Stadium puts Butte boys back in the big time

Stadium puts Butte boys back in the big time

One of the saddest moments of my sporting life was the day I saw the baseball stands at Alumni Coliseum were gone.

I walked down and stared at the cement outline of the grandstands, and memories came rushing back so quickly that I had to brush them away like a visitor of the Field of Dreams.

Right there was where the rowdy fans lined up for a box full of beers on Dollar Beer Night. Over there is where I lost a wrestling match for a foul ball with my best friend.

And right over there was where they sold the French fries in the tiny plastic baseball helmets. They had every Major League team, and if I got the Red Sox instead of the Mariners, the fries somehow tasted better.

I could taste those fries as I starred at the ghostly skeleton of the stadium.

Whether I was a young boy begging my parents for something from the souvenir stand or the guy with a beer heckling the opposing third baseman, nights at Alumni Coliseum were some of the best of summer.

I feel truly sorry for those Butte Rats who grew up after the Copper Kings left town for good following the 2000 season.

It was only rookie league ball, but sure felt like the Major Leagues when we cheered on Cecil Fielder in 1982. Or Julio Franco in 1978. Or Francisco Rodriguez in 1999.

The Butte Miners and Muckers got to play ball there, too, and that had to make them feel like they were in the big time. They shared a field with the pros, and, even after the Kings left town and the stands were falling into disrepair, playing at Alumni had to be thrilling for the young baseball players.

Starting Friday night, the Butte boys will get to experience that feeling once again. On Friday night, the boys of Butte will once again be playing in the big time.

The Miners will take on the Bitterroot Bucs to officially open Miners Field at 3 Legends Stadium.

While the name of the stadium might have been the focus of a short controversy because some on the Butte-Silver Bow Council of Commissioners struggled with pulling the trigger on a decision, there is no debating that this new ballpark is going to be one of the biggest hits in the Mining City since Fielder slugged those 20 home runs.

In an instant, the Miners and younger Butte Muckers will be going from the worst American Legion baseball field in the state (or maybe country) to arguably the best. A Butte legion teams will be playing under the home lights for the first time since 2012, and we all know stars shine brightest at night.

While the team will make the short move from their old field at Copper Mountain Park, there really isn’t anything instant or short about it. This move is the product a lot of hard and relentless work of a lot of people.

Of course, the three men the stadium is named in honor of — Judge Jack Whelan, Jim “Fonz” Hanley and Jack Cavanaugh — were instrumental in keeping the Legion program running for decades.

The time those men (and their wives) put in each and every season — and not just the time at the games when people were noticing — is nothing short of remarkable.

Of course, we’ve seen way more than three men contribute to Legion baseball in Butte, and the program is well aware of that. A wall of honor will eventually pay tribute to other “legends” of American Legion baseball.

One guy who should have a plaque in his honor one day is, without question, Jeff LeProwse.

LeProwse, himself a former Butte Miner, has been the coach of the Miners for the last six seasons. Without him, Legion baseball in Butte very well would have gone away.

Actually, I’m positive it would have.

The Miners had the world stacked against them and no league to play in after their number plummeted. Yet “Frenchie” and his players soldiered on — even when entire Legion program finished the 2012 season with just 11 players.

The numbers fell off drastically when the program learned 2012 would be the last at Montana Tech because the Orediggers were installing their artificial playing surface.

The players and coaches from 2012 through 2016 should forever be held as heroes in the Butte sports world. Without them and their love of the game, we wouldn’t have our new Field of Dreams.

Perhaps the No. 5 should be retired in honor of the five years’ worth of Butte Legion teams who endured so much. Maybe they could fly the No. 5 flag like the No. 37 at Naranche Stadium.

The list of those who deserve kudos for their work is long. It includes Legion officials Mike Semmens and Mark Hislop. It includes J.P. Gallagher, Butte’s parks and recreation director, and his predecessor E. Jay Ellington.

The Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation deserves our praise for donating a cool million bucks to the $2.3 million project. NorthWestern Energy deserves some props, as well, for its generosity in helping turn on the lights.

And, of course, my good buddy Matt Vincent should get some serious pats on the back, too. He is no longer the chief executive of Butte-Silver Bow, but Vinny’s leadership helped make this project — among many others that our making our town a better place to live — possible in the first place.

If you haven’t seen the field yet, you have to check it out. It is so beautiful that you will almost expect to see “Shoeless” Joe Jackson walk out of the fence in centerfield.

If you’re a fan of baseball and Butte kids like I am, you’ll probably cry when you first see it. I sure did.

Even if you aren’t a baseball fan, you should go to the first game on Friday. Go see the result of some true Mining City perseverance.

Before the game, Butte-Silver Bow will hold a ribbon cutting at 4:30, and a pasty dinner and a ceremony honoring the Judge, Fonz and Cav will take place at 5.

At 6:20, the American Legion color guard will present the colors for the national anthem. At 6:25, a member of the Washington Foundation will throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

At 6:30, the first pitch that counts will be thrown by a Butte Miner, and the boys of Butte will officially be playing in the big time again.

Cost of the pasty dinner is $25, and it is limited to 100 people. I have not had the chance to look at the menu, and it might be too late to make a recommendation.

But it really would be a nice touch if they served French fries in a tiny batting helmet as a side dish.

— Bill Foley, who will throw a fit if his fries don’t come in a Red Sox hat, writes a column that appears Tuesday on ButteSports.com. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.

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