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Baseball is back: Paducah Chiefs make successful return after 61 years

By JOSHUA ROBERTS jroberts@paducahsun.com

A

sk club officials with the Paducah Chiefs if the team's resurrection after 61 years was a success, and you'll hear a resounding yes.

But don't just take their word for it. Listen to the league's top official boast about the team.

The Chiefs were a "great addition to our league and brought in a new group of fans and exposure to the nation for our league," wrote Cubb Stokes, Ohio Valley League president in a season-ending state of the league address. "I know they are already planning for a great 2017 season. (They) did a fantastic job in their first season."

The Chiefs were a local minor league team in Paducah until disbanding in 1955. However, after years of planning and with private and public financial support, the team returned for a 40-game schedule this summer with a roster of college players, many of them local. They are set to return next season.

The team, managed by Paducah native and former Major Leaguer Joe Hall, finished 14-26 in its return year, ranked near the top of the league in attendance with nearly 500 fans per game, and hosted the league's first All-Star Game.

Stokes said the league's decision to add the Chiefs was a "no-brainer."

"Paducah is a baseball town, always has been, and their facility, Brooks Stadium, is second to none," he said. "There's a passion for baseball in Paducah, and we're fortunate to have a venue like Brooks."

Greg McKeel, the team's general manager, said the first year back has been experimental in a lot of ways, with the club learning what works and what doesn't. He said the community has been totally supportive of the Chiefs.

"It's a process and it'll continue," he said. "We've seen things that we'll have to do a little differently next year, but overall, we're real pleased with where we are right now.

"We sold over 200 season tickets before the first game was ever played, and that shows the excitement of the community to support something like this. We've had sponsorships to do so many things for us. Everybody's been eager to support us with whatever we've asked them to do."

The GM said he considers the new Paducah Chiefs not just a community effort, but a regional one. He said support has come from not only McCracken County, but also surrounding counties and southern Illinois.

"It's the Paducah Chiefs, but we couldn't do it without the whole region," McKeel said.

Hall, who spent part of three seasons playing for the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers, will return to manage the team next year.

He said the Chiefs largely met his expectations during the first season, especially as a new franchise.

"I would have liked to have seen a few more Ws," Hall said. "There at the start, we were losing a lot of close games, and then we got to the other end where we were winning those close games. That showed improvement. The guys got to know each other, knowing their responsibilities, knowing what they need to do and what we want them to do.

"I've enjoyed being here and coaching and being around these guys. It's home. I'd like to come back and keep working at it. This is our first year and we want to keep building, keep this thing going," Hall said.

McKeel said the team is committed long-term to filling Paducah's summer with homegrown baseball in the Ohio Valley League.

"Absolutely," he said. "It was a $10,000 commitment to join this league, so we're in. â ¦ We've got the facility, we've got the people, the resources to make this thing happen long-term. The key there is fan support."

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