- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 19, 2015

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) - Professional baseball returns this week to the renovated Joe Becker Stadium after leaving Joplin in the early 1950s.

The Joplin Blasters, a new member of the American Association of Independent Baseball, will play an exhibition game against the Kansas City T-Bones on Tuesday night, The Joplin Globe (http://bit.ly/1c2kvpr ) reported.

It will be the first game since a nearly $5 million project that mostly rebuilt the stadium, where players including Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb and Stan Musial once took the field. The Blasters’ first official game of the season is set for Thursday against the Wingnuts of Wichita, Kansas.

“At one time, this was the place to be,” said Chris Cotten, director of the city’s parks and recreation department. “When Mickey Mantle was here, and Stan Musial was here, and Gabby Street was here, this was the place to be and this is going to be the place to be again.”

He said last week that the bleachers are done and that construction on the dugouts was about 95 percent finished.

The project’s budget allowed for the reconstruction of the stands in the stadium and the purchase and remodel of an adjacent building as a locker room. Cotten said funds weren’t available to completely rebuild the field, but he says hopefully it will happen soon.

“There are some minor things the field needs but overall, it’s in good shape,” he said.

General manager Shawn Suarez of the Blasters said he’s satisfied with the stadium, built by Crossland Construction Co. with help from the city’s park and recreation staff. He added that ticket sales were “going well.”

“The exciting part is all our luxury suites are sold,” Suarez said. “All of our box seats are pretty much sold. We expect a big walk-up crowd. We have a huge response for the start of the season and will have to carry that momentum through the end of the season.”

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Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com

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