By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
The St. Joseph Mustangs are set to play ball again in 2023, taking the field as the hottest team in the MINK League.
St. Joseph made history last summer, becoming the first franchise in league history to win three consecutive titles. The Mustangs capped it off with an 11-1 victory over the Joplin Outlaws back on July 30th.
The Mustangs have now won eight MINK League championships since their inception in 2009. Team owner and general manager Ky Turner says the championships are a blast and that remains the goal each year, but to him, a successful summer comes down to more than that.
"All of these guys are excited to play for St. Joseph," Turner told KFEQ Radio. "It means a lot nationally - the St. Joe Mustangs. When you come here, you start to feel it again."
"Once you get here, you meet the people you're playing for, the community, you see the support in the crowd. It's just something that excites everyone. To get it going again this year, you get a little extra pep in your step and Opening Day is like a holiday around here."
The Mustangs open their 14th season of play at historic Phil Welch Stadium Wednesday when they welcome in the Baldwin City Blues - a Kansas team from the Mid-Plains League. First pitch is set for 7 p.m.
It's the first of 49 regular season games for the Mustangs - 26 of those are at home. St. Joseph has ranked in the top 12 nationally in collegiate summer baseball attendance for nine years in a row.
Turner says that's no coincidence, and it takes a literal army to make the home game experience fun, friendly and memorable.
"That's why it's really hard when someone calls me and says, 'I want to do what you're doing in St. Joseph,'" Turner said. "And I just say, 'Good luck!' St. Joseph is a special place and it takes a lot of different people to make that happen."
This marks Turner's second season as team owner and his eighth as GM. He's been with the team in some capacity since the inaugural 2009 season.
While his creativity and passion have helped the entire organization grow and evolve through the years, Turner says there's one area in particular he loves to focus on as the man in charge.
"I never want to get too far away from the fun family side," Turner said. "Because, that's truly my baby and I want to make sure we stay true to who we are."
As for the team itself, the roster features 17 players who are back from the 2022 squad. Local high schools like Benton, Lafayette, Bishop LeBlond, Platte County, Kearney and Savannah all have alums playing for the Mustangs this summer.
One of those locals is a first-time Mustang - pitcher and Lafayette graduate Jayden Little, who has spent the last two years at nearby Highland Community College.
An all-state pitcher for the Irish in 2021, Little has been sidelined for about the last year-and-a-half with Tommy John surgery. But this summer, Little says he's feeling like his old self and is ready to show it.
"It's been a long time," he said. "It's nice to come back and play in front of the home fans for sure. I always came here as a kid, and needed the autographs from the players. Definitely willing to do that for the little kids now."
Another Lafayette alum on the team is utility player Ike Book, who spent this past season at Washburn after two years at Lincoln Trail Community College in Illinois.
Book was named second-team all-MIAA this past spring after batting .394 - the fourth best average in the league. This after dealing with a whole slew of injuries these last few years.
"Both my quads, I had a PCL and last fall, I had a fractured patella," said Book, a third-year Mustang who was limited last summer with injury. "I've definitely been through the ringer with those injuries. But, luckily, this spring, I didn't have anything crazy. Hopefully, we can stay healthy and stay on that track."
Like any other local baseball fanatic, Book has his own childhood memories of coming to Phil Welch. Now a veteran player for the Mustangs, he hopes to spend another summer giving back to a fanbase that's always cheered him on.
"Getting to watch the Mustangs and some of the other local teams growing up, this is kind of something you dream about," Book said. "You kind of think about how the kids here are now, and you can put yourself in their shoes. It's definitely a dream, and we're lucky enough to be playing."
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