Don’t let them tell us we can’t play baseball

Don’t let them tell us we can’t play baseball

They came out in full force in January.

As soon as the Montana High School Association announced baseball will be offered as an official high school sport in Montana next spring, the naysayers started screaming from the mountain tops.

There is no way they can play high school baseball in Montana, they say.

Blame it on the weather. Blame it on the tight budgets and a lack of facilities. You name it, and they said it was a reason why Montana cannot play high school baseball.

What makes it all so head scratching is so many people who profess to love baseball seem to be the ones who are saying nay the loudest. They are saying we cannot do in Montana something that Idaho and North Dakota somehow figured out how to do.

It is so-called baseball guys who are saying we cannot play high school baseball like they do in Alaska and Canada.

Unfortunately, the naysayers are winning.

That way it looks now, we will head into the 2022-23 school year with just two Class AA schools — Butte High and Belgrade — on board to play baseball.

Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, Missoula, Billings and Bozeman — Montana cities with thriving American Legion baseball programs — are apparently opting out.

The real sad thing is hearing people use Legion baseball as a reason not to play in high school.

“High school baseball is going to kill Legion.”

After weather concerns, that is the comment you hear the most. The comment, by the way, is coming from people who are greatly underestimating the kind of men and women who make up the American Legion.

They are people noted for not being deterred easily.

If you think Legion baseball will die easily, just look at the Butte program 10 years ago. The Butte boys had their stadium yanked out from under them, and the entire program was down to just 11 players.

So many people figured Legion baseball in the Mining City was going to go away for good, forgetting that the Legion is led by men and women who fought wars for our country.

After storming Normandy, it seems silly to think they would have surrendered to a stadium issue.

A decade later, Butte has maybe the best Legion stadium in the state. The program now has enough players for two teams, and both teams have been successful.

So, excuse us if we laugh at your suggestion that Legion will die easily.

Next year, Miners Field at 3 Legends Stadium will be the home of the Butte High Bulldogs. Butte Central will also likely play there after the Maroons finalize their baseball plans.

Butte has that beautiful facility for high school baseball because the American Legion refused to give up.

Sure, there will be players who decide not to play Legion ball after the high school season is over. They might want to devote their summer to working a job or working out for other sports during the summer.

That is completely understandable.

But for every one of those players, you will probably get two who take in the expositor to high-level baseball and decide they want to do it all summer long.

The bet here is that five years after high school baseball throws its first Montana pitch, Butte’s Legion program will have more players than ever. The Legion believes that, too. That is why the Butte program, which is one of the most affordable in the country, is backing high school baseball 100 percent.

If that is not the case and Legion numbers go down, then the overall number of boys playing baseball will still likely rise with the addition of high school ball.

That, after all, should be the overall goal of anybody who claims to be in baseball for all the right reasons.

We coach the game so more boys can play. We drag the fields so they can play. We sell tickets and hotdogs so more boys can play.

“Baseball guys” fighting the addition of high school baseball in their city are not working for the overall good of the sport. They are in it for their program and their program alone.

That is why some Legion and academy coaches are fighting high school baseball. They are putting their own financial interest or their own competitive edge over the overall good of the game.

They do not care about all the players. They care about the elite players. Financially elite, that is.

Baseball, like pretty much every sport, is turning into a rich man’s game, and that is a real shame.

Major League players used to come from the sandlot. They are now largely the products of year-round academies and parents with deep pockets.

Travel baseball, which is too much of a financial burden for many families, has been taking over for Little League, and some Legion programs cost an arm and a leg to play. The addition of high school baseball helps fight that trend by making the game available to pretty much everybody.

Some school districts have issues with facilities, and that is a legitimate concern. It should not, however, be the nonstarter so many are making it out to be.

Schools do not have to build Yankee Stadium to field high school baseball teams. They need some grass, some dirt, three bases 90 feet apart and a pitcher’s mound 60 feet, 6 inches away from home plate.

That is all they need to play. A few sets of bleachers and a couple of dugout benches would be a bonus.

Then, of course, there is the Montana weather. That will be a real obstacle for baseball.

Fields at many softball facilities around the state have been built with incredible drainage, and games can be played through rain and even a little bit of snow.

That is not an option in baseball because of the mound. You cannot play baseball with a wet mound, so it will be tougher to get in every game during springtime in the Rockies.

You can also run all the running and throwing events in a track meet in heavy rain. You cannot, however, conduct a pole vault competition in wet conditions. You might get somebody killed if you try.

Yet, all these years we have found a way to have a state high school champion — boys and girls and in all four divisions — in the pole vault. They have done that by moving some competitions inside. More recently, the MHSA started the pole vault a day early so they have an extra day to get it in at the state meet.

Obviously, we do not have access to a baseball stadium with a retractable roof. But we can adjust the schedule and look at the forecast.

They get bad weather in North Dakota, Minnesota, Alaska and Alberta. They play high school baseball in Denver.

Adding high school baseball will open many doors for many boys around the state. It will expose more players to scouts and college scholarships.

It will also leave Wyoming and South Dakota with the sad distinction of being the only states without high school baseball.

There are obstacles to overcome, and starting all those programs will not be easy. But we have a lot of highly-paid and highly-educated school administrators who are certainly capable of figuring it out.

We can play high school baseball in Montana, and every school capable should have been jumping on board from Day 1.

Anything short of that is letting the naysayers win.

— Bill Foley, who the master of dad jokes, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.



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