I’m a fan of old sports stadiums.
A few years ago, while visiting Chicago, I made my wife and our then 10-year-old daughter, Emma, ride the “L” to Wrigley Field just so I could walk around the famed home of the Chicago Cubs. I did this despite the fact that the Cubs weren’t playing that day and, as a St. Louis Cardinals fan, the Cubs are far from my favorite team.
The reason I wanted to walk around Wrigley is because it’s one of the last old-time major league baseball stadiums, Fenway Park in Boston being the other.
Most sports teams these days are obsessed with new. When a stadium reaches the advanced age of 20, owners start complaining that it is outdated. I think there is something to be said for history, for tradition.
So when Joplin Parks and Recreation Director Chris Cotten emailed me and asked if I would like to drop by and take a look at the work being done at historic Joe Becker Stadium, I jumped at the chance.
Chris said that several months ago, his department began renovating the press box and the concession stand at Joe Becker. The renovations grew out of necessity more than anything else.
The old press box was a phone-booth-sized room built on the roof of the concession stand. At some point in the fall, there was some sort of leak, and water ruined the amplifier used for the sound system. Since repairing the leak and the amplifier pretty much required that the press box be gutted, Chris decided to go ahead and renovate and expand the whole room.
“We have to take care of what we have,” Chris said.
The new press box will more than double the size of the old one and will include a room so that broadcast crews for visiting clubs can set up and call games. In the past, visiting broadcast crews were forced to call games from the stands.
There also will be a room where umpires can dress and relax before and after games. In the past, the umpires had to walk across the street and use a city-owned house to change, Chris said.
While the press box was being expanded, it just made sense, Chris said, to go ahead and remodel the concession stand, too. Like the new press box, the new concession stand will be bigger than the old one. Parks and recreation crews knocked out the back wall of the old concession stand and expanded the room, which will allow for a much larger work area.
Granted, a new press box and a new concession stand don’t represent some sort of grand restoration of Joe Becker, but they do represent a commitment of sorts by the city to maintain the historic stadium.
In a perfect world, there would be millions of dollars available to turn Joe Becker into the sort of historic ballpark that would draw thousands of fans each year. As you know, this isn’t a perfect world.
But the thing is, Joe Becker still matters. It’s the home of the Missouri Southern State University baseball team. This summer, the Joplin Outlaws will play at Joe Becker, and the stadium continues to be used for all sorts of tournaments.
It’s fitting that, for the 100th anniversary of Joe Becker Stadium, the place gets a bit of a face-lift. And it’s nice to know that a stadium where players with names like Mantle, Musial, Garagiola and Boyer once played still matters.
When the stadium opens this season, I’m going to drop in on the new press box and take a look around again. Then I’m going to go downstairs to the concession stand, order a cheeseburger, take a seat behind home plate and watch some baseball.
Because it matters.
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