by Clint Wiederholt
The boys of summer are back. The St. Joseph Mustangs suit up for the 10th year this week but baseball is only part of the story. On the baseball side you have a team that has impressively won 5 league championships in the last 7 years. Phil Welch Stadium is home to far more than The Mustangs though, you’ll also find tons of family fun there as well. The organization continues to push to have one of the best stadium environments in all independent league baseball.
The Mustangs started playing at historic Phil Welch Stadium in 2009, the town had most recently had the Saints and Blacksnakes as teams but The Mustangs have taken off in ways those other squads never did. Instant success by the team was a huge part of it, with a healthy mix of local players and talent from afar, the town just embraced them. The team rolled on for 9 years under the careful guidance of manager Matt Johnson with plenty of great players, many of which have moved on to play baseball at other levels. The players are college aged athletes still honing their games and improving as you can see by watching each match. Their opponents draw from all over the area with their main rivalries coming out of Sedalia and Chillicothe, Missouri and Clarinda, Iowa. The Mustangs compete every year with these teams for a MINK League championship, which they have now won 5 times. The Mustangs hold an even greater advantage with community support though, commonly turning out average crowds in the thousands and providing a great destination for teams to play and fans to watch.
The Mustangs general manager is a big part of keeping the games an event a full scope of people can enjoy. Ky Turner labels himself General Manager (of Fun) for the team and he focuses on keeping each home game interesting, win or lose on the diamond. “We are trying to put something together that parents and kids can do together,” Turner says, “our whole purpose is to provide a venue where people can do things together, make memories together and take pictures together, that’s what we are striving for.” His dedication is written all over the between innings, on-field games where kids and adults get to go on the field for activities. Some people embarrass themselves and other win big but the common denominator is everyone has fun, from the participant to the crowd. There are even games around the stadium while the players are battling on the field. These games have varied from a dunk tank, pitch toss, bounce houses, mini golf and many other activities. This makes it easier for kids to endure what can be perceived as a slow sport and enjoy the whole 9 innings. “Each year we are striving to get better and keep pushing that bar and continue to surprise fans and find new ways for them to have fun.” Turner explains.
The events are centered around family fun and naturally cater to kids heavily. One new promotion this years finds kids getting into games free with a paid adult ticket on Thursdays which also happens to be one of the team’s most successful promotions, $1 hot dog night. The Mustangs are also very active in the community. They have pushed a big reading initiative, working with over 20 schools and getting free tickets to Mustangs games in the hands of kids. Turner largely credits the community for the success of the team as well, “The involvement, the passion and just people who care about Saint Joseph have come together and make this such a fun experience.” he says.
On the field the team represents the community too. CEO/President of The Mustangs Dan Gerson took his love of baseball and made this team and everything that surrounds it possible. Every year local baseball players are featured and this year even the manager will be a homegrown star in one of the most popular Mustangs players ever, Johnny Coy. “It’s kind of a circle of life transition for us,” Turner explains, “Johnny was a player our first season and now here he is coaching the team as we celebrate our 10th year. It’s kind of the epitome of ‘look, we are St. Joe’s team, even our manager is from St. Joe.” Coy will attempt to carry on a very successful tenure by the team and keep their winning ways a tradition in St. Joseph.
For St. Joseph the national pastime is alive and well and even for people without the deep love of the game it is still a very good thing. As they enter their 10th season The Mustangs will guarantee a enjoyment across the board. “It’s a celebration point for everyone to come together for a common goal; Turner says, “whether it is baseball, to have fun, to hang out with your family, hang out with your friends, to watch fireworks, that is really why we are here.”
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