If professional baseball returns to Joplin in 2017, it won't be the Pecos League, according to Pecos Commissioner Andrew Dunn.
Dunn said Wednesday the league is prepared to act on other options for the 2017 season, but did not rule out the possibility of bringing a team to Joplin for the 2018 season. Last week, he came to Joplin to meet with city officials and with those who supported the former professional team to see how people felt about the possibility of bringing a new team to town.
"There's been a lot of rumors that we were coming to Joplin to occupy Joe Becker," he said Wednesday. "We will not be doing that for the 2017 season, but we will consider it for the 2018 season."
Dunn said the city was not willing to commit this soon to allowing another professional team at Joe Becker Stadium. The Joplin Blasters ownership left at the end of the season without making their last lease payment for the stadium, stating that they spent more than the payment amount for things that were the city's responsibility. The city has filed a lawsuit in the dispute.
Dunn had previously told the Globe he would need a contract with the city by Nov. 10 in order to firm up the league's lineup and schedule for next year.
City Manager Sam Anselm said in response, "Andrew never gave me a deadline of Nov. 10th to develop an agreement, but based on my discussion about a lease for Joe Becker with council, they wanted to proceed carefully with making sure any deal was good for both the city and the team. After relaying that conversation to Andrew yesterday, we had a conversation this morning, and we mutually decided that it was best to wait until 2018 to bring a new league to Joplin.
"The Pecos League will still be a part of that conversation, but if any other leagues express an interest, this decision gives us time to explore those opportunities as well," Anselm said.
"The lease remains an issue here," Dunn said. "The city wasn't ready to go forward with the lease, and then we just ran out of time. The Pecos has another option which we're going for — we're not ready to release that right now — and it's ready to go.
"The city (of Joplin) was not ready for the Pecos League right now — or any league, I don't think — and we've got to move forward with our schedule."
Cities in California — High Desert and Bakersfield specifically, both of which lost league affiliates this offseason — have expressed interest in expansion with the Pecos. Dunn previously stated that the league was instead primarily focused on expanding to Joplin and Amarillo, Texas. Both cities lost affiliations with the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball this offseason; Joplin's because of the Blaster's loss of their franchise.
While Joplin appears to be on hold, Dunn said the Pecos has entered an agreement with Amarillo for the 2017 season and will field a team in Potter County.
"We are very proud to be going to Amarillo, Texas," Dunn said. "We thought we were going to get both of them, but getting Amarillo makes this the greatest day in the history of our league."
Dunn said he was recently asked to submit a lease proposal to the city for use of Joe Becker Stadium for the 2017 season, but, because of lease negotiations with Amarillo and an unawareness of Joplin's council meeting on Monday, the figures weren't turned over to the city until Tuesday. By then, it was too late, he said.
"I sent the proposal, but they'd already had their meeting," Dunn said. "I guess that they already had made up their minds. We never discussed those figures because it did not get submitted in time."
Dunn said there are no hard feelings between the city and the Pecos League.
"Basically they told me with the situation they're in right now, they're not sure they want to move on something so fast," Dunn said. "From Joplin's perspective, I think Joplin is making the right move. A year off might be good for Joplin. A year off did good for Tucson (Arizona, which transitioned from Triple-A to the Pecos League in two years).
"I know that they're probably going to reach out to other leagues, and just see what their options are for that ballpark. We were really the only option in a short amount of time. If they give themselves some more time, they could possibly have other options. I don't know.
"I think 2018 might be a better option, if Joplin can't find a suitor that suits them better."