SIKESTON -- The Bombers have arrived.
The Bootheel Bombers, a Sikeston-based baseball team in a start-up independent league, opens the season Thursday at V.F.W. Memorial Stadium.
The Bombers represent the culmination of a long-rumored minor-league franchise coming to Sikeston. However, in the league''s current setup, there is no minor-league affiliation. It''s an independent collegiate league consisting of four teams -- the Bombers, the Farmington Firebirds, the Fulton (Ky.) Railroaders, and the Union City (Tenn.) Greyhounds). The teams are stocked with uncompensated college ballplayers.
Bombers'' general manager Bill Powers, a local radio voice and executive, explained the origin of the league and, ultimately, the Sikeston team.
"I''ve been working on this for about four years," said Powers. "Some gentlemen who had connections with the (then-defunct) Kitty League decided to get together about four years ago and bring the league back. I was contacted by league president Randy Morgan, who spearheaded the idea, and asked to do what I could to help bring a team into the league.
"Last year, it looked like it was going to happen. Everything was looking good, but, due to things beyond our control, it wasn''t able to take place. This year, things were looking great and just kept progressing and here we are…
ready to go on Thursday."
"Kitty" was the nickname for the K.I.T. League, a Class D minor league which existed between 1903 and 1955.
K.I.T. was simply an acronym for the states represented in the league -- Kentucky, Illinois and Tennessee. The league fielded teams in Paducah, Hopkinsville, Henderson and Owensboro in Kentucky, Clarksville and Jackson in Tennessee, and Cairo in Illinois. For a short period in the latter years of the league, Vincennes, Ind., also had a team.
The organizers of the rebirth of the Kitty League have aspirations to expand its present four-team format.
Said Powers, "This year, we''re starting out with four teams and we''re hoping, in the next couple of years, that will grow to eight or 10 teams. We''re serious about what is going to be taking place here. The hope is that this thing takes off and, in a couple of years we would have a new ballpark and be able to house that minor league team."
For that to happen, Powers stated that it would be imperative that the area have another ballpark.
"There''s no way that we could play enough dates to have a true minor league team with the present arrangement," he said.
Added Powers, "Public reaction has been great. People are very excited about a team in Sikeston and the city has been wonderful. Jiggs Moore (Sikeston parks and recreation director) and the city have done whatever they could to help out."
The Bombers are managed by Lambuth University assistant Matt Marshall, in his fifth year at the Jackson, Tenn.-based NAIA school.
"I''m real excited," he said. "Rarely do you get an opportunity to come into something on the ground floor that''s just starting. I''d really like to help this league grow."
The Bombers currently have a roster of 14 players. League guidelines mandate that players be college eligible with an age maximum of 26.
"I have a pretty good mix of guys," said Marshall. "A large group from a junior college in Mississippi, two players from Venezuela, a kid from Colorado Springs, Colo., one from Florida and one from Jackson, Tenn. We''re quite a diverse group.
"I''m real happy with the 14 I''ve got. I believe it''s a very strong group, but I''ll be looking to add a few more. We''re allowed to have a maximum of 20 players and I''d like to have about 17 or 18."
The attraction to the league for college players is, obviously, another opportunity to showcase their talents.
"It gives the players a chance to be in a wood-bat league, as opposed to aluminum bats, and gives the scouts a chance to see these players in action in a wood-bat league," said Powers.
The Bombers'' schedule consists of 40 games, 20 at home -- all nine-inning single games against league opponents -- throughout the months of June and July with playoffs set for the second week in August.
"We''ll be basically playing every day," said Marshall. "We''ll be quite busy with 40 games in two months."
Admission for home games, all at V.F.W. Stadium with 7 p.m. start times, will be $5 for the first-base and third-base bleachers, $7 for behind-home plate seats.
For the opener, any member of the 1140th Combat Engineer Battalion, their spouses or significant others, will be admitted free.
Said Powers, of this venture, "It''s one of those things where they (the public) will have to see it to really understand fully what we''re doing here."