The baseball season is very young.
Yet, the Comeback Players of the Year Award has already been locked up. There really isn’t a close second.
This year’s award goes to the Butte Miners, who are once again playing in a league where their games will be counted.
This comes a year after the Miners soldiered on after the Baseball Committee of the Montana American Legion told them to go away. The boys from Butte kept playing even after they were ignored.
This year, the Miners are back and officially a Class A team in American Legion, even though they had some powerful people pulling against them.
Last season, the Miners weren’t allowed in a league. Sure, the Legion reluctantly said they were a member of the Southern A District. The league, though, wouldn’t count their games because the enrollment of Butte high school students in grades 10 through 12 was 1,041. That was 41 more players than allowed to officially play in Class A.
Since the Butte boys were booted out of their long-time home at Alumni Coliseum in the name of progress before last season, the Miners didn’t have a stadium with lights. That would make it impossible to play a full Class AA schedule.
Plus, the Miners didn’t have enough players to compete in the AA. Not even close.
During the coaches scheduling meeting in Belgrade in January of last year, one coach asked if the Baseball Committee could make an exception to let the Butte boys play. That coach figured it would benefit every team in the league another competitive team was allowed to compete.
“I suppose they could,” a Legion official said, “but they’re not going to.”
This came after the committee blatantly overlooked many other rules in recent years. It came after the league was prepared to force the Dillon Cubs out of Legion baseball if they didn’t fire the coach who tried to make sure the Baseball Committee followed its own rules.
That comment also came after the young Butte team went 0-26 in Class AA games the year before.
A couple of coaches pointed out that Butte’s baseball program didn’t need a helping hand because the Butte High Bulldogs just won the Class AA state football title two months prior, seemingly not aware that Butte High’s football team had a lot more than two or three reserve players and a horseshoe up it’s you know what that magical season.
The 2012 Miners could barely field a team of nine players.
Those coaches also didn’t realize or really seem to care that the Miners didn’t have a real baseball stadium. They had to play at Copper Mountain Park, which would easily be the most inadequate field in the Class AA. Honestly, there isn’t any other that compared to it.
That, of course, is a tragedy that our city leaders should have seen coming and tried to resolve more than a decade ago.
Our Legion baseball players should have a nice stadium to call their own by now. That they don’t is a crime.
Seriously, if the county can afford to spend $15,000 for an election between two people running for one school board spot — when one has to run as a write-in candidate because she didn’t properly fill out the paper work to get on the ballot — then we can surely afford to invest in our children.
We’re not talking Yankee Stadium here, folks. We just need a ballpark that can compare to other major metropolises like Dillon and Three Forks.
If you don’t think the Butte boys deserve better than Copper Mountain Park, then go check out the facility for yourself. Go ask the players how they had a game delayed last year because the sprinklers were on and they couldn’t get anybody to turn them off before their Sunday doubleheader.
Ask the same players what they think of the other ballparks they play on around the state. Ask them how they feel about getting the shaft so badly.
Ask the boys from Butte how it felt that the Legion wouldn’t let them be considered for post-season awards — an offense in which I think we need a lawyer to step up and sue the Legion on behalf of our Butte kids.
Then ask the Miners how they kept racking up wins last year anyway. Had their games counted in standings and they had been allowed to play in the district tournament, they would have been one of the top-seeded teams in the tournament.
This year, the enrollment of the high school students in Butte for grades 10 through 12 has dipped below 1,000 in the Mining City, and the Legion’s baseball leaders can’t keep them out of the Class A — even though recent history shows us that they really want to.
The Butte Miners games will count in standings. They can play in district tournament and battle for a spot in the state tournament.
After you check out the stadium, stick around and watch the hometown boys play a little baseball. The Miners’ first home game is Saturday, May 10 when the Helena Senators come to town.
If Helena takes an early lead, don’t worry too much. If we learned one thing about the Butte Miners over the last two years it is that the team certainly will never quit.
No matter how long the odds, the boys from Butte will find a way to come back.
—Bill Foley, who liked Copper Mountain Park better when it was still a landfill, writes a column that appears on ButteSports.com on Tuesdays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.