great events for the fans, with free admission, fireworks and a free car that will be given away by Sheriff John Henson.
   "We're really excited about the upcoming year," said Mains. "We try to add more events and activities each year, and this year's promotional schedule is the best we've had over the past four years."
   "We have a great tradition of winning and the support from our community has been tremendous," he said. "We feel it's our responsibility as a staff to make Joe O'Brien Field a special place."
   Even for those who aren't fans of America's greatest pastime, the Twins staff is hoping to have something that everybody can enjoy this season.
   "We want to make it a place for fun and turn the ballpark into something everybody can enjoy," Mains said. "The sponsorship has taken off with the tremendous support of businesses. The community support has also been tremendous and it puts pressure on us."
   One of those events is the Principal Group Family Fun Fest that will turn O'Brien Field into a Baseball Carnival on Friday, June 25 for Elizabethton's game against Princeton.
   "It's really neat," said Mains. "They have huge sponsors and are bringing different things, including an X-Box Home Run Derby, and they plan to blow up a screen in the outfield after the game and show a movie, which will be really nice for the fans."
   There will be several free admission nights this season with other events including America's Best Frisbee Dogs performing, free baseballs, magnetic schedules, fireworks, photos, bats, the Mayberry Deputy, a cow-milking contest, Miss Twins Beauty Pageant, the Blues Brothers Act, License Plates, fitness screenings and the chance to win various prizes including cars, a recliner and a trip to Minnesota.
   Church Bulletin Night will also return for each Sunday Night game with free admission to everyone who brings a church bulletin.
   * While there have been a few shakeup's among Appalachian League coaching staffs in the offseason, the Elizabethton Twins trio of Ray Smith, Jeff Reed and Jim Shellenback will return in 2004.
   Smith will return as the team's manager, while Reed will serve as the hitting coach and Shellenback will work with the pitching staff.
   "One reason we've had our success is those men," added Mains. "You look at those three men and see what they do with players. The Twins sends us good players, but you have to build chemistry and they do it. They help us out a lot."
   * The Elizabethton club set another record with it's attendance of over 24,000 last season and is looking to improve on that this year. The attendance ranked sixth overall out of the ten teams in the league.
   * The Greeneville squad will join the newly-formed West Division where it will join the Twins, Johnson City, Kingsport and Bristol in a bragging rights battle between the Tri-Cities area.
   * Elizabethton's roster hasn't been completed, as the 2004 Major League Baseball First-Year Players Draft gets underway on June 7, but there is a very good chance some top picks may get their professional starts at Joe O'Brien Field.
   The Minnesota organization will hold five selections in the top 39 picks of this year's draft, with three selections in the first round (20, 22, 25) and the 35th and 39th supplemental picks between the first and second rounds.
   The defending back-to-back Major League Central Division champs are expected to make a strong look at middle infielders and, of course, pitching.
   The Twins are expected to sign between 12 and 16 players from this year's draft, since first-round money will be sought by five players.
   Elizabethton has had two of the previous three top picks begin in its uniform: outfielder Denard Span, the 2002 top pick who is now at single-A Quad Cities; and 2001's top pick Joe Mauer, who has already made the jump to the top level.
   21 Greeneville
   25-27 Princeton
   28 Bristol
   1-3 Pulaski
   4 Johnson City
   8-9 Greeneville
   10-11 Kingsport
   20-22 Johnson City
   23-25 Bristol
   3-5 Danville
   6-8 Bluefield
   12-14 Burlington
   19-21 Kingsport
   22-24 Greeneville