Miners Hart, Leary, Lee sign to play baseball in Oregon

By Bill Foley

Three Butte Miners are getting the band back together.

In Oregon.

Shortly before a ceremony honoring the Montana Class A and Northwest Regional Class A champion Miners, Eric Hart, Kenley Leary and Aidan Lee singed letters of intent to play baseball at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg.

The signings came as the Miners autographed baseballs, posters and T-shirts for a large gathering of fans at 3 Legends Stadium.

“I’m really happy,” Hart said. “I’m excited to be part of it with Lear and Aidan. I’m really excited.”

With Leary, Hart and Lee, Umpqua coach Jeremiah Robbins is getting the Nos. 1, 3 and 4 hitters from a Miners team that went 45-9 in their championship season.

“They’re getting great players,” Miners coach Jim LeProwse said. “This late in the game, this was a great addition for that college, no doubt. Three quality baseball players.”

Hart, a 2022 Butte Central graduate, is a slick-fielding shortstop who led the Miners with a .484 batting average. He hit 20 doubles and six home runs while driving in 53 runs in 54 games.

Leary, who graduated from Butte High in June, plays centerfield and pitches. He batted .478 with 28 doubles, five triples, three home runs and 40 RBIs in 44 games. On the mound, Leary went 9-0 with a 1.45 ERA. He struck out 67 batters in 53 innings of work.

Leary was named MVP of the State and Regional tournaments.

Lee, a lefty first baseman who graduated from Butte High in 2021, hit .354 with 10 doubles and two triples. He drove in 44 runs in 49 games. Lee was won the batting championship at the state tournament.

“Aidan is as good a first baseman as you’re going to find,” LeProwse said. “I’m sure Eric’s position will get switched. He’ll probably play third or second. I bet Kenley will have a shot at starting in center field. And the way he’s pitching, he’ll have a shot to pitch.

“Hitting wise, all three of them, they’re as good as anybody you’re going to find.”

While the signings might not come as a surprise after Butte’s great run in the summer of 2022, it seemed highly unlikely that all three would be going to Umpqua before the season.

Hart, the son of Larry and Julie Hart, actually committed to the University of Jamestown in April. At the same time, Lee was thinking his playing days were done after completing a year at Montana Tech, and Leary was coming off a hip injury that cost him the entire 2021 baseball season.

Then, something exciting happened. The Miners started winning. And winning, and winning.

“Playing this year and having so much fun with my teammates made me realize it’s not time to walk away from the game,” said Lee, the son of Marc Lee and Angela Lee. “I don’t want to quit playing. I love it.”

As the season went on, Leary, who had an offer to play football at Montana Tech, started looking at schools to play baseball. Then, things started to work out where the three would go together.

“I was just kind of talking on the bus,” Leary said. “All three of us were in agreement, “If you go.”

Hart said he is not even sure how it all came together.

“I don’t even know,” he said. “I think Lear brought it up one day, and it just happened. I think we’re rooming together. It should be fun.”

With the RiverHawks team reporting on Sept. 5, the signing is definitely late in the game.

“Having last year hurt me at least, I know,” Leary said. “Midway through the year, Jimmy approached about the idea. He said this guy is watching you, and this guy wants you.

“Winning championships helped me, obviously.”

Leary, the son of Dan and Carrie Leary, said Robbins was happy to get three of Butte’s best players.

“He was pretty pumped,” Leary said. “He was pretty excited to get us together. It will be fun having two lifelong friends with me.”

Umpqua is coming off a season in which the RiverHawks went 32-19 overall and 18-10 in the Northwest Athletic Conference. Roseburg sits on Interstate 5 between Eugene and Medford.

“It’s really nice,” Hart said. “It’s in Southern Oregon. It’s got a nice turf field. The coach is supposed to be really good, and the program is supposed to be really good. It’s going to be a blast.”

Lee said he is looking forward to playing with Leary and Hart again really soon.

“Going with these guys will be a lot better. It will make it feel more like home,” he said. “It’s going to be really fun. We actually got added into the group chat yesterday, and we talked to some of the dudes. They’re all really cool.”