If you go to a Mining City Tommyknockers baseball game, and I highly recommend that you do, do not buy the popcorn.
A bag of popcorn at 3 Legends Stadium cost $3, and it is tiny. I mean really small. You will be terribly disappointed.
The popcorn bags are as small as the ones you can get for free at the tire shops, and they are not even filled all the way to the top.
The Tommyknocker popcorn might be the portion your doctor recommends, but it is not what you want when you go to a baseball game. If you shell out three crisp $1 bills, you want at least a decent-sized tub with popcorn falling over the top.
Anybody who has even dabbled a tiny bit in the concession industry will tell you that popcorn is like 99.3 percent profit, so charging more than 50 cents for such a bag seems like a rip off.
I bring that up not to hack on the Tommyknockers. Rather, I tell you that because that is literally the only complaint I have heard repeatedly from the fans that have taken in games of Butte’s Expedition League baseball team.
That grievance, though, is a serious one for some fans, and it has led several deep-dive conversations where the profit margin of popcorn has been brought to my attention.
Nobody minds paying $6 for a can of beer. Sure, it might seem high compared to the price you would pay at the grocery store, but you still keep going back. People will not complain too loudly about paying $3 for a 20-ounce bottle of pop because, again, they know what they are getting.
Paying $3 for a bottle of water seems steep to my son, so he gets a $3 Gatorade instead.
When it comes to baseball, though, the Tommyknockers are the best bargain in town. Judging by the attendance, they are also the best-kept secret.
Not one fan that I have talked to, and I have talked to a bunch, has been anything but pleased with the quality of play from the Butte team and the competition.
The games have proven to be a fun-and-entertaining way to spend a summer night at our beautiful, new ballpark at the Copper Mountain Complex.
A ticket to sit in the grandstands cost $10. You can sit on the grass berms down the baselines for just $5. There, you can get an up-close look at some college baseball players who are chasing their dreams of playing in the big leagues some days.
Show up a little late, like a Dodgers fan, and you can probably get in free.
No, the wooden-bat Expedition League is not “minor league baseball,” like a flyer mailed to every home before the season wrongly claimed, but it is a good band of baseball played by players in between college seasons.
It is the exact same level as the Cape Cod League, only the travel for the Expedition League is 10 million times worse than in the Cape Cod League.
The Tommyknockers have five players who were named to the All-Star Game in Zach Camp, David Melfi, Carter Dobrinski, Josh Lucero and Dylan Wilhelm.
All five of those players are alone a reason to go to the ballpark.
Camp is a starter who can really bring the heat, as Casper fans saw in his eight innings of shutout ball Saturday night.
Wilhelm, who drove straight through to Butte from his home in Georgia, is the team’s lights-out closer. Melfi and Dobrinski are sluggers, and Lucero, who comes from Dawson Community College in Glendive, is a versatile infielder with a solid bat and terrific glove.
Perhaps the best glove on the team belongs to Judah Wilbur, a slick-fielding shortstop who is worth the price of admission all by himself.
Jake Mastillo should probably be an All-Star, too. He was undoubtedly hurt by the fact that he is listed as “, M” in the league hitting leaders. Going into the weekend, “, M” was batting .313 with 10 extra base hits. Or, maybe he was hitting .318.
It is hard to tell because, in addition to being listed by one initial in many cases, most of the players have at least two stat lines on the league stats. Some have three.
One thing the Expedition League does worse than pricing popcorn is keeping accurate stats.
You probably heard that the Tommyknockers have a Butte player on the team. Liam Sommer, a former Butte Mucker and Butte Miner who plays at the University of Mary, is a relief pitcher for the Mining City team.
If a young man with long hair delivered you a pizza from Dominoes the past couple of summers, it was probably Liam.
Sommer, though, is not the only player with ties to Butte, or to Mining City restaurants. Drew Leonard, a left-handed pitcher from Missoula, is the son of the former Tara Orizotti, a 1989 Butte Central graduate. That means Leonard’s grandpa was Pork Chop John.
Leonard, whose brother Geno is going to play linebacker at the University of Montana after helping lead Missoula Sentinel to the Class AA state title last year, is not a bad pitcher, either.
I am not sure if dropping the name of either Leonard boy will get you a discount on a chop and a shake, but it certainly cannot hurt.
Matt Kreiger, an infielder who is listed at 5 feet 7 inches, is a teammate of Sommer’s at Mary. He previously played at 3 Legends Stadium as a visitor as a member of the Helena Senators.
Fans have found that the players are nice and friendly to talk to. They are interesting for far more than their baseball skills, too.
For instance, big Steven Strachan, who is listed at 6-5, spent three years on the high school debate team in his home town Caro, Michigan.
So, Strachan was really hoping the local newspaper reporter would not quote him when he slipped and used the word “smartly” in an interview a couple of weeks ago. He did not.
The players on the opposing teams are pretty interesting, too. The league has players from all around the country and even around the world. There is a good bet that some of the ones we watch play in Butte — for the Tommyknockers or the opponent — will end up reaching the big time.
While the crowds at Tommyknockers games at 3 Legends Stadium have not been big, they have been fun. The fans root hard for the home team, and they heckle the umpires and the opposing teams.
Chants of “Let’s go Knockers” usually spring up right about the time the third or fourth $6 beer is kicking in.
This Friday night will be the end of American Legion baseball home games for the summer, and you should go support the local boys before they head to the district and then State tournament.
The Tommyknockers will give us three more weeks to enjoy 3 Legends Stadium, truly one of the true jewels of our community.
We might never see another minor league team come to town — though we should keep trying until we do. Until then, there is no better way to spend a summer night than watching the Tommyknockers.
The team has three more home games this week — tonight, Wednesday and Thursday — against the Spearfish Sasquatch. Stop by and see what I mean when I tell you the games are a steal.
Just as long as you do not buy the popcorn.
— Bill Foley, who never buys popcorn at a baseball game anyway, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74