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Tensions Unfolding in Joplin

Joplin Blasters

Recently uncovered emails show signs of a strained relations between the Joplin Blasters (independent; American Association) and the city, with ballpark maintenance being one of the issues.

The Blasters moved into Joe Becker Stadium last year, which had been improved to accommodate the team. Two seasons in, both sides are expressing displeasure with the arrangement. One of the terms of the team’s deal with the city–which was adjusted before this season–is that the Blasters are responsible for all maintenance relating to their games, while the city must handle those tasks when it hosts events at the ballpark. Upon hosting a recent tournament, some within the city’s ranks voiced displeasure with how the team was maintaining the ballpark, contending that prep work for the tournament was more time consuming and costly than it should have been. The Blasters, meanwhile, said that some tasks–such as restocking the restrooms–must be handled by the city when it hosts events.

The issues over maintenance, combined with less-than-stellar attendance figures, are occurring in the backdrop of tense relations between the team and the city, neither of which seem certain about the health of their arrangement going forward. That is reflected in emails between Blasters president Gabriel Suarez and Joplin city manager Sam Anslem, an exchange that was printed by the Joplin Globe:

“Hey Gabe, I’m hearing rumors that you guys are selling off contracts and that you don’t intend to come back next season. Any truth to that?” Anselm asked Suarez in an email June 23.

 Suarez responded that he let players Winston Abreu and Evan Bell go because they had other offers.

“And what about the rumors that you’re leaving after the season?” Anselm asked again.

Said Suarez: “I have heard rumors the city has been in contact with the Pecos League teams courting them.” He said the city shut down High Avenue next to the stadium as the Blasters season started for paving, and had no intention of fixing field drainage and other problems.

“Sam, I have a team to run. We are in the middle of our season and play every day. I don’t have time for this. Everyone can see there are low attendance numbers. Instead of doing things that make it as difficult as possible for the professional baseball team in your city, make an effort to help. If you can’t do that, then just please stop.”

Responded the city manager, in part, “We have contacted no one involved with any league. I have heard rumors that other leagues are possibly interested in playing in Joplin, but if the rumors I’m hearing about your exit after the season are true, I will do my job and find a tenant to occupy the stadium next season. I just need to know whether you plan to leave or not so I can get the ball rolling.” He received no direct answer.

The story also covers issues relating to a Heart of America Athletic Conference tournament that was hosted at Joe Becker Stadium this year. For his part, Pecos League president Andrew Dunn told the Globe that he has not had any correspondence with the City of Joplin concerning next season.

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