By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer
After a 59-year hiatus, professional baseball is making its return to historic Joe Becker Stadium in Joplin.
The Kansas City T-Bones and the Wichita Wingnuts, independent minor league teams from the American Association, will play an exhibition game at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 12 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Joe Becker Stadium.
The game also could help determine interest for bringing an American Association team to Joplin. Charlie Meyer, director of league expansion for the American Association, visited Joplin in January 2012 to discuss the possibility of creating a franchise in Joplin and talks have continued.
“How fitting that 100 years since the inception of Joe Becker Stadium that professional baseball would return to its rightful place in Joe Becker Stadium,” Joplin city manager Mark Rohr said. “It is the hopes of many baseball fans in Joplin, myself included, that this will kickstart the eventual return of professional baseball to Joplin on a full-time basis with a franchise being placed in Joplin.”
If a team came to Joplin, either a new stadium would need to be built or renovations would need to be made to Joe Becker in order to meet the league’s specifications.
“There are a lot of steps that would go into a team coming to Joplin,” Joplin Parks and Recreation director Chris Cotten said. “This is one of those chicken before the egg type things. Do we find an investor to help us renovate the stadium, or do we secure a team first? A local ownership group is essential to have a team here. I don’t necessarily know if this will be the tool to gauge interest, but we do know that Joplin has a strong baseball history and that is one of the reasons we brought the game to town. People love baseball in Joplin, so let’s give them a pro game.”
The American Association formed in 2005 and includes 13 teams. The franchises are based mostly in the Midwest and the southern states.
“We’ve had continued dialogue with Chris Cotten,” Meyer said. “We will continue dialogue and see if there’s a possibility of having a team for the 2014 season. It all depends on having a stadium and an ownership group. And we can’t just add one team. We have to add two teams to the league.
“We’ll have the exhibition and go from there.”
Tickets for the exhibition will be $5 for adults and $3 for children ages 3 to 12. Since the game falls on Mother’s Day, all mothers will get in free with a paid admission.
The game will serve as a kickoff to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Joe Becker Stadium, which was built in 1913. Other celebrations for the stadium will be during the Joplin Outlaws opening series on June 1-2, at the Premier Baseball Junior World Series from July 17-21 and at the Missouri American Legion AA state championship from July 25-28.
Minor league baseball was played at Joe Becker most years until 1954. Baseball legends who competed at Joe Becker Stadium include Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Joe Garagiola, Ken Boyer and Whitey Herzog.
“Joplin is known as a baseball city, and this historic stadium is an integral part of the history,” Cotten said.