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Route 66 News

Team wants Joplin to improve historic baseball stadium

The El Paso Diablos baseball team wants to move to Joplin, Mo., but wants the city to improve Joe Becker Stadium in return.

The Diablos, affiliated with the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball and owned by WLD Suarez Baseball, were so successful in El Paso, Texas, that a professional team moved a Class AAA affiliate there.

Missouri Southern State University’s baseball team plays at Joe Becker Stadium, but intends to build its own ballpark and move out. The Joplin Outlaws, a summer collegiate team, also plays there.

Because of the university’s eventual move, the city is looking for another tenant. The Diablos made this pitch, according to the Joplin Globe:

The team managers ask that the city invest about $5.9 million in the field.

Suarez representative Michael Wray told the council the field needs to be modernized, with new lights that would accommodate night play, new restrooms and added seats to bring the total of seats available to 4,200. […]

The Suarez group is offering to build a $4 million plaza in front of the stadium at its own expense.

That would serve as the entry point to the stadium and house the team’s management offices, ticket window, some restaurants and a team retail store. There would be second-floor loft apartments to serve as team and management living quarters with a few of them as rentals. […]

It projects the financial impact of the team by 2018 — in three years after opening — at $30 million. That includes hotel and restaurant spending, game spending by patrons, wages from 310 new jobs created and taxes.

One thing the story doesn’t mention is Joe Becker Stadium’s history. It was built in 1913, making it one of the oldest baseball parks in America. The grandstand burned down in 1936 and again in 1971. But the field itself is essentially the same as it was a century ago.

Joe Becker Stadium’s biggest claim to fame is Mickey Mantle played there as a member of the Joplin Miners in 1950. Mantle, in 137 games with the New York Yankees Class C affiliate, hit .383 with 26 homers and robust .638 slugging average. Joe Becker Stadium, less than a half-mile north of Route 66 in Joplin, remains a tangible link to the Hall-of-Famer for Route 66 tourists. Mantle grew up in the Route 66 town of Commerce, Okla., and played baseball as a 15-year-old with a semipro team in nearby Baxter Springs, Kan., before going to the majors.

Future Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog (also a Hall-of-Famer) also played with the Miners.

If I were Joplin, I’d approve the proposal from the Diablos in a heartbeat. The Globe’s story tells about other cities’ downtown districts being rejuvenated with a new or improved stadium. I would add Tulsa to the list after the Drillers, associated with the Colorado Rockies, moved from a fairgrounds facility to a new downtown ballpark. It brought thousands of new visitors to downtown during the spring and summer and accelerated the district’s revitalization, which still occurs to this day.

The fact the Diablos will pony up $4 million of its money for the deal shows the owners are serious about wanting Joplin as a new home. I would make sure the team plays up the Mantle and Herzog connections — especially the latter with all the Cardinals and Royals fans in Missouri. And such a project would give a nice shot in the arm for Joplin’s economy, which is still recovering from the 2011 tornado.

(Image of Joe Becker Stadium by Julio Borcher via Google Plus)

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