Take me out to the ballgame, not the hot tub

Take me out to the ballgame, not the hot tub

One of the best scenes of the great movie “Bull Durham” is on the bus.

Pitcher Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh was bragging about his Porsche and his quadrophonic Blaupunkt.

Veteran catcher Crash Davis had enough of the nonsense.

“Christ, you don’t need a quadrophonic Blaupunkt,” Davis said emphatically. “What you need is a curveball.”

That was pretty much the same sentiment of the Butte-Silver Bow Council of Commissioners last week when they denied a motion by the Mining City Tommyknockers, Butte’s Expedition League expansion team, to make renovations to Miners Field at 3 Legends Stadium.

Those renovations included the addition of a party deck and a 12-person hot tub just beyond the fence in left field.

You don’t need a hot tub, the council said emphatically with a 9-1 vote.

While the council did not slap down the plan because it said the Tommyknockers need to focus more on baseball, the team would be wise to adhere to the words of Davis. Butte baseball fans have never cared about the bells and whistles.

They care about watching good baseball. Put a good product on the field, and people will come.

The last owners of the Butte Copper Kings learned that lesson the hard way in the late 1990s. Instead of persuading the Kings’ parent team, what is now called the Los Angeles Angels, to send more quality baseball players to town, the organization relied on gimmicks.

They blared music and sound effects, and they played silly games.

The Copper Kings even had a hot tub for at least a couple of years. It was not big enough to hold 12 people, but it sat mostly empty down the third base line.

One night the team-employed radio announcer called the game from the hot tub. He had a bad view of the game, and the Copper Kings lost in a blowout in front of fewer than 100 fans.

The Copper Kings lost a lot of games — and a lot in blowout fashion — over the final years, and the fans went away. They were not enticed to stay by the promotions, giveaways and razzle dazzle.

Rather, they were annoyed.

Oh, some promotions were big hits over the years. The San Diego Chicken, who later split with his hometown and became the “Famous Chicken,” used to draw crowds that would fill up the baseball stands and some of the football seats at Montana Tech’s Alumni Coliseum.

Quarter Beer Night was, for obvious reasons, a huge hit. That, however, is not something we can get away with this day and age when a proposed “party deck” was deemed a bad idea.

The Kings once held a “Casino Night” in which they drew for a $100 prize at the end of the game. Somehow, that simple idea filled nearly every seat in the grandstands.

The best thing the Kings ever did to draw a crowd, though, was win. The Tommyknockers will learn that soon enough.

If the team is a stinker, it will not matter if they surround the field with hot tubs filled with barmaids in mermaid suits. Nobody will go to the games.

While even Major League teams need the occasional promotion, the Knockers would be better served to put their money into something other than a deck and a hot tub. Something that will help the team win.

Like an airplane.

The team is going to need some kind of transportation that can get them around the western half of the country in a hurry.

On June 10, the Tommyknockers will play a game at 7:05 p.m. against the Canyon County Spuds in Caldwell, Idaho. The next day, at 6:35 p.m., the team plays the Casper Horseheads in Casper, Wyoming.

That is a trip of 706 miles. It will probably take 12 hours by bus.

And you think Crash Davis was annoyed on his bus ride through the Carolina League. If you have a bookie who takes bets on the Expedition League, take everything you have and put it on the Horseheads on June 11.

Tommyknockers general manager Dane Wagner told us on KBOW Overtime a few months back that the team needs to average about 900 fans a night to make it. That does not seem to be realistic.

If the Copper Kings could have averaged 900 fans a night, we would have held onto them a lot longer.

Oh, and the Expedition League is not the Pioneer League. The comparisons between the two should stop.

Every time the local paper reports on the Tommyknockers, it bills the them as Butte’s “first high-level team” since the Copper Kings left town following the 2000 season.

Cecil Fielder is not walking through that door. Omar Vizquel is not walking through that door. Neither is Robb Nen, Julio Franco or Mike Napoli.

The Butte Copper Kings rosters were full of professional players who were already drafted by Major League teams. The Tommyknockers will be made up of unpaid college players who aspire to be there some day, though most will not.

Hopefully, we will see some very good baseball played on some beautiful nights at our new ballpark. Hopefully, the Tommyknockers will win a lot of games, the fans will pack the place and we get to follow the careers of former players into the Major Leagues for years to come.

So far, the Tommyknockers have announced the signing of some college players from a lot of schools we never heard of. How good are they? Hopefully very good.

But anyone who says the Expedition League is so much higher than Montana’s American Legion ball has never seen the Billings Scarlets play.

Actually, they never watched the Butte Miners play, either. Not last year anyway.

Last season the Miners played at a very high level, and they return most of the players from Butte’s best season of baseball in years.

Already a handful of players from that team have either moved on to a college team or signed letters of intent to do so. More Butte players will likely do the same in the near future.

If you are thinking of rooting for the Tommyknockers, you should make sure to catch the Miners, too. They start their season this weekend.

The Boys of Butte play a pretty good brand of baseball, and you can catch their whole season for a $60 family pass.

With the addition of the Tommyknockers, the Miners and younger Muckers team will lose their home field for long stretches of time during the season. Maybe they will not mind if that means they get to watch a quality Tommyknockers team and dream of one day playing for Butte’s newest squad.

If the Tommyknockers are really interested in making improvements to 3 Legends Stadium, they could start with investments to improve and maintain the facilities that will help their team and the Butte boys who are sacrificing time on the field that was built for them so the Tommyknockers can come to town and sell tickets.

Real investments into the stadium would go a long way toward endearing the new team to the community. We don’t need a party deck, we need restrooms and locker rooms.

And if we want to sit in a hot tub, we can go to Fairmont.

— Bill Foley, who says it’s too hot in the hot tub, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74



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