The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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December 27, 2013

Baseball franchise owners cite history of success

Owners of an independent baseball franchise who want to locate in Joplin say they are confident they can generate enough support for the team to make the renovation of Joe Becker Stadium worthwhile.

They say they were going strong in El Paso, Texas, with the Diablos as a franchise of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball until the city decided to build a new stadium for an affiliate team of the San Diego Padres.

“We were a victim of our own success because now Triple-A baseball is coming here,” said Matt LaBranche, executive vice president of WLD Suarez Baseball, by telephone from El Paso.

“We set league attendance records. We hosted an all-star game,” and brought in standouts from throughout the AA league. “We had a really good run. We learned a lot of things ... and we’re going to apply a lot of that to Joplin if we get the chance.”

El Paso fans bid farewell to the team this past season with 7,000 attending the final home game in August.

By then, the team’s director of operations, Shawn Suarez, and his family along with real estate developer Michael Wray decided to buy the franchise and, with LaBranche’s help, restart the team in another city. Joplin’s parks and recreation director, Chris Cotton, had been talking to them about a move to Joplin since before the 2011 tornado, when El Paso was negotiating to build a new stadium there for a minor league proposal. That stadium started out at $50 million. Additions have brought the price to more than $60 million.

Suarez cites LaBranche’s experience in sports development as one reason for confidence. LaBranche has been with the Diablos since 2006, after having worked with the Texas Rangers and the NBA.

LaBranche says the Diablos also benefited from the work that Suarez did with the team as director of operations the past two years.

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