Friday, June 30, 2017

Helena Brewers 7 at Great Falls Voyagers 4 (12, Pioneer League) - June 29, 2017

Great Falls is just 90 miles northeast of Helena, an easy and scenic drive along I-15. The town is named for a series of waterfalls along the Missouri River, one of which (Black Eagle Falls) is right next to its historic ballpark, Centene Stadium. The picture below is of a dam at these falls, taken from the other side of the river.

Opened in 1940 as Legion Park, a named it retained until 2007 when Centene bought the naming rights, the ballpark underwent a renovation around 2005 that combines old and new quite well.

Located northeast of downtown, you can take River Road to get here, and park in any of a number of free lots. Tickets are $8 for general admission, which comprises the covered benches above the walkway. Pay a couple of dollars more to sit closer in the box seats.

This is the old part of the stadium; it is quite interesting in that the concourse is actually underneath the seating bowl, more like in an arena than a ballpark. When you walk in the main gate, turn right to enter the concourse, or go up the stairs to the walkway in the seating bowl.

Down the left field line is where the newer parts of the venue can be found. You can kind of make them out in the picture below, with the building with the green roof the dividing line.

There are a number of portable concession stands down here offering mini donuts, pizza, and craft beer, as well as a picnic area, and some more seats. It was Thirsty Thursday, which means 12-oz domestics go for $2 or 20-oz craft for $6. At least two local breweries were represented here: Mighty Mo (to the right below) and The Front, which is in a fixed stand at the end of the concourse.

Inside the building to the left above, you will see a sign for the Logan Hurlbert Hall of Fame Room, and you should follow it up a short set of stairs to a landing, where pennants from past championships are hanging on the walls.

Next to this is the room itself, named after the long-time GM, which has an amazingly diverse and comprehensive collection of memorabilia from all eras of minor league baseball in Great Falls. That's the 2008 Pioneer League trophy below.

The collection is maintained by Jim Eakland, a local baseball historian, who is in the room and happy to answer any questions. While I was there, a player who had spent a bit of time in Great Falls in 1973 dropped in and it was interesting to hear the conversation about so many players from 44 years ago. Every player on every team from 1969 is listed, and every team picture is on display as well. Below is one example of a display case containing a variety of items from past years. Do not skip this if you visit Centene Stadium, it is truly impressive.

After you return outside, walk further down the left field line where GA benches without a net in front of them, can be found. From here, you can see the original seating bowl, topped by the press box.

The Voyagers bullpen is here as well; unlike Helena it is on the same side of the field as their dugout.

The Voyagers are not named for Lewis and Clark, who had to portage around those five waterfalls during their expedition back in 1806, but for a UFO sighting in 1950. Back then, the team was known as the Great Falls Electrics (the town is nicknamed The Electric City for its dams) and GM Nick Mariana filmed two unidentified flying objects that became a national sensation. Their mascot is Orbit, an alien with a green baseball head, who was tired after the game went to extra innings.

Overall, Centene Stadium is another wonderful minor league venue. It doesn't have the backdrop of Orem and Ogden, but the history here is superbly maintained and really makes this a special place to visit for baseball buffs. Make sure to include this park on any summer tour of Montana.

The Game

The Brewers sent Carlos Herrera to the mound while Great Falls (White Sox) countered with Chris Comito (15th round in 2015, below). Both pitchers were sharp early, especially Herrera who did not yield a hit through three.

In the Voyagers fourth, Tyler Frost (15th, 2017) led off with a triple and scored on a single by Anthony Villa (19th, 2016), but that was the only blemish for Herrera, who struck out 8 in five innings. With Comito still on the hill in the 6th, a single, walk, and wild pitch had runners on second and third with Zach Clark (19th, 2016, 5 spots in front of Villa) at the plate. Clark singled home both runners, ending Comito's evening as Sean Renzi (32nd, 2016) came in. Renzi immediately threw wild on a pickoff and Clark scampered all the way around to score. Comito was saved from the loss after Villa hit a sac fly in the bottom half of the 6th, and Felix Mercedes launched a solo shot in the 7th to tie the game at 3.

Each team had a solo dinger in the 8th with Jay Feliciano going long for Helena while Justin Yurchak (12th, 2017) replied for Great Falls. After a scoreless 9th we went to extra innings. In the top of the 12th, Feliciano and Clark singled with one out, and then Franly Mallen grounded to short. The throw to second for the force was way off and Feliciano scored. With two out, Jose Gomez (39th, 2016) grounded to first, but the ball bounced under Yurchak's glove and both Clark and Mallen scored on the miscue. In the bottom half, Rodrigo Benoit remained on the mound for his fourth inning of relief and struck out the side while giving up a single as Helena won 7-4.

An excellent game, by far the best of the trip in the Pioneer League. Well pitched for the most part (only 4 walks) and played with an excellent pace, with the PPM an incredible 1.9. Those 3 errors doomed the Voyagers though, as 4 of Helena's 7 runs were unearned.

Next Up

I'm in Missoula tonight for an Osprey game, check back tomorrow for a recap as always.



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