Butte is a ‘Stadium Town,’ too

“Butte is a AA town.”

That’s a statement I’ve heard several times since last week when the American Legion reversed its stubborn decision to not let the Butte Miners play in Class A while the program tries to rebuild.

That is also a statement that I completely agree with. Butte should be a Class AA town in Montana sports. There’s absolutely no question about it.

Butte, though, should also always be a stadium town. In baseball, that certainly isn’t the case anymore, and that is a shame.

The Butte Miners are being forced to play on a Little League field built on a poorly-designed and poorly-constructed “sports complex” that sits over our old landfill.

For basketball and football, Butte is full of great facilities. In basketball, we have the storied Butte Civic Center, the Maroon Activities Center and the Ross J. Richardson Memorial Gymnasium. For football, we’re blessed with the refurbished Naranche Stadium, Alumni Coliseum and the silly-named Bulldog Memorial Stadium.

For baseball, we literally have a dump.

As far as Butte baseball goes, the Butte kids are paying for the sins of their fathers.

We should all feel shame that we put our children in such a circumstance. Just like is the case with an outdoor swimming pool, Butte is left envying towns not even half our size.

The Butte Copper Kings left town after the 2000 season, and our city leaders laughed at the suggestion of building a baseball stadium to keep a minor league team like the President of the United States laughed at Dr. Evil’s $100 billion request.

They didn’t seem to realize that the community and its children would benefit much more than the wealthy owners of the minor league baseball team. Plus, now the price tag for the same stadium is probably ten times what it would have been back then.

So we sat back and let baseball slowly deteriorate while pointing fingers at greedy owners, a college trying to keep up with its growing campus and a football coach whose job title does not include “community enrichment.”

A decade later, baseball in Butte — and to a degree across the country — is in serious trouble. For one thing, here in Butte we start the season and the careers too early.

We make our 5 year olds stand out in the April cold while parents sit in their heated cars and honk at base hits, making playing baseball rank somewhere between sitting in church and the dentist office for our kids.

Then we end the seasons way too early. When the weather is the nicest in July and August, our baseball fields are empty. You can bet that if a field is occupied, it’s full of the chosen ones we call “All-Stars,” who are often the sons of coaches.

If traveling basketball teams have shown us that the kids whose parents make the most money or kids whose parents coach don’t always make the best players, then baseball should cement that.

We revolve our youth baseball — even the schedule of the youngest kids — around the Little League World Series instead of the enjoyment of the game.

Sure, the Little League World Series might make for some good TV on ESPN, but there’s a reason that most of those kids never even sniff the major league a decade later. Those spots generally go to the kids using sticks for bats and milk-carton baseball gloves in the Dominican Republic.

Baseball at the upper level in Butte might not be dead, but it’s currently on life support, and it needs some kind of a stadium to revive it.

We need a place with a nice field, a nice scoreboard, roomy dugouts, a clubhouse, locker rooms and seats to fit a few hundred people. Oh, and we need lights. It seems really farfetched that a team can play a full Class AA schedule without a field with lights.

We’re not asking for a cathedral, just a decent place for our kids to play baseball.

As strange as it sounds, our kids don’t want to play Legion ball on an uneven field they have to share with the Senior Little League teams when other Legion players around the state have real stadiums. That’s why players started quitting last year with the news that Montana Tech’s artificial turf process was going to send the Miners to Copper Mountain Park last May.

The older players quit first, leaving Butte with only enough players to field one team for the first time in memory. The Miners were young for a Class A feeder team, and the Butte club went 0-26 in Eastern AA Conference play.

We have some good talent in our Legion program, but it is young talent that is seriously outnumbered by the competition.

Butte’s young baseball team competing in the Class AA isn’t like Butte Central and its enrollment of around 130 competing in the Class A. It’s more like making Butte High play in the Frontier Conference.

Some players I know said they wouldn’t play if they had to play in Class B, the non-conference option given as an alternate by the Committee to probably losing every Class AA game again. Those players are only lukewarm to the idea of playing in the Class A without being able to compete in the post season.

While it had to be shamed into finally making the right decision, the American Legion Baseball Committee reversed course last week and decided to let the Butte Miners play Class A this year.

That was a big step, but it doesn’t go far enough. The Miners won’t be allowed to play in the Southern District tournament if Butte has a high school enrollment of 1,000 or more (boys and girls) in grades 10 through 12 by March 31. As of last count, Butte had an enrollment of 1,041 — about five times smaller than Billings — and we shouldn’t have to ask our school administrators to send 42 bad eggs to the streets.

The goal for the Butte club is to take a step down in order to eventually take a step back up. Not letting the Miners play in the postseason will make that nearly impossible.

We need to encourage our Committee members to really do the right thing and let the Miners play in the post season no matter what. And if the committee members won’t do that, then we need to hold them to the fire to make sure they enforce the rules fairly on all teams.

Hypothetically speaking, let’s say a team like, oh, I don’t know, Gallatin Valley has a player who is enrolled in, uh, let’s say Bozeman High School. In that case, the Committee should be forced to follow the rules and make the Outlaws count Bozeman High school in enrollment. That would mean the Outlaws would have to play Class AA or, like Butte, play in Class A without the option of playing in the postseason.

As George W. Bush would say, what’s good for the goose … you can’t fool me twice.

The three-man Baseball Committee is made up of George Haegele (geosher@bresnan.net), Bill Houston (hooter@bresnan.net) and Duwayne Scott (duwayne.scott@bsd7.org).

Feel free to politely encourage them to do what is right.

While we’re at it, let’s tell the Committee to stop punishing free speech in the name of our American veterans who risked their lives to defend freedom. Tell the Committee members to reverse that spiteful decision to punish the Dillon Cubs because the members don’t like their coach.

Also, let’s make sure to tell every American Legion member we know what is going on with its baseball program.

I’m quite sure every veteran I ever met would agree that we can’t let American Legion Baseball in Montana to continue to be ruled by the iron fists of three men.

We can agree that Butte should be a Class AA town. We should also agree that Montana should not be a totalitarian state.

— Sportswriter Bill Foley, who wouldn’t have made the All-State Little League team unless his dad was the millionaire coach, writes a column that appears on ButteSports.com on Tuesdays. twitter.com/Foles74