Thursday, June 29, 2017

Great Falls Voyagers 7 at Helena Brewers 8 (Pioneer League) - June 28, 2017


After a few relaxing days in Utah, it was time to head to Montana, where four Pioneer League teams reside. The first stop for me would be Helena, home of the Brewers. The drive from Tremonton, where I had spent the night, was about 6 hours along I-15, but I prefer to avoid Interstates where possible, because state highways are usually less crowded and more scenic. On this day, however, it would be a mistake. After leaving Utah, I immediately hit one of three work zones along I-15 as Idaho has declared 2017 as the Summer of Roadwork. These were minor delays, however, and when I moved onto US-20 at Idaho Falls, I thought the worst was behind me. After about an hour, I turned north on ID-87. Things were moving well until I hit Montana and the first of two single lane work zone. First, the 10-mile stretch on MT-87 between the Montana border and US-287 was entirely under construction. Rather than figure out a way to keep traffic moving, the Montana Department of Transportation decided to single-lane the entire route. A red light greeted me just across the border, where I waited for about 10 minutes until a pilot car came to lead us. We then went over 10 miles of loose gravel at 35 MPH. There were a few construction machines along the way, but not enough to justify the wait. After hitting US-287, it took a while to pass all the trucks and RVs that were clogging up the road, but then I enjoyed a couple of hours of clear sailing. Nearing the end of the journey along MT-69, another single-lane construction zone appeared (below).



We waited for about 20 minutes for the pilot car, ridiculous for a 6-mile stretch of road. Once again, it was loose gravel, and once again, there were only a few machines in operation. I generally have no problem with roadwork as it is an obvious necessity and summer is the only time to do it in these areas, but I was quite frustrated by the end of this trip. I hope the road work is finished by next week when tourists start arriving for the 4th of July.

Anyway, despite all the delays, I got to my hotel only 40 minutes later than expected, which is nothing at all in the grand scheme of things. I was a bit rushed in getting ready for the game, but I did have enough time to enjoy a beer at Lewis and Clark Brewery (highly recommended) before walking over the stadium to see my first sporting event in Montana with the Helena Brewers.

Kindrick Legion Field

The Brewers play out of Kindrick Legion Field, and finding it without a GPS might be fun. It is located next to a city park with the light towers the only indication that a ballpark is there. The parking lot is unsigned but is just north of Lyndale Avenue on Ewing Street. Even from here, it is tough to tell that this is a baseball stadium.



Only when you turn the corner and see posters of past Brewers who have gone on to enjoy success in the bigs will you realize that this is what you have come to see.



The extremely quaint ticket window confirms that this is, in fact, a minor league stadium. Tickets are $7 for GA, and $9 or $10 for reserved but as the Brewers don't even average 1,000 per game, there is no need to overspend here.



The venue was opened in 1932 at a cost of $1,500 and now seats 2,100, mostly in orange seats in a covered grandstand. It has gone through numerous name changes and several renovations over the years, but still retains its old-time charm. Once known as Memorial Park Field, the name was changed to Kindrick Legion Field in honour of longtime Legion supporter Ace Kindrick. You can read more about the history at the Brewers website.



There are GA sections down each line, a couple of party decks, and an additional uncovered section of box seats near first base that are visible on the left below.



As you can probably tell, sitting in the back will limit your views of the field.



Thus, you might want to sit in the first couple of rows and get a clearer shot.



There are no seats without some sort of protection; even the GA seats down the line have a chain-link fence in front. The best place to get foul balls is in the parking lot (I happened upon one after the game, my fourth parking lot ball).



The sun sets behind first base, so if you are sitting on the third base side in the first few rows, you will need sunglasses or a hat for the first few innings.



One interesting feature is that the bullpens are on opposite sides of the dugout here. The visitors' bullpen (below) is next to a BBQ pit along the right field line, while the visitors' dugout is on the third base side.



The starting lineups and standings are along a concourse wall and were properly filled out.



There is a small display of photos of players who have made it to the bigs after spending time in Helena. There is even a Wikipedia page on the Brewers displayed here.



Concessions are pretty basic, but having skipped lunch due to the delays en route, I decided to have a hot dog. Both Hebrew National and Nathan's are served here, with the former a bit cheaper at $3. I ordered one and was charged $1.50. Curious as to the discrepancy in price, I was politely informed that it was "Weenie Wednesday". Amazingly, the server said this with a straight face. I've heard of Taco Tuesday and Thirsty Thursday is everywhere, but I've never seen a Weenie Wednesday! This should be a mandatory promotion in all minor league parks. I demand it! Anyway, I stifled a laugh and doubled my order, which kept me satisfied until the end of the game. It was also Wine Wednesday, but this is not nearly as amusing (unless you have several glasses).



Unfortunately, Kindrick Legion Field is not long for the minor leagues. The team, which suffers from low attendance (though what do you expect in a city of 30,000), will move to Colorado Springs in 2019, to take the place of the Sky Sox, who are moving to San Antonio (whose AA Missions are heading to Amarillo). So if you want to see affiliated ball here, you had better get a move on. I don't think you will regret it either as this is one of the last old-style stadiums still in use and with Lewis and Clark close by, you can't go wrong with the Brewery and the Brewers. Just make sure to leave early in the morning to get here.

The Game

Helena got off to a quick start against Great Falls (White Sox) Kyle Von Ruden, a free agent signing out of Hawaii making his second pro start. A couple of singles and a couple of walks were followed by a grand slam from Zach Clark (19th round in 2016) as the Brewers plated 6 in the first. Von Ruden was left in however, and was perfect for the next four innings, while his teammates mounted a comeback off Helena starter Karsen Lindell (9th, 2015), scoring two in the second and adding two more in the 4th on a homer from Tyler Frost (15th, 2017, below). The Voyagers then tied the game in the fifth on a dinger from Hanleth Otano off reliever Robbie Hitt (24th, 2017), a terrible name for a pitcher.



Great Falls grabbed the lead in the 6th off Alec Bettinger (10th, 2017), but Parker Rigler (31st, 2017) couldn't hold on, giving up two runs in the bottom half as Helena moved ahead 8-7. Bettinger was replaced by Andrew Vernon (28th, 2016, pitched 15 games with Low A Wisconsin this year) with one out in the 7th and Vernon pitched 2.2 shutout innings for the very impressive save as the Brewers held on for the win.



A pretty entertaining game that lasted only 2:52. Great Falls struck out 15 times but also managed 12 hits, double Helena's output. The Voyagers lost because they couldn't get that key hit late, leaving 12 runners on in total.

Notes

This was my 144th active minor league park, 90% of the total of 160.

I still have to see games in North Dakota, Wyoming, and Alaska to complete all 50 states, and New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island for all 10 Canadian provinces. Don't ask about the territories.

Next Up

I'm moving on to Great Falls tonight for a rematch between the Voyagers and the Brewers, so check back for a recap of that one.

Best,

Sean

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