I have a confession to make. Heading into the final days of August, I was in danger of not attending a professional baseball game for the whole season. Having moved from Florida to Montana less than two weeks ago, I was already practically assured of missing out on seeing a major league game in person, and that hasn’t happened since 1995, when I lived in Mississippi.
If I was going to go to a game, the only options within driving distance were the Rookie-level Pioneer League teams. With only a week left in the season, I pretty much had to go now. Fortunately, the closest team to Bozeman — the Helena Brewers — had a home series against the Billings Mustangs (a Reds affiliate). My friend, Nic, was up for going, so on Sunday morning, we made the 97-mile journey to Kindrick Legion Field.
The Brewers’ park, with a capacity of 2,010 seats, is not only the smallest of the Pioneer League parks, it seems like it could be the best-hidden. I didn’t see any signs for the stadium, and when we finally found the street it was on, this is what we saw when we turned the corner.
Down there at the end of the street on the left…that’s the stadium. Even as we got closer, I wasn’t sure we were at the right place.
We sat right behind home plate, but as you can imagine with such a small venue, there aren’t any bad seats. With netting or fencing separating the stands from the field at virtually every point, it was not ideal for taking photos. Nonetheless, I’ll indulge you with a few.
Here’s outfielder TJ Friedl leading off for the Mustangs, en route to a strikeout.
Things got more exciting in the top of the ninth as a Michael Beltre two-out RBI double pulled the Mustangs within a run, 5-4. Taylor Trammell came to the plate with a chance to tie the game. The paid attendance was 548, but the crowd got loud, cheering and stomping their feet with Colton Cross working to put Trammell away. (To my chagrin, the PA announcer pronounced it “trah-MEL.” I really wanted him to share Alan’s and Bubba’s pronunciation.) The crowd went home happy, as Cross whiffed Trammell for the last out.
I’m disappointed I didn’t get one last chance to go to Marlins Park, but for my one ballpark experience of 2016, this was terrific. The weather was beautiful, the game had suspense and the vibe was more energetic than that of most minor league games I’ve been to.
The highlight on the field was the play of Brewers shortstop prospect Gilbert Lara. He didn’t do much at the plate, going 0 for 4, but he made a couple of spectacular plays. In addition to leaping to snare a hot liner, he scooped up a hard grounder on a short hop that I was sure was going to eat him up.
Hopefully I’ll have the chance to make the trek to Seattle or Denver for some big league action next year, or to Arizona for spring training. Either way, I know I’ll be coming back to Helena to take in some more of the Pioneer League.