When Montana begins its inaugural high school baseball season next spring, only about 21 teams will be competing.
That list includes just two teams from Class AA, which are Butte High and Belgrade. With such a low turnout, all the teams will compete against each other in one class, regardless of school enrollment numbers.
It really is a shame that more schools will not compete as Montana finally joins the rest of the civilized world by adding high school baseball. We should have at least double the number of teams playing next spring.
Of course, there is one sure-fire way to get the rest of the state to play baseball in the spring of 2024.
If the Butte High Bulldogs hang a championship banner in Year 1, you better believe the rest of the state will be playing in Year 2. Missoula, Bozeman, Billings, Great Falls, Helena and Kalispell will have a team ready faster than you can say Butte envy.
Oh, but Butte only won because we chose not to play, they will say. Your championship was only won because you were playing against smaller schools.
Butte envy is what we always called it, but maybe there is more to it. My grandpa always told me Butte people were nicer than the average person, and I always believed that to be true.
But maybe he was wrong.
Is it possible that we are not nearly as charming as we think we are?
It does not seem to matter that Butte played such an instrumental role in winning a pair of world wars — by producing copper and a high number of soldiers. People just do not seem to like us.
There is not a Butte person alive who has not heard the disdain in another’s voice when they said, “Oh, you’re from Butte?”
Whenever a Butte sports team finds success, you hear the horror stories about the Mining City. You heard it in 2012 when the Bulldogs won the Class AA state football title. You heard it again in 2019, when the Bulldogs made a run to the title game.
It is only when Butte is winning when you hear the fictional talk of spitting and battery throwing at football games at Naranche Stadium. When the Bulldogs are not winning, you never hear a word.
That makes no sense. You would think that the fans would be happiest when their team is winning football games. I know I only throw batteries when my team is losing.
Just imagine the trash talking will hear and see on social media if the Bulldogs win it all the first year of high school baseball in Montana. You know it is going to be nasty, and you just know that they will try to diminish the accomplishment of our boys.
They will do it if Butte High wins the title the first season of girls’ flag football, too.
To get a sneak preview of what could be in store, just look at the comments about the Butte Miners winning the Class A state American Legion baseball crown.
A lot of sarcastic “congratulations” came from people claiming that Butte is beating up on teams half its size. You would think the Miners were playing teams that were half their age, too.
We also were bombarded with questions asking why the Butte Miners are in the Class A and not the Class AA. It was as if they did not notice that this is Butte’s fourth year in the lower level.
Yes, it is true that the Miners moved down to Class A after playing in Class AA for years. It is also true that Butte’s population means the Miners are playing exactly where they belong according to the American Legion baseball rules.
If you think they made an exception for Butte, you could not be more wrong. In 2013, the Miners only had 15 players out for the team, and the Class A would not let them in.
Some Legion coaches and administrators were more willing to drown the Miners than lend a helping hand.
In the past school year, Butte had less than 1,000 students in grades 10 through 12. That includes Butte High and Butte Central, and that is how the classifications are determined.
Is it fair that the Miners play against some other Class A teams that are feeder programs for Class AA teams? Probably not.
Those teams include Missoula, Helena, Bozeman and Billings. They are generally made up of younger players, and that makes a huge difference.
However, nobody complained that Dillon, Belgrade and Gallatin Valley got to beat up on some younger teams, including the Butte Muckers, for all those years. Those Class A teams are not feeders.
Also, nobody seemed to notice how unfair it was when the Miners had to play against teams drawing from a much larger population all those years in the Class AA.
This year, the Butte American Legion baseball program had 30 players making up two teams, the Miners and the developmental Muckers. Some programs in Montana cut more than 80 players before the start of the season.
Butte did not cut a soul. It never does.
Why did nobody seem to notice the numbers discrepancy when the Miners were playing in the Class AA? Nobody could see that the other programs had way higher enrollment numbers than the Mining City. Way higher.
Billings has three large Class AA high schools, yet they only have two Class AA baseball teams. Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell and Bozeman each have two Class AA schools, yet only one Class AA baseball team. Missoula has three Class AA schools, though on the smaller side, but it has just one Class AA baseball team.
Butte has one Class AA school and one really small Class A school, and they had to play with one Class AA team for so many years. Where were the people worried about fairness then? Where were the sarcastic comments about the Billings Scarlets and Royals beating teams so low in numbers?
That fact that Butte went 69 years between any kind of state title shows you that there was not a level playing field.
Do people think that it was simply a matter that Butte was not good at playing baseball? Do they think that Billings, Missoula and Helena were just so much more advanced at throwing, hitting and catching than we are in Butte?
That is crazy. Butte has had some unbelievably good coaches over the years. We had Jim “Fonz” Hanley, who had the backing of a couple of legendary figures in Jack Whelan and Jack Cavanaugh. I dare anybody to tell me they had three better men running any program in any sport.
We had Mike Ludwig and Glenn Granger. We had Jeff LeProwse, who turned out a bunch of college baseball players while spending much of his time trying to keep the program alive during his 10-year run.
We have had players drafted into professional ball, and we had one reach the Big Leagues and another advance to Triple A. That is because we have some guys who know the game of baseball.
The Miners of the 69-year drought were not losers. They were just not able to overcome such a numbers advantage.
Yes, the American Legion baseball system is not a fair one. It has been this way for a long time.
But it took the Miners winning the Class A state title for the rest of the state to notice.
I came to terms that the rest of the state does not like us much years ago, and we will just have to chalk it up to Butte envy.
There is no way my grandpa was wrong.
— Bill Foley, who is not nearly as charming as he thinks he is, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. 2 comments