Joplin, Missouri — my birthplace, my home, and yes, the site of a devastating tornado a few years ago — has just approved the necessary funding to bring in a professional baseball team.
No, not a major-league team. Even pre-tornado, Joplin’s modest population was nowhere near the level needed to support something of that size.
And no, not a major-league affiliate, not with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Double-A team for the Kansas City Royals) and the beloved Springfield Cardinals (Double-A team for the St. Louis Cardinals) each within an hour’s drive in opposite directions.
Joplin, instead, has struck a deal to bring one of the ever-so-charming independent league baseball teams to a community rich in baseball history and fervor. Specifically, the El Paso Diablos of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball.
Obviously, the regionally-named Diablos will receive a new name — perhaps the Joplin Minors, the name of Joplin’s previous minor league team that once included players no less impressive than the great Mickey Mantle — and hopefully the team will do better than their 2013 last place finish in the South Division.
But those are matters to be determined later. For now, baseball is coming home, and I couldn’t be more excited about the possibility of taking my family to quality, wooden-bat baseball on a summer Sunday afternoon in our own backyard.
Sadly, the soon-to-be-renamed-Diablos will not start a Joplin-based season until 2015.
Thank God spring training is just around the corner.
With the Diablo announcement combined with my annual attendance of the St. Louis Cardinals’ Winter Warm-Up, my baseball fever is reaching its zenith. Aimless channel surfing has been replaced by endless hours of MLB Network consumption. A random roster discussion gets tossed around on Twitter, the blogs…or just in my own head as I try to sleep at night.
And the occasional mid-afternoon movie gets replaced by a replayed game on DVD — most often, Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, as if I need to say anything other than “Game 6″ to Cardinals fans.
For many, the frigid temperatures and January’s end mean the Superbowl is coming. For the rest of us, the Superbowl means baseball is coming.
It’s time to dig the gloves out of the closet and grip the smooth wooden handle of your favorite bat. Baseball is coming, and not even Old Man Winter can stop it.