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Joplin, Mo., Once Host to Mickey Mantle, Will Have Baseball this Summer

Joplin Outlaws/Stockbyte/Thinkstock(JOPLIN, Mo.) -- The storm that tore a gash through the heart of Joplin, Mo., and left thousands homeless also took out six miles of neighborhood schools and parks. The Little League fields that stood beside Joplin High School are covered with debris, the wooden dugouts and chain link backstops blown away.

"Baseball is key in Joplin," said Mark Rains, general manager of the Joplin Outlaws, the town's nonprofit summer collegiate team. "Mickey Mantle played here."

Indeed, the "Commerce Comet," from nearby Commerce, Okla., played for the Joplin Miners before he was called up to the Major Leagues. Decades ago, Mantle even owned a Holiday Inn in Joplin.

But now, with the city's residential neighborhoods a vast wasteland of wooden shards, and the contents of countless garages scattered, the kids of Joplin have no place -- and no means -- to play catch. Yet, there will be baseball in Joplin this summer, despite the storm.

The home of the Outlaws, the Joplin Athletic Complex situated just north of historic Route 66, survived the tornado. So, somehow, did the homes of all 16 host families who provide housing to the players who come to town for two months every summer.

The team only arrived in town on Sunday, a week after the storm struck. Just a handful of those on the roster had ever set foot in Joplin before the tornado wiped out about a third of it.

This week, the 27 members of the Outlaws team lined up to get tetanus shots, before donning work gloves and digging into the debris. They cleared a tee-ball park Tuesday. Wednesday, they worked to remove the splintered wood and mangled metal that covers the Little League field.

The Outlaws' home opener on Friday will be free for all who can make it. In fact, the team is waiving the admission fee all season.

"There's no way we can charge the people of Joplin," Rains told ABC News. "There's no way. There's people that have nothing."

Rains and the fellow members of the Outlaws board of directors are going further, offering a free two-day camp for the kids of Joplin next week, waiving the normal $30 fee.

But having already decided to forgo a major source of revenue -- the $2 admission fee -- the team needed help. In an interview with ABC News Radio Monday, Rains put out the call: "We're looking for donations of gloves, balls and bats for the youth of Joplin, Mo., who have no bat or no ball or no glove. "They can come to camp and go away with the experience of being with the Outlaw players, get to know 'em, go back to their shelter or wherever they might be staying, and play catch," Rains said. "Our board has a lot of faith in God, and we know it'll happen."

By Wednesday, after the story aired, Rains told ABC News that he had received calls from listeners all across the country -- from New York to Los Angeles -- interested in lifting the spirits of Joplin's youth. "I'm afraid that when I go home tomorrow, my driveway's going to be so full of stuff, I'm going to have to get a forklift truck to move it," Rains said.

Last year's camp served 120 kids. Rains says this year he's expecting hundreds more.

Learn more about the Joplin Outlaws on their website.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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