By Scott Haar
Globe guest columnist
I have been cautiously awaiting a Mickey Mantle museum in Commerce, Okla.
I, for many obvious reasons, doubt that facility will become a reality. Even if that dream were realized, it would never benefit from the complement of the amenities offered by larger commercial areas that support historical museums. In that case, why not house the largest Mickey Mantle Museum in the first city he delighted with his charm and talent?
Joplin is the perfect place to immortalize one of baseball’s greatest talents and tell the folklore of his humble roots to countless new generations. After all, we have not only historical reference to the legend, we have people and places with which he made memories — including Joe Becker Stadium.
I feel those connections would be forever lost if not immortalized by Joplin. Besides Cooperstown and the Yankees Hall of Fame, where can a baseball fan in the Midwest or West learn about a man of whom so much is said? And yes, the Mick got his kicks on Route 66, as the song came to be an anthem for a generation of motor travel and post-war potential in a nation that loved baseball.
Aside from Mantle, which would be the signature draw, there could be space dedicated to Joplin’s additional connection to the national pastime. Gabby Street offers an obvious parallel to Major League Baseball and the team most of us grew up listening to on the radio — the St. Louis Cardinals.
Our history is dotted with stories connecting us with baseball and America’s love affair with the sport. Most recently, the USA Baseball phenomenon has spurred new interest in the game, activity at Joe Becker and put our community in touch with future greats of the game.
My parents still stay in contact with Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins. He is on par with Mantle in a variety of ways, but has the charm of Stan the Man — he will be one of the greatest ever in the sport, in my opinion. We could capitalize on the immortality of the years we have had with USA Baseball.
There are local reasons to have a Hall of Fame or museum, stories that could get traction with fans on a national basis. From our semi-pro past to the success of our college team, we are a breeding ground for baseball. For a sport that is depicted as being born in rural America, a sport with a blue-collar feel, it sure seems to belong to the metropolitan cities of the East Coast.
Why can’t a small city in Middle America be the little brother to Cooperstown? Here are some other amenities such a shrine could offer repeat traffic:
n A Mantle wing featuring artifacts and displays of his on- and off-the-field life. The Joplin Miners are a part of our past that cements our Mantle connection.
n A restaurant of a sports variety, featuring the famous Mutt Burger.
n A wing featuring the success of our semi-pro teams that encompassed towns like Redding’s Mill, Duenweg and Carterville.
n A wing chronicling the USA trials.
n A wing dedicated to the MIAA and MSSU’s tradition piloted by the museum’s namesake. Warren Turner has become a figure, not just a person. His baseball camps could continue on the historic field and draw new generations to the sport.
n Some sort of connection to MLB and the two cities in Missouri that have given a rich baseball tradition to fans in Joplin. Joe Becker could be not only a place to watch games, but a place to meet for bus tours to go to Kansas City or St. Louis to see big league games.
A more convenient route may be the Double-A Springfield Cardinals, who need a Joplin connection to sustain their impressive attendance. This could be a fun day trip or a weekend excursion built into a package that saves the fan gas money and offers countless memories of a road trip.
n A video booth of MLB games where fans can make their own call on the greatest games on record — I did this at the former Busch Memorial Stadium and still have the videotape. Many of us are broadcasters in our own minds, and would jump at the chance to climb in the booth with a friend and do an inning of broadcast from “The shot heard ’round the world’ ” to Kirk Gibson’s dramatic home run in the 1988 World Series.
I don’t know what kind of copyright laws apply, but would think such a setup would be a fun way to interact at the museum.
n A kids’ area with batting cages and radar guns. The Boys and Girls Clubs of America are the official charity of MLB — what a great connection we have with the Comingo facility in Joe Becker’s back yard. It would be another way of indoctrinating a young generation of fans.
n A film room where local teams can review their game footage and translate it onto the field.
These are just a few ideas, which I’m sure others have had. I think the museum should be directly associated with Joe Becker and should be within close proximity to the stadium. As Joplin searches for an identity that draws interest in our town, one of our best, marketable commodities to people from other areas is a connection to baseball.
Scott Haar is a Joplin resident, baseball fan and campus co-director for Vatterott College.
By Scott Haar
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