Joplin Outlaws under new ownership, join new league

Mar. 7—The Joplin Outlaws, a collegiate summer baseball team, has been sold to a group of investors that includes National Sports Services.

The Outlaws will exit the MINK League and become part of the new Mid America League, made up of six teams from Arkansas, Missouri and Texas. The league was formed by both NSS and Venture Sports Group and includes teams from Fort Smith, Arkansas; Texarkana in Texas and Arkansas; and Whiteoak/Longview, Sherman and Abilene in Texas.

Mark Rains, who has led the Outlaws since it began in 2009, addressed the sale of the team in a statement Thursday:

"My recent health issues caused us to consider selling the team, but we're confident that Matt (Perry, president of National Sports Services) and his group will be a positive influence in growing the Outlaws influence in the community. We take great pride in the efforts of our entire group in ensuring there was summer baseball in Joplin all these years. This is an exciting yet emotional time as we pass the Outlaws torch to new owners."

The Outlaws had been owned by a nonprofit and will transition to a for-profit organization.

Dissolution of that nonprofit status resulted in a number of local organizations, including the Joplin Miracle League, the Joplin Softball Little League, the Hope 4 You Breast Cancer Foundation, the Heartland K-9 Association and Joplin Little League, all receiving $5,000 donations from proceeds of the sale.

Sharon Clark, president of the board for Hope 4 You, said: "It means everything. Here he (Rains) is giving up his prized Outlaws and he still thought of all these organizations to give to. Five thousand dollars will pay for a lot of mammograms."

Clark and her husband, Gary, who has since died, were fans of the Outlaws.

"It was the one sport that my husband and I both really loved," Clark said through tears. "They have supported me along the way in my grief, and it has been everything to see these young college kids out there playing for the love of the game."

Clark said she is grateful to Rains and the Outlaws for their support of charitable causes and plans to continue coming to games after the team is under the new ownership.

"Everyone deserves a chance, and I wish them nothing but the best. If they continue the Outlaws tradition, they are going to grow and I will be there helping them all I can," Clark said.

Former Outlaws Vice President Larry Warren thanked the many host families and fans of the Outlaws and urged their continued support of the team.

"We hope they continue to support the new group, as we will. We will be out there at the ballgames because we all love baseball, and that's what it is all about."

68-game schedule

Perry said play will begin in late May and continue through August with an extended 68-game schedule that will include 34 home dates.

"We're really excited to acquire the Outlaws franchise and build on the wonderful base established by the Outlaws' board of trustees," Perry said in a statement. "For years, they've provided opportunities for college players to enhance their skills while providing great benefits to the community. We look forward to taking their efforts to the next level and are currently pursuing the addition of local partners to further solidify our tie to the region."

Perry also said he plans to continue the public outreach that Rains started with the community.

"The Joplin Outlaws have been a great steward of baseball and have done wonderful things in the community throughout their existence," Perry said in a news conference Thursday. "We want to build on what they have created here in Joplin and in the region."

According to NSS, Perry has more than 35 years of experience owning and operating sports franchises, including the Midland Angels, a Los Angeles Angels Double A affiliate; the Columbia Mets, a New York Mets Single A affiliate; and the Fayetteville Generals, a Detroit Tigers Single A affiliate. Perry also is a partner and manager for four summer collegiate baseball ventures — the Johnstown Millrats and the Lafayette Aviators of the Prospect League and the Spartanburgers and the Wilmington Sharks of the Coastal Plain League.

The staff of the new Outlaws includes former Pittsburg State University football payer Nick Weisenborn, who will serve as general manager. Weisenborn has worked in collegiate sports administration at the University of Oklahoma, the University of Tulsa, Tulane and Oklahoma Baptist University. He also served as a sales executive for the Kansas City Royals.

Weisenborn's father, Kevin Weisenborn, of St. Louis, along with Ken Clark, a Northwest Arkansas resident, are minority investors.

Jeff Bader, a Joplin-area native, will serve as assistant general manager of sales.

"We strive to do all we can to enhance the experience at the ballpark," Perry said of his group. "We want to drive attendance, expand the draw of the team regionally and become one of the top summer collegiate programs in the U.S."

Perry also said his group has signed a five-year lease with two five-year options to play at Joe Becker Stadium. He did not disclose the cost of that lease but said it was a "substantial investment."

"That's 15 years," Perry said. "So we are here for the long term. It's important to us to send that message that we are in this for the long haul."

Mike Greninger, of the Parkwood Tournament Co., is the current leaseholder of the stadium through the city of Joplin, and Perry said he is negotiating with Greninger on details of game availability, concessions and more.

Perry said the team's schedule will be released soon.