Heartbreak turns into a dream come true for Miners, Muckers

In 1998 I had my heart ripped out by a girl in a bad way.

I was living in Boston and trying to break into the newspaper business when I decided to move back home to be with a girlfriend in Missoula. My plane landed on Saturday night, and I was a single man by the next Friday.

Without warning, I was dumped like yesterday’s trash.

I was heartbroken, embarrassed, sad and angry, and it took me a very long time to get over it.

About three years later, though, I met the true love of my life, and we have a wonderful family. Without a doubt there is nobody on Earth I would trade places with for a second.

Although it certainly could have been handled much better, getting dumped so grandly turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to me.

I started thinking about that last week when Mike Semmens, the manager of Butte’s American Legion baseball program, told me the Miners and Muckers getting evicted from their home at Alumni Coliseum a few years ago might be the best thing that could have possibly happened to the Legion baseball in Butte.

Sure, it didn’t seem like that at the time. The Miners’ and Muckers’ numbers plummeted after the teams were told they were losing the baseball field at Alumni, which is on the campus of Montana Tech, because the Orediggers were putting in a new, state-of-the-art artificial playing surface.

The field was definitely needed for the Orediggers. It benefits the school in so many ways. It should give them a recruiting edge, a safety edge and a competitive edge.

Many in the Legion baseball community, however, were left heartbroken and very angry.

Fast forward a few years, and the Miners are on the verge of having a new, permanent home at the Copper Mountain Sports Complex.

That is thanks in large part to a $1 million gift from Montana Resources and the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation. Northwestern Energy also made a generous donation, and Butte-Silver Bow stepped up to the plate in a big way for the Butte kids.

The field will be ready by August of 2016, but Miners coach Jeff LeProwse is hoping the ballpark will be far enough along that the team can get on it for games earlier that summer.

Now, instead of talking about how the Butte baseball players don’t have an adequate facility, people are talking about what to name a beautiful new ballpark that will be without question one of the best in the state.

The naming options are intriguing, and already many have mentioned the names of three men who sustained baseball in Butte for so long.

When I think of baseball in the Mining City, I don’t think first of former Butte Copper Kings Julio Franco, Cecil Fielder and Robb Nen. I think of Jack Whelan, Jack Cavanaugh and Jim Hanley. The trio, though, is better known as The Judge, Cav and Fonz.

I can only imagine the smile the late Cavanaugh would have at such wonderful news that was presented to the community early last week.

Of course, we probably won’t be able to name the stadium after The Judge or Fonz because they would kill us for the mere mention. Those three never made American Legion baseball about themselves.

Legion officials, though, are definitely planning to honor the three men of Butte’s Mount Rushmore of Baseball now that they will have a place of their own, and that should bring a smile to everybody’s heart.

So should the possibility, however remote, that the stadium could somehow bring a professional baseball team back to the Mining City.

So should knowing that the Butte Miners no longer have to share a field or ask permission as to when they can use it. So should knowing that they can host their own tournaments and bring in top-notch baseball instructors to hold camps.

So should knowing our Legion baseball players will get the chance to play on the big stage and under the lights once again.

Sure, the baseball stands at Alumni Coliseum were run down. Let’s face it, over the past 20 years or so, the place became completely worn out. It was a dump. It was a dump that held a special place in all of our hearts, but it was a dump nonetheless.

Still, the field was top notch, and so was the elevated stage it placed our players upon. The Butte Miners and Butte Muckers probably felt like big leagues playing at a ballpark that once held the distinction as being the largest (in outfield dimensions) in all of professional baseball.

How could stepping in the same batters’ box that Franco, Fielder and Mike Napoli not make a player feel big time? Or pitching from the same mound as Nen and Francisco Rodriguez? Or sharing the catchers’ box used by Rob Johnson?

Playing at the Copper Mountain field that has been the Miners’ and Muckers’ home the past couple of seasons pales in comparison to the stage Little Leaguers get to play on at Scown Field.

When the ballpark project is complete, our stars will shine bright once again, no longer relegated to the worst home field in all of Montana American Legion Baseball, if not the entire country.

Players around the state will be jealous of the facility the Butte kids will get to use every day. Gallatin Valley Outlaws might wish they were Butte Miners.

While they didn’t find overwhelming success on their new field in its first two years, the Orediggers are in good shape with the best turf in the Frontier Conference, and maybe the entire NAIA.

That field also worked out very well for the Butte Central Maroons, who hosted a championship football game on that field in November thanks to the generosity of Montana Tech.

The addition, that field at Alumni Coliseum will prove to be a quality-of-life benefit to the entire community, just like the new ballpark at Copper Mountain.

This really did turn out to be a win-win situation.

Right now the Miners and Muckers are looking forward to a future of excitement the likes the program has never seen. That excitement wouldn’t be there if they were still playing at Alumni Coliseum.

Three years ago, there was doubt as to whether the Butte American Legion baseball program could survive such a divorce.

Now, it appears the Miners and Muckers have finally come face to face with the true love of their lives.

— Bill Foley, whose star burned out long before he got to Scown Field, writes a column that appears on ButteSports.com on Tuesdays. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.