25 June 2018

Fans say rebuilt Joe Becker a hit

The Joplin Globe

By Debby Woodin

"Twelve-year-old Wyatt Coate had one thing in mind Thursday night as he sat in the stands waiting for the first pitch of the official season opener of the city's new professional baseball team, the Joplin Blasters:

Catching a foul ball.

But it's not unusual to find him at a diamond.

"He plays ball," said his father, Spencer Coate. "I play ball. And we follow the Cardinals and some other teams pretty much all of the time."

Coate has several reasons for being a devoted baseball fan: "The sport. The game. What it stands for. The history."

Pete Ramsour, a representative of the Joplin Historic Preservation Commission, spoke about the history of Joe Becker Stadium as he and commission member Nancy Morton presented a historic landmark sign in opening ceremonies. It will be installed at the newly rebuilt stadium.

A stadium was constructed at the location for minor league ball team in 1916, with the first game in that stadium on April 20, 1917, against the Lincoln, Nebraska, Ducklings before a crowd of 2,000, Ramsour said.

In 1936, the stadium caught fire from a discarded cigarette and burned to the ground. The general manager of the baseball team then was Joe Becker, a German immigrant who had been a scout for the New York Yankees, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox. He saw that the stadium was quickly rebuilt and put back in use for more minor league baseball. For his work, the stadium was named after him.

Becker's rebuilt stadium burned in 1971 and was rebuilt again. It was used for many years by the Missouri Southern State University baseball team, which left for its own newly created baseball field at the university this spring.

As the city prepared to remodel the stadium as the home of the Blasters, it found that the concrete had deteriorated to the point that the stadium had to be reconstructed.

Spencer Coate, of Joplin, approved of the city's $4.8 million investment in the stadium to bring the Blasters to town.

"It's turned out real nice," he said. "There are some improvements we've seen and noticed a lot. We came for the Outlaws last year, and it looks a lot different."

There were lots of activities at Thursday's game in addition to baseball. Two boys were selected to race tricycles along the third baseline.

Sandra Conrad, vice president of the Joplin Regional Artists Coalition, was sketching scenes from the baseball game from the stands. Coalition members will be on hand doing stadium artwork through the weekend. "Then they are going to show the artwork in the skyboxes and rotate it around the stadium all season," she said. There will be a garden party and an art sale at the end of baseball season.

Her husband, Robert Conrad, of Neosho, was in the stadium gift shop, where he bought the couple Blasters T-shirts.

"I think it's awesome," he said of the rebuilt stadium. "I didn't think there would be this many people here. I'm really excited to be here for the inaugural game. I'm glad to be a Blasters fan now."

Shawn Suarez, general manager of the Blasters, was pitching in wherever he saw help was needed on opening night.

"It's exciting," he said of the opening. "We finally get to open up the gates. Everything's working well, and we have a great crowd here tonight."

Wyatt Coate had one word for what it was like to be at the Blasters' opening night: "Fun."

Ticket sales

Asked whether Thursday night's game was a sellout, Shawn Suarez, general manager of the Blasters, said he would not know until ticket sales were counted later."

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