KINGSPORT — U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) dropped by Hunter Wright Stadium on Thursday to meet with Kingsport Axmen team officials and talk about her bipartisan legislation aimed at helping Minor League Baseball teams across the nation stay viable while facing challenges caused by the pandemic.
Blackburn said she’s happy to be able to be visiting communities across the state in person again, rather than participating in online meetings.
“It’s so good to be back out,” Blackburn said.
The stop was among 15 Blackburn had scheduled across Northeast Tennessee this week. Following the visit with Axmen General Manger Steve Brice, Visit Kingsport Executive Director Jud Teague, and Visit Kingsport Associate Director Frank Lett, the senator headed for Blountville to meet with Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable and other county officials.
“We are here doing some visits and hearing from local employers, local elected officials, and citizens that are busy trying to make certain that Kingsport is the very best place to be,” Blackburn told the Times News while at the stadium. “All through the pandemic we’ve worked with our local and state officials to make certain we’re helping them to come through the pandemic. And we’re continuing to do that. Much of the time we’re spending here, the meetings we’re having are focused on how we can make certain Tennessee leads the way back out of the pandemic.”
On the legislation to help MiLB teams:
“Sen. (Mark) Warner (D-Va.) and I have a bill that would allow our Minor League Baseball teams to access funds in the PPE loan programs so that they have the ability to stand up, reopen and get fans back in through the gates and into the bleachers and playing baseball again.”
Background on the bill, provided by Blackburn’s staff:
• Pre-pandemic, MiLB clubs employed more than 3,300 full-time employees and nearly 32,000 part-time and seasonal employees. Additional COVID-19 relief would allow clubs to immediately return to full staffing levels and safeguard vital jobs in these communities.
• The Minor League Baseball Relief Act would allow Minor League Baseball to access up to $550 million in emergency grants to be administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) and made available through funding authorized under previous COVID-19 relief legislation that would otherwise be returned to the Treasury Department.
• This funding would only be made available to Minor League Baseball if it is determined that there was no longer a need for its originally intended purposes and it would otherwise go unused.
• The bill would distribute grants up to $10 million for eligible clubs and provide an opportunity for a second grant at 50% of the first if a club’s revenue does not recover and significantly exceed its 2019 total.
• The bill requires strict oversight from SBA through documentation, review of use, and an audit on grant funding, and it applies to any Minor League Baseball team previously part of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues but not to any club that is owned by Major League Baseball.