The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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April 21, 2014

Changes in baseball plan disclosed at Joplin City Council meeting

There has been a change in the ownership group of Joplin’s new baseball team, and some of the initial plans for additions to the Joe Becker Stadium area have changed, the Joplin City Council was told Monday night.

The changes will not interfere with putting a team franchised by the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball in Joplin, owners said. They announced Monday that the new team will be called the Joplin Blasters.

Blasters T-shirts bearing the new team’s logo — a stylized miner with a baseball bat — were handed out at the meeting to council members and key city administrators.

Matt LaBranche, executive vice president of the baseball group, told the Globe after the meeting that the biggest change to the deal is that Texas property developer Michael Wray is no longer the development partner with the Suarez Group, which is composed of Oscar and Shawn Suarez and LaBranche. Wray was to head the venture’s real estate development for the construction of parking lots and a retail plaza that was to be built in front of the stadium.

“The most drastic change to everything is the deal we had with the developer, Michael Wray, did not make sense for the team and therefore did not make sense for the city,” LaBranche said. “So we have parted ways, and we’ve been looking at other developers, and we have a lot of interest, but the consensus has been you’ve got to build baseball first.”

Asked if Wray’s financial background became an issue, LaBranche said: “It had nothing to do with his background. It was more the terms of the leases we would have had to have signed.” LaBranche would not say what the specific issue was other than that the payment for the lease of Joe Becker Stadium had to be the group’s top priority, and “the way it was structured, it wasn’t going to work for either party.”

Issues with former projects in Waco, Texas, involving Wray and a deal that soured there between Wray and Joplin’s master developer, David Wallace and Wallace Bajjali Development Partners, were detailed by the Globe in a January story

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