The St. Joseph Mustangs celebrate their seventh MINK League championship. The Mustangs defeated the Sedalia Bombers for the title.
—Nick Engram photo

Eight Missouri and Iowa communities embrace their MINK League teams.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of Missouri Life magazine.

Two outs, two strikes, ninth inning. Down by a run or two … or more, with the season on the line.

It’s a nail-biting, quintessential baseball scenario—a conundrum that faced the St. Joseph Mustangs on consecutive nights last summer in the Missouri Iowa Nebraska Kansas (MINK) summer collegiate baseball league playoffs and championship series. What the Mustangs pulled off was, well, as the saying goes in baseball: “Watch long enough and you might see something that’s never happened.”

The frenzy culminated in what Mustangs first baseman Sean O’Malley described as “the best 24 hours I’ve had in my life.”

What led up to the spectacular crescendo?

Mustangs fans—indeed, fans and businesses throughout the towns that host MINK league teams—know their local heroes and how the teams boost local economies. Yet in many ways, the league is an unintentionally well-kept secret among Missourians unfamiliar with the Chillicothe Mudcats, Clarinda (Iowa) A’s—which once had a player named Ozzie Smith—Jefferson City Renegades, Joplin Outlaws, Nevada (Missouri) Griffons, Sedalia Bombers, St. Joseph Mustangs, and Des Moines Peak Prospects.

On the heels of a season halted by the COVID pandemic, the 2021 MINK League season was especially important as a comeback year, as the teams returned to action, staged promotions to entertain fans, and put some ready-for-prime-time, pro-level skills on display.

“I never get tired of talking MINK League baseball.”
—Ron Rodriguez, MINK League commissioner

The MINK summer collegiate baseball league has six teams in Missouri and two in Iowa, taking care of the M and I in the league name. League Commissioner Ron Rodriguez is hopeful that, soon, the latter part of the league name, N and K, will again represent teams from Nebraska and Kansas, with players eager to hone their skills and catch the attention of pro scouts. It’s been decades since Nebraska had a team. Kansas would have been back a few years ago and possibly as recently as 2020 but for COVID. There was only one Missouri team— Maryville—when the league began in 1910 with a six team charter that included Nebraska teams Auburn and Falls City; Iowa teams Clarinda and Shenandoah; and Nebraska City, Kansas.

MINK League athletes aren’t paid, which protects their collegiate eligibility through the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Teams are operated much like professional minor league clubs, generating revenue via ticket sales, sponsorships, and other means to offset the costs of transportation, meals, overnight lodging, and other expenses. Up to forty-five games are compressed into the June-through-July season. There are plenty of other similarities to the minor league game—grinding through a relentless schedule, playing with wooden bats, experiencing road trips, and playing in front of fans in stadiums and on fields that have their own unique histories.


“I never get tired of talking MINK League baseball,” Ron says. He’s also eager to list the virtues of each team’s home community and the benefits teams provide their fans and communities. The Jefferson City Renegades, for instance, stage fundraisers for Special Olympics Missouri. The St. Joseph Mustangs have wellness and reading initiatives for children in their community, and local Chambers of Commerce often have joint initiatives with teams. The teams also bring unused facilities back to life in the summer, and in some cases, restore and invest in their home fields as another boost to communities.

The Carroll (Iowa) Merchants were admitted to the league in November and will begin play in 2022. The baseball facility there dates to the 1940s and has been dormant for a few years. The league Carroll was previously in folded during the pandemic.

“We were lucky to get them,” Ron says.

Team rosters typically turn over every three or four years, although some teams start fresh every year, a result of players graduating from college, advancing to the pro level, or work-related factors, he says.

“It’s a great experience for fans,” says Jud Kindle, Sedalia Bombers head coach and baseball coach at State Fair Community College. “In the towns we’re in, you don’t see a lot of guys running around who are big leaguers.”

Fifty-seven Bombers have been drafted into professional baseball. Among the most recent notables are Luke Voit, the slugging star first baseman for the Bronx Bombers—the New York Yankees—and Tampa Bay reliever Peter Fairbanks.


The 2021 comeback season was bittersweet for one team. The Nevada Griffons were almost three weeks into the summer campaign when COVID struck the team, bringing their season to an end.

The rest of the league continued writing a back-to-normal story with games, $5 general admission tickets, $2 beer, $1 hot dogs, long bus rides, players connecting with host families, autograph signings, close plays at the plate, home runs into parking lots (or into the cornfield in Clarinda), and fans cheering.

The Mustangs, the seven-time MINK League champions— in just twelve seasons of play—capped the comeback year with not one, not two, but three straight come-from-behind victories, each more stunning and spectacular than the last.

The Mustangs’ first comeback win came on July 26 on their home field, legendary Phil Welch Stadium, where Mickey Mantle and other all-time Major League greats played. Facing the Chillicothe Mudcats in the north division wildcard game, on a quest for a date with the mighty Clarinda A’s, the Mustangs trailed 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh when they rallied to tie the score. Two more runs in the bottom of the eighth, with Sean O’Malley scoring the go-ahead run, led to a 5-3 win and the first of many wild celebrations to come.

A nifty flyout-to-first-base double play, with left fielder Brady Holden catching a fly ball then firing a laser to first to double-off the runner, ended the contest. Brady, who is studying physical education at Missouri Western State University, was one of nearly a dozen hometown St. Joseph players on the team, and he’s the catalyst that coach Jimmy Coy calls “the heart and soul of the team.”

MINK League players come from nearby two- and four-year colleges, as well as colleges from across the country. The 2021 rosters also had players from Japan and Australia. Teams solicit host families to provide one or two meals a day and a place to stay during the season.


Most of the local talent, including Brady, will be back for the 2022 season.

“St. Joe fan support, it’s crazy,” Brady says. “I grew up going to those games, and getting a chance to play in front of them—it’s a whole different ballgame.” Fans are closer to the field and even on the field for pre-game and mid-game contests.

The Mustangs finished the season with an average attendance of 2,246. According to rankings, that was number nine nationally among summer collegiate league baseball teams. That makes it eight consecutive sea- sons of top ten attendance rankings.

“There’s a lot of kids, local people who really look up to the Mustangs,” he adds. “I’ve signed hundreds of autographs. It’s a really cool feeling.”

Whether that cool feeling will extend to the professional ranks remains to be seen.

“My plan has always been to play as long as I can,” Brady says. “I’m going to enjoy every second of it. If the opportunity [to play professionally] arises, that would be great. If it doesn’t, well, everything happens for a reason.”

Brady Holden, the homegrown catalyst of the St. Joseph Mustangs, follows the flight of the ball after a mighty swing.
—Nick Ingram photo


With the wild card game win, the 22-20 Mustangs went up against 37-5 Clarinda, which started the season 2-3. The A’s, the oldest team in the league, entered its sixty-seventh year in 2021. They had already beaten the Mustangs nine times during the season. The A’s promptly put up seven runs in the first inning, confidently heading for a rout and a trip to the best-of-three championship final against Sedalia.

But Clarinda was finished scoring, and the Mustangs wait- ed seven innings to get in gear, scoring two in the seventh and three in the eighth. Then with two outs, no runners on, and down to their last strike, the Mustangs pushed across three more runs in the top of the ninth to stun the A’s. Three Clarinda errors, five Mustangs hit-by-pitch, and seven un- earned runs told the story as the Mustangs held on for the 8-7 win, setting the stage for a championship series trip to Sedalia.

Mustangs pitcher Mack Stephenson empties a water cooler on first baseman Sean O’Malley after a mid-season win against the Sedalia Bombers.
—Nick Ingram photo

Then there was more two-out, two-strikes, down-by-five-runs, ninth-inning magic.

It was another 8-7 victory, this time with six runs in the ninth. The back-to-back, down-to-their-last-strike victories prompted Sean O’Malley to tell reporters, “This was the best twenty-four hours I’ve had in my life.”

The championship-clinching contest against Sedalia saved the dramatics for the post-game celebration as St. Joe took the title with a 12-2 blowout win against Sedalia the following night on the Mustangs’ home field.


MINK League players come from nearby two- and four-year colleges, as well as colleges from across the country. The 2021 rosters also had players from Japan and Australia. Teams solicit host families to provide one or two meals a day and a place to stay during the season. Not surprisingly, players sometimes become like part of the family. Ron says he’s seen that happen often.

For the Mustangs, with nearly a dozen homegrown players on the 2021 roster, the community connections were even deeper. Jimmy Coy is a St. Joseph native and graduated from St. Joseph Benton High School, where he is the varsity base- ball coach and in-school suspension teacher. He played for the Mustangs when they started in 2009, and again in 2010. He became the assistant coach in 2014 and was promoted to head coach in 2017. He grew up watching the team’s predecessors, the now defunct Saints, followed by an unsuccessful independent league team that also went by the wayside.

The Mustangs, however, have been “a dynamite success,” Jimmy says. “It’s a beautiful relationship the city has with the St. Joe Mustangs.”

For the players, there’s no comparable summer experience. Jimmy says the teams travel to “hidden gems all over Missouri and Iowa,” places with rich histories, legendary ball- fields where baseball icons have played, and sights ingrained into the collective psyches of baseball players and fans. For instance, Clarinda’s stadium has corn growing tall just be- yond the outfield fence.

“It’s kind of right out of Field of Dreams,” Jimmy says.


Despite the ethereal, cinematic sentiment, the stark reality is that the MINK League and its teams must make money to pay the expenses of travel, meals, and overall operations. Mustangs General Manager Ky Turner, who is also the league president and new team owner, says 2021 dealt with “the ramifications of the worldwide pandemic with supply chain issues, losing multiple weekend nights due to weather,” (weekends are often the best attended nights), and other issues. Ky cites “unwavering community support,” not just in St. Joseph but across the league, for helping teams continue.

The Bombers needed the Sedalia business community and citizens to go a step further. The team launched a fundraiser to buy a bus when the season end- ed. A local businessman who died had been contributing the $30,000 expense for the service.

“We’ve got a ton of community support.”
Sedalia Bombers manager Jud Kindle

“When we lost our bus sponsor, it was a real struggle to try to pick that up,” coach Jud Kindle says. He set a February 1 deadline for raising the money to buy the bus, which would give him and the team time to recruit and solidify the roster for the 2022 season.

“We’re getting close,” Jud said in mid-January, and management was confident enough to move forward with the purchase. “We’ve got a ton of community support.”

The 2022 MINK League season gets started Memorial Day weekend and will wrap up by the first of August. The 2022 all-star game will be played in Clarinda as the A’s enter their sixty-eighth season. The Chillicothe Mudcats are set to host the 2023 all-star game. (The Jefferson City Renegades hosted the 2021 contest.)

Ron is looking forward to welcoming Carroll, Iowa’s new team, and he’s hopeful that the league can eventually expand to twelve or fourteen teams. A new team in Chanute, Kansas, was prepping to join the league in 2020 before COVID struck and derailed those plans. “We’re not sure whether that team will come back,” he says. He fields frequent inquiries from organizations seeking league membership.

“There’s a chance we could put another one in mid- Missouri,” he says, noting that Kirksville is among potential new teams. He’s especially eager to get N and K teams. “We do not have a presence in Kansas or Nebraska,” he adds. “We would love to be back in there to make it a true MINK League.”



: June Shaffer Memorial Park
Notable: Catcher Caleb Joseph, now with the Baltimore Orioles; Brandon Dulin, Kansas City Royals.
Team started: 2002
MINK titles: 2009

Stadium: Clarinda Municipal Stadium-Eberly Field
NotableAn impressive lineup of 39 Major League alumni is a testament to Clarinda’s longevity and quality of play. The long list includes Ozzie Smith, Bud Black, Andy Benes, Chuck Knoblauch, and Daniel Descalso.
Team started: 1954
MINK titles: 1996, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2013

: Vivion Field, Washington Park
NotableSatchel Paige and Ernie Banks, among other Negro League and Major League legends, reportedly played on Vivion Field.
Team started: 2017
MINK titlesnone

: Lyons Stadium
NotableThe Griffons had to cancel their 2021 season on June 16 as a result of COVID.
Team started1985
MINK titles2011, 2013, 2015

: Liberty Park Stadium
NotableLuke Voit (St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees), Peter Fairbanks (Tampa Bay Rays). The Bombers have had 47 players drafted by Major League clubs.
Team started2009
MINK titles2010, 2016, 2018

: Phil Welch Stadium
Notable2021 league champion. Mickey Mantle and other legendary and Hall of Fame big leaguers have played at Phil Welch Stadium.
Team started: 2009
MINK titles2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2019, 2021

: Joe Becker Stadium
Team started2009
MINK titlesNone

Home field
Memorial Park, Boone, Iowa
Team started2020
MINK titlesNone

Home field:
 Merchants Park
NotableNew to the league in 2022. Previously played in the Pioneer Collegiate Baseball League. Their 2020 season was canceled, and the Merchants did not play in 2021.
Team started: Joined the MINK League in 2022. Started playing in the Pioneer League in 2015.
MINK league titles: None