By Bruce Sayler
The pending demise of the Pioneer League might actually boost Butte’s chances for summer adult baseball.
Butte-Silver Bow Parks & Recreation Director J.P. Gallagher said Tuesday that the Expedition League, a college summer wood bat league, is still interested in expanding to Butte will play now targeted to begin in 2021. Gallagher commented during the February meeting of Advantage Butte, which was held at the Butte Plaza Inn.
“They’re investigating possibilities and even looking into Canada,” Gallagher said. “They said they plan to open an office in Butte in September for starting a team to begin play next summer.”
The team would play at 3 Legends Stadium, located in the Copper Mountain Youth Sports Park.
Several topics were discussed at the Advantage Butte meeting, which a drew a sparse attendance, but busy discussion. Past president Ray Ueland, also representing The Metals Sports Bar & Grill, presided.
The Expedition League is mostly in the Dakotas and is looking at its third season this summer. Its players are amateurs, who dot current college baseball programs.
Major League Baseball announced recently plans to erase more than 40 minor league teams from its farm system affiliations after this coming season. The reasons given have been budgetary. The cuts include all eight members of the Pioneer League, which has existed for several decades as a starting point for the development of major league prospects. The lower-level minor league ranks are the endangered club, according to the MLB contraction plan for the farm system.
Gallagher said he wouldn’t present a 3 Legends Stadium lease for Expedition League use to the county commissioners until the league finds a “close-by” team for the Butte location, making it more probable for Butte team placement. The end of the Pioneer League would leave quality baseball stadiums seemingly available in Billings, Great Falls, Missoula and Idaho Falls, which could be considered a companion sites for the Butte venue. Such a mapping would make road trips from the Dakota more desirable, increasing the chances for Expedition League expansion, Gallagher indicated.
“Helena and Bozeman were rejected, “Gallagher said, “because of Legion pressure.”
The American Legion baseball programs in those towns are against sharing their ballparks with Expedition League teams.
“The Expedition League has been highly successful so far,” Gallagher said, speaking about the league’s financial health.
Gallagher also said the parks work crews are anxious to return to upgrades at Stodden Park, especially in hanging additional netting at the softball fields. He said it will better protect what are the areas usually more congested with spectators at the diamonds.
Gallagher said the hopes to have field upgrades completed by early May when the site will begin a three-weekend run of high school fastpitch softball tournaments – Butte Central’s annual LaVerne Combo Invitational tourney, the Western AA Divisional tourney and the state Class A championship tournament.
Late snow prevented the work from being done prior to softball season last spring, Gallagher said.
Don Peoples Jr. of the Maroon Activities Center and Butte Central Catholic Schools said this year’s Advantage Butte Southwest Montana All-Star Basketball Classic is scheduled for March 18 at the Montana Tech HPER Complex will adopt one of the NBA All-Star Games special rules this year.
The Southwest Montana Classic is a doubleheader with a girls’ game followed by a boys’ game, coached by former area coaches and played by high school standouts from the area. It is a fundraiser for Advantage Butte hospitality rooms at events held in Butte.
The new rule will determine a final winning score to play to once all but four minutes have been played in the games. When the game clock ticks down to 4 minutes left, time will stop and it will be announced what then has been decided will be the final score for the winning team. The buzzer will sound when that score is reached.
Chad Petersen, Butte Central activities director, noted that Western A Conference high school boys’ basketball regular-season champion Butte Central will open postseason play on February 27 against the lowest-seed from next week’s play-in games. He added that the Butte Central girls will compete in a play-in game on February 24 at Corvallis with the winner advancing to the February 27-29 Western A tournament in Ronan.
Bill Melvin, Butte Civic Center director, said the Advantage Butte Volleyball Classic for youth teams will be played March 28-29 in the Civic Center and in the Montana Tech HPER Complex. He said organizer Jeni Hope told him 40 teams have been confirmed so far.
The Advantage Butte checking account has $19,477, treasurer Brad Spear, also representing the Anderson ZurMuehlen & Co., said. He said $20,600 has been committed for events this school year and $2,000 for next year. He said midyear membership invoices have been sent, and a presentation for a county economic development allotment was yet to be made.
Melvin said busy times continuing at the Civic Center will include sports events such as the Cyclops Invitational club wrestling tournament this weekend with a junior high wrestling tournament accompanying it. He said about 1,100 wrestlers are expected. Also, the state Class B boys’ and girls’ basketball tournaments are slated for the arena, March 12-14.
Petersen said the Blocktober Classic high school girls’ volleyball tournament will grow to a two-day tournament this October. Butte Central has been the host of one-day Class A Blocktober Classic in recent years at the Maroon Activities Center. However, Class AA has opted or a rotational midseason tournament over the MCHS Invitational that had been held in Missoula in recent years and also included Class A and B teams. The new AA tourney will exclude the smaller classification schools. So, the Blocktober Classic is offering to fill the void and there has been acceptance, Petersen said. He said he has commitments from 15 schools and expects a field of 20 to 28 teams to enter. Play will be at both the MAC and the Civic Center.
He acknowledged that the possibility of the state Class A boys’ and girls’ basketball tournaments going to a four-day schedule has been mentioned. If so, it wouldn’t be before 2021 when the tourneys are set to be played at the Civic Center. However, Petersen said discussion about it has been light.
The Class A Duals wrestling tournament has added a Butte stop to its rotation and is to be held in the Civic Center in January of 20222. It had been alternated between Lewistown and Belgrade, but Belgrade moved to Class AA prior to the current school year. Livingston took its place as a Class A Duals venue, and Petersen’s request to add Butte to the rotation was approved.
Peoples said the MAC is being put to use, too. He said the District 12-C high school boys’ and girls’ basketball tournament will be held in the facility Thursday through Saturday and he has been asked to submit a bid for the District 11/12-C tournaments next year, which are to be followed by the Western C Divisional already planned for the MAC. Drummond and Philipsburg will leave District 12 after this school year and move to 13-C next year, causing the return to the 11/12-C alignment for area Class C schools.
Also, Advantage Butte participants acknowledged suggestions that the Frontier Conference is re-investigating the possibility of a post-season college men’s and women’s basketball tournament to determine championships and competition advancement. Lewis-Clark State will leave the conference after this school year to join the Cascade Conference, which is mostly Oregon and Washington schools. The departure will leave the Frontier with six members, all in Montana. Talk has focused some on putting the post-season tournament in the MAC, as had been done in the early 2000s, should the league drop the playoff format it now has in favor of the tournament.
Peoples said it seemed unlikely such would happen before 2022 if at all.
The next Advantage Butte meeting is scheduled for March 10, a week earlier than usual due to St. Patrick’s Day being on a Tuesday this year.