Smokies seize Southern League title

For the first time since 1978, the Tennessee Smokies are the Southern League champions.

Postseason baseball is all about which team catches fire in a good way. The Tennessee Smokies did just that and swept two series to bring the first Southern League championship trophy to the franchise since 1978.

The Double-A Smokies blended seasoned players with new faces from Single-A Myrtle Beach and High-A South Bend – all three clubs are Minor League Baseball affiliates of the Chicago Cubs – to win the first playoff series against the Chattanooga Lookouts and then the championship series against the Blue Wahoos.

The Smokies weren’t favored to win either series, but they closed the regular season with four wins and then added another four-game winning streak to seize the coveted trophy.

It’s been 45 years since the franchise won a Southern League title outright, and the team wasn’t even the Smokies then and still played in Knoxville. In 1978, the team was part of the Chicago White Sox organization and was known as the Knoxville White Sox or Knox Sox. The manager of that team is a name familiar to many in Tony LaRussa, who is now in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Kevin Graber managed the 2023 team, which played a high-octane brand of baseball that was fun to watch. The 163 home runs hit these season was the seventh-most homers in league history. The Cubs top prospect, Pete Crow-Armstrong, started the season in Tennessee and landed in Chicago in the big leagues before summer ended.

The Smokies not only caught fire on the field and at the plate, but the starting pitching also was outstanding. Cade Horton picked up two wins in each series. He started the season in A ball and ended it with a Southern League title in Double-A. Horton is the No. 2 prospect for the Cubs, and he won’t be in the minor leagues much longer.

As noted in this space before, I am a longtime baseball fan and season ticket holder at Smokies Baseball. Any day at Smokies Stadium is a good day. Completing 2023 with a championship is a sweet finish.

Going to a minor league game means fun promotions, cold beer, ballpark food, great and close views of the field, and, of course, baseball. It’s a chance to see players like Crow-Armstrong and Horton before they get to the next level.

Season tickets are on sale now for 2024.The team has one more season in Kodak and then will relocate to Knoxville in a new stadium that connects downtown, the Old City and East Knoxville.

Baseball is coming back to its roots. Be there.

Maria Cornelius, a writer/editor for Moxley Carmichael, is a lifelong baseball fan and longtime Smokies season ticket holder.