KINGSPORT — The Kingsport Axmen’s 2021 season has officially been cut short.
On Thursday night, Boyd Sports President Chris Allen announced that USA Baseball made the decision to cancel the remainder of the season after former team member, Matthew Taylor, was arrested on Monday.
“Recently, Kingsport Axmen players experienced troubling and concerning behavior involving a former teammate, who is now under the care of medical professionals,” Allen said. “Since becoming aware of this matter, Boyd Sports, USA Baseball and MLB all have aimed to act with the best interests of the welfare of the players and staff in mind. Discussions regarding to these unusual circumstances, USA Baseball made the decision to allow the players of the Kingsport Axmen to return home.”
Taylor, 21 of Kingsport was arrested after making threats to a teammate via social media following his release from the team, officials said. He was charged with three counts of false reporting and one count of harassment.
A new team is being assembled to fill the Axmen’s remaining schedule, Allen said in the announcement.
The new team is being called the Kingsport Road Warriors and will play all of its games on the road, beginning at Bristol on Friday night.
A new coaching staff also has been hired and the team will get together for the first time at Hunter Wright Stadium on Friday morning.
“We are in the process of assembling a travel team with a different group of players to complete the season, because a decision like this affects not only the Kingsport Axmen but every other team in the league’s schedule. We do not want to let down our other nine partners in the Appalachian League.”
The Axmen postponed home games on Monday and Tuesday following Taylor’s arrest. The Kingsport team’s Thursday game on the road against the Bristol State Liners was also postponed.
Mahlon Luttrell, the State Liners President and General Manger, who is also the Bristol, Tennessee, mayor, said the game at Boyce Cox Field is still on for Friday night.
“We’re not changing a whole lot from what we normally do,” Luttrell said. “We always have security, whether it’s uniformed or not in all the areas. We’re being precautious and protective as well. We want folks to come out and enjoy the ballgame.”
The cancellation of the Axmen’s season is the latest in a series of recent disappointments for Kingsport baseball fans.
First, the Appalachian League season was canceled last summer because of the coronavirus pandemic. The possibility of the league being disbanded was already hanging over everybody’s heads as MLB’s plan to contract the minor leagues — and eliminate the Appy League — had been leaked.
In September, it became official when the announcement came that the league was rebranding itself as a college wood bat league with teams not having any affiliation with Major League Baseball franchises.
That spelled the end of the Kingsport Mets. Five months later, the Axmen were introduced.
“This is very disappointing,” said Alicia Starnes, a Sullivan County commissioner and a baseball fan. “A lot of people looked to that to replace the Mets. Season ticket holders are not going to be too happy.”
“I hate it for the community as much as I hate it as a baseball fan. I think it’s sad. I’m afraid that’s going to hurt in the long run.”
The Axmen are owned by Visit Kingsport and operated by Boyd Sports, which also runs Appalachian League teams in Johnson City, Elizabethton and Greeneville.
“It’s an unfortunate situation that is being addressed,” said Frank Lett, senior associate executive director of Visit Kingsport. “It’s just disappointing that it’s taken this turn. Everyone bought into the idea of the league. Hopefully, all will be corrected and we can look forward to the 2022 season.”
The Times News contacted several Axmen players, most of whom didn’t want to comment on the record.
They all admitted, however, to being disappointed that they were sent home early.
“I am thankful for being welcomed with open arms by Kingsport and giving me support from fans, players and coaches,” said Jon Jon Berring, an outfielder from Santa Clara University in California. “I was shocked by the news, but playing with this group of guys, I know this isn’t going to stop them from playing and continuing with perfecting their craft.”
“It’s a shame because players are there to get at-bats and pitchers to get more innings,” said another player who wanted to remain anonymous. “Kids are still trying to find schools.”
The Axmen lost six of their last seven games to fall to 12-19. They were in fourth place in the Appy league’s West Division, ahead of Johnson City.
They were supposed to have 10 home games remaining in a regular season that was scheduled to end on Aug. 7.