The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

March 22, 2014

Team's partner faces a summer with no baseball

Shawn Suarez is a baseball fan.

A partner in a future Joplin professional baseball team’s ownership group, Suarez said he’s enjoyed being a part of the business side of bringing the independent club to the region. However, his greatest enjoyment comes from what happens on the field.

So knowing that his team won’t compete in the 2014 American Association season has Suarez a bit anxious.

“I’ve loved going through this process, but I’m a baseball guy,” Saurez said. “I’m jealous that the other teams are getting ready for the season right now. I want to get back into that.”

The Joplin City council approved a lease agreement in January to bring the minor league team to Joe Becker Stadium. Renovations to the stadium will begin this summer, and the new Joplin team will begin competing in 2015.

Joplin’s team, which played as the El Paso Diablos in 2013, will be bystanders during the 2014 American Assocation’s 100-game regular season, which starts May 15.

Many of El Paso’s former players have joined other teams.

So Suarez will use this year to scout for his 2015 roster.

“I’m going to keep tabs on the league,” he said. “We have a lot of players who we’ve watched over the past four or five years that we really like and want to see how they progress. I plan to go out and see a whole bunch of games this summer. We’re going to make sure we’re ready for 2015 and know what to expect. We’re going to know who’s performing well and who we should target.”

Suarez said he will be attending a variety of games this summer, including those in the American Association, other independent leagues,  affiliated minor league baseball and college baseball.

American Association rosters consist of a mix of former major league and affiliated minor league players, as well as undrafted college players.

“There are guys in this league who are lifers and will stick around for a while, but it also changes all the time,” Suarez said. “There are guys who get released out of minor league camps. This is probably the busiest time for general managers in the American Association because they have all these players released out of major league and minor league camps, and they’re trying to fill out their rosters.”

Once Joplin’s team hires a manager, he and Suarez will work together to form a team identity. The dimensions of Joe Becker Stadium will be a factor.

“You have to build it off your stadium,” Suarez said. “You play 50 games there every year, half your season. You have to play to your strengths. One thing about Joe Becker is that it’s a huge outfield. You have to make sure your outfielders are strong. You can’t hide anyone in the outfield. All your guys need to be able to cover a whole bunch of ground. From the way I see it, it’s almost like you need three center fielders out there.”

The team also will have open tryouts in Joplin before the 2015 season. Suarez said that when he worked for the Tucson Toros in 2009, pitcher Tom Wilhelmsen showed up for an open tryout. Two years later, Wilhelmsen was pitching for the Seattle Mariners. Wilhelmsen has earned 53 saves over the past two seasons for Seattle.

“That was the first experience I ever had with an open tryout in independent baseball, and that was beyond exciting,” Suarez said.

“You never know with open tryouts. That’s why we have them. You never know the talent in the community until you have them.”

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