Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Helena Brewers 5 at Billings Mustangs 4 (Pioneer League) - July 4, 2017

After a couple of days touring Idaho and Montana, including spectacular Glacier National Park, I returned to baseball with a Fourth of July visit to Billings, home of the Mustangs.

My wife has joined for this part of the trip, and I was able to convince her that nothing is more American than minor league baseball on Independence Day, so we drove a zigzag route through Montana from Conrad, arriving in Billings in time for the 4:05 first pitch.

The Mustangs play out of Dehler Park, whose naming rights were bought by a local businessman who then named the venue for his father. The park opened in 2008 with a 10-year agreement, so the naming rights are going to expire at the end of this year. You can therefore expect a new name for 2018, and once again, I'm taking donations for SportsRoadTrips Stadium.

The ballpark is located at the corner of 27th Street and 9th Avenue, just north of downtown. I walked from my hotel, but there seems to be plenty of free parking in surrounding lots or on the street. The main gate and ticket windows are at this corner as is a statue of Dave McNally (above), a Billings native who spent 13 seasons with the Orioles and finished his career with the Expos.

There is also a tribute to American Legion coach Ed Bayne (above). I always enjoy these local touches that demonstrate the importance of grassroots involvement in sports. There is also an American Legion Hall of Fame along an interior concourse wall.

Tickets here range from $11 for club box seats behind the plate to $5 for general admission, which is two sections of benches down the first base line. Field box seats are $7 and probably a better option, as those sections are a bit closer and more comfortable.

Like many stadiums at this level, there is no actual structure, just a seating bowl and a few buildings behind that house concessions and clubhouses. The space between them becomes the concourse.

Down the first base line there is a berm as well, which is popular with kids looking for a souvenir.

It is hard to tell from the photos, but there is limited cover here. The sun sets behind third base, and if this was a night game, it wouldn't be much of a problem, but for a 4:05 start, there were precious few seats in the shade. Some sections have a partial cover as you can see below, and the press box protects those seats in the top rows behind the plate, but otherwise most fans were baking in the 90-degree sunshine. Fortunately, a shaved ice stand was available to provide some relief, while hat sales at the team store were booming.

Down the left field line you can find the Bob Wilson Memorial Plaza, which has some picnic tables under tents. Wilson spent his life supporting or working for the Mustangs and was honoured with the Pioneer League trophy being named after him. This spot is great to relax before the game, though you cannot see the action from here.

In Dehler Park, you can walk around the entire venue, allowing you to take a picture from center field. That's downtown Billings in the background.

Along the way, you will pass by the kids zone, where a giant inflatable Homer, the Mustangs mascot, is available as a bouncy house.

A new addition behind the left field fence is a zip line, which costs $5 and is quite popular with kids.

The scenic aspect here are the Rimrocks, which are visible above the outfield fence. Route 3 and the Airport Road runs along the top of the rim, so if you are approaching this way, stop at one of the many overlooks to see if you can spot the ballpark below. The photo does not do the Rimrocks justice, but what do you expect from a phone camera.

Food here is fairly typical, though I did see boneless wings on the menu, a first. Craft beer is $6 for 16 ounces, a reasonable ballpark price, and there are several choices. Montana has a thriving microbrew culture, but many people still prefer Budweiser, a testament to the power of advertising. Did I mention I'm taking donations for SportsRoadTrips Stadium?

Overall, Dehler Park is yet another pretty ballyard in the Pioneer League. No doubt I would have enjoyed it more had it been a night game and a bit cooler, but the stadium delivers in all other aspects. Billings is probably not on a lot of tourist itineraries, but it really should be. The local scenery is beautiful, and the local scene is also interesting, with several bars close by. Stop by Dehler Park, which might just be named SportsRoadTrips Stadium when you visit.

The Game

The Helena Brewers were the visitors, making it the third time for me to see them on this trip. As with the game in Great Falls last week, Carlos Herrera (below) got the start for Helena, while Mac Sceroler (5th round in 2017) took the hill for Billings (Cincinnati) in his first pro start.

Sceroler was number 47, appropriate for Independence Day if you use the European dating style, but unfortunately for the home fans, fireworks resulted from his start. In one inning of work, he walked three and gave up two hits, with one of them a grand slam to Yerald Martinez. He did strike out 3 batters though, setting the tone for the game. Sceroler was replaced by Moises Nova, whose number 67 was a clear shout-out to Canada (founded in 1867). Nova pitched 5 innings, yielding just one hit.

Meanwhile, Billings, wearing some special uniforms for the holiday that you can see above, mounted a comeback. A couple of solo shots from Canadian Morgan Lofstrom (20th, 2013, no doubt impressed with the team's honouring of his home country) and Colombian-born Jeter Downs (32nd overall this year out of high school in Florida, named for some Yankee shortstop) in the third got the Mustangs on the board. In the fifth Alejo Lopez (27th, 2015) tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly; in the 7th Lopez tripled again and scored on a Lofstrom single as Billings got within one.

Parker Bean (36th, 2016) came on in the 9th to save the game for Helena and struck out Downs looking to end the game as the Brewers held on for an entertaining 5-4 win that took 2:33, short enough to keep my wife happy. Helena struck out 19 times, so many that the K-Zone count next to the batters eye, limited to 18 Ks, had to reverse the first one (above).

The Brewers managed just a single hit after the first inning, but were able to hold on as Billings fanned 15 times themselves. That's 34 strikeouts out of 54 total outs. Guess the heat got to everyone.

Next Up

I'm going to spend a couple of days touring the Yellowstone area before returning to Salt Lake City. The NBA's Summer League is there for a few days, so I'm hoping to catch a game on Thursday night. Then I'm flying to Edmonton on Friday to meet up with family, and I'll check out FC Edmonton that night. After a few days off, I'll be back in the States to complete the six remaining ballparks in the Pacific Northwest. Check back regularly for updates.



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