JOPLIN, Mo. — Independent baseball is a step closer to moving to Joplin, after the city council approved a lease agreement for Joe Becker Stadium during Tuesday’s meeting.
The El Paso Diablos — a franchise from the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball — is expected to move in to its new home for the 2015 season, once the final hurdles are cleared next month. The council’s action officially puts the MINK League membership of the Joplin Outlaws into question.
Currently, the MINK expects nine teams to compete this summer, including the St. Joseph Mustangs and recently added Branson Nationals.
The lease approved Tuesday requires the city to spend $4 million to upgrade Joe Becker Stadium. The council will consider a performance agreement at its meeting next month, The Joplin Globe reported.
Chris Cotten — Joplin’s parks and recreation director — said no work will be done on the stadium before August because Missouri Southern State University’s baseball team and the Outlaws will be playing there this spring and summer. Once work begins, the Outlaws might be done, unless they choose to find a new home in a different city.
Joplin is negotiating with WLD Suarez Baseball, an ownership group pledging to spend $5.3 million for other improvements as its part of the agreement.
“We think it can be a great member of our league. You’ve got some good ownership potential here,” American Association commissioner, Miles Wolff of Durham, N.C., told the council. He said Joplin is a good fit for the league, and “I think you’ll be pleased with what it can bring to your community.”
Before the vote, city manager Mark Rohr told the council the Suarez group showed him financial statements of their business dealings and outlined the financing they would obtain.
“I was convinced by what I saw they are financially able” to meet their financial pledges, he said.
The American Association made a similar foray into St. Joseph in the past decade.
The St. Joe Blacksnakes took over Phil Welch Stadium for the 2006 season, ending the existence of the former MINK member St. Joseph Saints, but folded after only two seasons due to financial issues. They averaged just more than 700 fans per game during the 2007 season.
The Mustangs were started up in time for the 2009 season, giving the MINK a St. Joseph member again.