May 28, 2019
Phil Welch Stadium and The Mustangs
DEFINITION: Connected with or interested in sport; Fair and generous in one’s behaviour or treatment of others, especially in a contest.
America’s favorite pastime is alive in St. Joseph…every summer families, friends, and neighbors gather together to enjoy baseball, hot dogs, family fun, fireworks, and more in the heart of St. Joseph to relax and watch the Mustangs play ball at the historic Phil Welch Stadium. This summer tradition has become a St. Joseph favorite and rightfully so…Because for over a decade collegiate baseball players from across the world have come together to play (and WIN) on the St. Joseph Mustangs M.I.N.K. League team.
Situated on the scenic Parkway System Phil Welch Stadium has been host to St. Joseph’s baseball tradition for ninety years with many baseball legends gracing its field along the way. Built in 1939 as a WPA project with an estimated cost at the time of over $100,000 the stadium was a huge investment for St. Joseph. Incredibly the stadium was built in just 10 weeks with construction overseen by Lehr Construction. Opening day for the St. Joseph Saints was celebrated on June 23, 1939 officially opening a venue that would usher generation after generation through its gates. In 1964 the stadium was dedicated to former St. Joseph mayor and United States congressman, Phil J. Welch.
In the early days of baseball nearly all of the pro teams were east of the Mississippi, but during the off season players played barnstorming games all over the country, including at Phil Welch. These exhibition games brought world-famous names like Satchel Paige, Yogi Berra, and even Mickey Mantle to battle it out at Phil Welch stadium. In 1943 Yogi Berra belted a home run over the 420 foot wall at center field, and just seven years later a lightning quick shortstop named Mickey Mantle terrorized opponents with his wild throws. In 1955 the Athletics came to Kansas City, and it would be over fifty years before another professional ball team would call Phil Welch their home. Whether it was as a field for American Legion games, the National Softball Championship, or more unusual stops like rodeos, wrestling matches, and even the circus, Phil Welch stadium never stopped serving the community that loved it so much.
Lost to memory, many teams have come and gone over the ninety year history of Phil Welch Stadium, but since 2009 the St. Joseph Mustangs have called it home. Dan Gerson…who visited the stadium when the Blacksnakes played the T-Bones, knew from just one visit that St. Joseph was a passionate baseball town. So when the stadium was vacant he jumped on the opportunity to bring a new collegiate team, The St. Joseph Mustangs, to the field. Since then Dan has worked hard to show St. Joseph just what the summertime team could bring to the community.
Talent searches and active recruiting by the coaching staff have not only served to give up and coming local talents a stage to display their athletic prowess, but has also brought players from all over the world. This new wave of baseball fever has brought in athletes from as far away places as Hawaii, Canada, and even France. These newcomers are quickly welcomed into the community as host families gladly give them a warm welcome, and a home to live in for the duration of the season. These players quickly become a part of their host family. “I’ve seen a number of host families that travel across the United States for their host player weddings, graduations, baseball games, and other life events,” laughs Mustangs General Manager Ky Turner.
Of course the St. Joseph Mustangs have made it easy for the community to rally around them, winning championships in 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015. The town has responded in kind, packing into the stadium, filling Phil Welch to the brim each weekend, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since the days of Mickey Mantle.
The town and the team resonate with one another, each Mustangs success feeding a town’s need for baseball, and each St. Joseph cheer spurring on even greater team achievements. Perhaps nowhere is this energy better exemplified than the Mustangs Hall of Fame. Each home game features a ceremony that honors current or past citizens who have left an impact on the baseball and softball community of St. Joseph. Players, coaches, empires, and even fans all have been honored at this pre-game event.
The community’s response to the Mustangs and their players has moved the team to express their goodwill beyond baseball and softball. They host a year round school reading program that sends out prizes to more than 4,000 students each year, donate to several local charities, and host several local events. “Our job is not just to be here and provide entertainment,” explains Ky Turner, “our staff and players know that our job is to make lasting relationships and memories.”
Whether it’s the crack of a bat and a ball, the smell of hotdogs cooking, or just the company of good friends, Phil Welch Stadium has a little something for everyone, all summer long.
Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, this architectural feat, designed by esteemed local architects Eckel and Mann, is getting a second life thanks to a $20 million shot in the arm from Mosaic Life Care.
One of St. Joseph public schools earliest and most successful students, Huston Wyeth, built in 1918-1922 what was considered a very large country estate located northeast of central downtown. It was called Wyethwood.
More than a decade of service later, the program continues to grow. Most of the kids who live in this St. Joseph neighborhood receive free or reduced priced breakfast and lunch during the school year, but have limited food resources in the summer.
If you ask him about his career playing and coaching tennis, he’ll tell you he just hopes that people try the sport.
What started 160 years ago has returned in a new way. Ask hundreds of customers and visitors, and they’ll say it’s right on time.