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Homeopener Brings the Best Out of the Mustangs

More than 3,000 fans flooded Phil Welch Stadium Tuesday night.
(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) St. Joseph Mustangs baseball made its return to Phil Welch Stadium Tuesday night, and the boys of summer were welcomed back to the community with open arms.

An opening day record 3,145 fans packed the stands as St. Joe edged the Midwest A's 2-1.

Over half of the 2014 Mustangs roster is made up of players that are new to the organization, but the returners made sure they knew what to expect at first pitch.

"The atmosphere here...it's like nothing I've ever seen before," starting pitcher Dixon Marble said.

Returning right fielder Zac Johnson agreed.

"The atmosphere's awesome. The fans are awesome. It's a great place to be. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."

St. Joseph's won 81 league games over the last three years, the second most in the MINK League, but it's the ambiance inside Phil Welch on game day that keeps bringing players back.

"The best part of my day is when we step on the field at 6:30 and guys see people filling in the stands," sixth-year manager Matt Johnson said. "You see their eyes, you can see the excitement. You see them bouncing around ready to go."

The Mustangs drew 2,100 fans on average last season, and more than 45,000 total than the rest of the MINK combine.

"I gotta admit, the first time I pitched I was a little nervous," returning reliever Blake Kolons said. "But once you get used to it and stuff it's just real exciting."

"To be honest, I've never played in front of a thousand, two thousand fans. It's going to be something new for me, but I'm really excited about it. It's just going to bring a little extra energy to my game," starting pitcher Ryker Fox said.

After stringing back-to-back league titles together in front of big crowds, St. Joe finished seven games back of Chillicothe in 2013.

Now with a new season and a fresh start, the Mustangs are refocused on what the fans are coming to the stadium to see.

"For a couple of these guys it's their last go-around," Matt Johnson said, "last opportunity to get signed or last opportunity they have to win a championship. That's what we're here for, to win championships."

But the journey starts with one game, and that game comes in front of the most passionate fans in the MINK.

"It's one of those things," Dixon said with a smile, "You play baseball which is the best game, and you have 4,000 people watching you. There's nothing that beats it."
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