Friday, June 30, 2017

Helena Brewers 7 at Great Falls Voyagers 4 (12, Pioneer League) - June 29, 2017


Great Falls is just 90 miles northeast of Helena, an easy and scenic drive along I-15. The town is named for a series of waterfalls along the Missouri River, one of which (Black Eagle Falls) is right next to its historic ballpark, Centene Stadium. The picture below is of a dam at these falls, taken from the other side of the river.



Opened in 1940 as Legion Park, a named it retained until 2007 when Centene bought the naming rights, the ballpark underwent a renovation around 2005 that combines old and new quite well.



Located northeast of downtown, you can take River Road to get here, and park in any of a number of free lots. Tickets are $8 for general admission, which comprises the covered benches above the walkway. Pay a couple of dollars more to sit closer in the box seats.



This is the old part of the stadium; it is quite interesting in that the concourse is actually underneath the seating bowl, more like in an arena than a ballpark. When you walk in the main gate, turn right to enter the concourse, or go up the stairs to the walkway in the seating bowl.



Down the left field line is where the newer parts of the venue can be found. You can kind of make them out in the picture below, with the building with the green roof the dividing line.



There are a number of portable concession stands down here offering mini donuts, pizza, and craft beer, as well as a picnic area, and some more seats. It was Thirsty Thursday, which means 12-oz domestics go for $2 or 20-oz craft for $6. At least two local breweries were represented here: Mighty Mo (to the right below) and The Front, which is in a fixed stand at the end of the concourse.



Inside the building to the left above, you will see a sign for the Logan Hurlbert Hall of Fame Room, and you should follow it up a short set of stairs to a landing, where pennants from past championships are hanging on the walls.



Next to this is the room itself, named after the long-time GM, which has an amazingly diverse and comprehensive collection of memorabilia from all eras of minor league baseball in Great Falls. That's the 2008 Pioneer League trophy below.



The collection is maintained by Jim Eakland, a local baseball historian, who is in the room and happy to answer any questions. While I was there, a player who had spent a bit of time in Great Falls in 1973 dropped in and it was interesting to hear the conversation about so many players from 44 years ago. Every player on every team from 1969 is listed, and every team picture is on display as well. Below is one example of a display case containing a variety of items from past years. Do not skip this if you visit Centene Stadium, it is truly impressive.



After you return outside, walk further down the left field line where GA benches without a net in front of them, can be found. From here, you can see the original seating bowl, topped by the press box.



The Voyagers bullpen is here as well; unlike Helena it is on the same side of the field as their dugout.



The Voyagers are not named for Lewis and Clark, who had to portage around those five waterfalls during their expedition back in 1806, but for a UFO sighting in 1950. Back then, the team was known as the Great Falls Electrics (the town is nicknamed The Electric City for its dams) and GM Nick Mariana filmed two unidentified flying objects that became a national sensation. Their mascot is Orbit, an alien with a green baseball head, who was tired after the game went to extra innings.



Overall, Centene Stadium is another wonderful minor league venue. It doesn't have the backdrop of Orem and Ogden, but the history here is superbly maintained and really makes this a special place to visit for baseball buffs. Make sure to include this park on any summer tour of Montana.



The Game

The Brewers sent Carlos Herrera to the mound while Great Falls (White Sox) countered with Chris Comito (15th round in 2015, below). Both pitchers were sharp early, especially Herrera who did not yield a hit through three.



In the Voyagers fourth, Tyler Frost (15th, 2017) led off with a triple and scored on a single by Anthony Villa (19th, 2016), but that was the only blemish for Herrera, who struck out 8 in five innings. With Comito still on the hill in the 6th, a single, walk, and wild pitch had runners on second and third with Zach Clark (19th, 2016, 5 spots in front of Villa) at the plate. Clark singled home both runners, ending Comito's evening as Sean Renzi (32nd, 2016) came in. Renzi immediately threw wild on a pickoff and Clark scampered all the way around to score. Comito was saved from the loss after Villa hit a sac fly in the bottom half of the 6th, and Felix Mercedes launched a solo shot in the 7th to tie the game at 3.

Each team had a solo dinger in the 8th with Jay Feliciano going long for Helena while Justin Yurchak (12th, 2017) replied for Great Falls. After a scoreless 9th we went to extra innings. In the top of the 12th, Feliciano and Clark singled with one out, and then Franly Mallen grounded to short. The throw to second for the force was way off and Feliciano scored. With two out, Jose Gomez (39th, 2016) grounded to first, but the ball bounced under Yurchak's glove and both Clark and Mallen scored on the miscue. In the bottom half, Rodrigo Benoit remained on the mound for his fourth inning of relief and struck out the side while giving up a single as Helena won 7-4.



An excellent game, by far the best of the trip in the Pioneer League. Well pitched for the most part (only 4 walks) and played with an excellent pace, with the PPM an incredible 1.9. Those 3 errors doomed the Voyagers though, as 4 of Helena's 7 runs were unearned.

Next Up

I'm in Missoula tonight for an Osprey game, check back tomorrow for a recap as always.

Best,

Sean

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Great Falls Voyagers 7 at Helena Brewers 8 (Pioneer League) - June 28, 2017


After a few relaxing days in Utah, it was time to head to Montana, where four Pioneer League teams reside. The first stop for me would be Helena, home of the Brewers. The drive from Tremonton, where I had spent the night, was about 6 hours along I-15, but I prefer to avoid Interstates where possible, because state highways are usually less crowded and more scenic. On this day, however, it would be a mistake. After leaving Utah, I immediately hit one of three work zones along I-15 as Idaho has declared 2017 as the Summer of Roadwork. These were minor delays, however, and when I moved onto US-20 at Idaho Falls, I thought the worst was behind me. After about an hour, I turned north on ID-87. Things were moving well until I hit Montana and the first of two single lane work zone. First, the 10-mile stretch on MT-87 between the Montana border and US-287 was entirely under construction. Rather than figure out a way to keep traffic moving, the Montana Department of Transportation decided to single-lane the entire route. A red light greeted me just across the border, where I waited for about 10 minutes until a pilot car came to lead us. We then went over 10 miles of loose gravel at 35 MPH. There were a few construction machines along the way, but not enough to justify the wait. After hitting US-287, it took a while to pass all the trucks and RVs that were clogging up the road, but then I enjoyed a couple of hours of clear sailing. Nearing the end of the journey along MT-69, another single-lane construction zone appeared (below).



We waited for about 20 minutes for the pilot car, ridiculous for a 6-mile stretch of road. Once again, it was loose gravel, and once again, there were only a few machines in operation. I generally have no problem with roadwork as it is an obvious necessity and summer is the only time to do it in these areas, but I was quite frustrated by the end of this trip. I hope the road work is finished by next week when tourists start arriving for the 4th of July.

Anyway, despite all the delays, I got to my hotel only 40 minutes later than expected, which is nothing at all in the grand scheme of things. I was a bit rushed in getting ready for the game, but I did have enough time to enjoy a beer at Lewis and Clark Brewery (highly recommended) before walking over the stadium to see my first sporting event in Montana with the Helena Brewers.

Kindrick Legion Field

The Brewers play out of Kindrick Legion Field, and finding it without a GPS might be fun. It is located next to a city park with the light towers the only indication that a ballpark is there. The parking lot is unsigned but is just north of Lyndale Avenue on Ewing Street. Even from here, it is tough to tell that this is a baseball stadium.



Only when you turn the corner and see posters of past Brewers who have gone on to enjoy success in the bigs will you realize that this is what you have come to see.



The extremely quaint ticket window confirms that this is, in fact, a minor league stadium. Tickets are $7 for GA, and $9 or $10 for reserved but as the Brewers don't even average 1,000 per game, there is no need to overspend here.



The venue was opened in 1932 at a cost of $1,500 and now seats 2,100, mostly in orange seats in a covered grandstand. It has gone through numerous name changes and several renovations over the years, but still retains its old-time charm. Once known as Memorial Park Field, the name was changed to Kindrick Legion Field in honour of longtime Legion supporter Ace Kindrick. You can read more about the history at the Brewers website.



There are GA sections down each line, a couple of party decks, and an additional uncovered section of box seats near first base that are visible on the left below.



As you can probably tell, sitting in the back will limit your views of the field.



Thus, you might want to sit in the first couple of rows and get a clearer shot.



There are no seats without some sort of protection; even the GA seats down the line have a chain-link fence in front. The best place to get foul balls is in the parking lot (I happened upon one after the game, my fourth parking lot ball).



The sun sets behind first base, so if you are sitting on the third base side in the first few rows, you will need sunglasses or a hat for the first few innings.



One interesting feature is that the bullpens are on opposite sides of the dugout here. The visitors' bullpen (below) is next to a BBQ pit along the right field line, while the visitors' dugout is on the third base side.



The starting lineups and standings are along a concourse wall and were properly filled out.



There is a small display of photos of players who have made it to the bigs after spending time in Helena. There is even a Wikipedia page on the Brewers displayed here.



Concessions are pretty basic, but having skipped lunch due to the delays en route, I decided to have a hot dog. Both Hebrew National and Nathan's are served here, with the former a bit cheaper at $3. I ordered one and was charged $1.50. Curious as to the discrepancy in price, I was politely informed that it was "Weenie Wednesday". Amazingly, the server said this with a straight face. I've heard of Taco Tuesday and Thirsty Thursday is everywhere, but I've never seen a Weenie Wednesday! This should be a mandatory promotion in all minor league parks. I demand it! Anyway, I stifled a laugh and doubled my order, which kept me satisfied until the end of the game. It was also Wine Wednesday, but this is not nearly as amusing (unless you have several glasses).



Unfortunately, Kindrick Legion Field is not long for the minor leagues. The team, which suffers from low attendance (though what do you expect in a city of 30,000), will move to Colorado Springs in 2019, to take the place of the Sky Sox, who are moving to San Antonio (whose AA Missions are heading to Amarillo). So if you want to see affiliated ball here, you had better get a move on. I don't think you will regret it either as this is one of the last old-style stadiums still in use and with Lewis and Clark close by, you can't go wrong with the Brewery and the Brewers. Just make sure to leave early in the morning to get here.

The Game

Helena got off to a quick start against Great Falls (White Sox) Kyle Von Ruden, a free agent signing out of Hawaii making his second pro start. A couple of singles and a couple of walks were followed by a grand slam from Zach Clark (19th round in 2016) as the Brewers plated 6 in the first. Von Ruden was left in however, and was perfect for the next four innings, while his teammates mounted a comeback off Helena starter Karsen Lindell (9th, 2015), scoring two in the second and adding two more in the 4th on a homer from Tyler Frost (15th, 2017, below). The Voyagers then tied the game in the fifth on a dinger from Hanleth Otano off reliever Robbie Hitt (24th, 2017), a terrible name for a pitcher.



Great Falls grabbed the lead in the 6th off Alec Bettinger (10th, 2017), but Parker Rigler (31st, 2017) couldn't hold on, giving up two runs in the bottom half as Helena moved ahead 8-7. Bettinger was replaced by Andrew Vernon (28th, 2016, pitched 15 games with Low A Wisconsin this year) with one out in the 7th and Vernon pitched 2.2 shutout innings for the very impressive save as the Brewers held on for the win.



A pretty entertaining game that lasted only 2:52. Great Falls struck out 15 times but also managed 12 hits, double Helena's output. The Voyagers lost because they couldn't get that key hit late, leaving 12 runners on in total.

Notes

This was my 144th active minor league park, 90% of the total of 160.

I still have to see games in North Dakota, Wyoming, and Alaska to complete all 50 states, and New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island for all 10 Canadian provinces. Don't ask about the territories.

Next Up

I'm moving on to Great Falls tonight for a rematch between the Voyagers and the Brewers, so check back for a recap of that one.

Best,

Sean

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Orem Owlz 5 at Ogden Raptors 14 (Pioneer League) - June 27, 2017


Ogden is about 35 miles north of Salt Lake City, making the Orem-SLC-Ogden trifecta a relaxing part of an otherwise taxing trip to the Pacific Northwest. With a full day, I stopped in at the Hill Aerospace Museum and Ogden's Union Station (four museums of its own) for a bit of tourism before heading over to Lindquist Field to see the Ogden Raptors take on the Orem Owlz for the second time in three days.



The ballpark, named for late co-owner John A. Lindquist (whose namesake business is a mortuary but they did not buy the naming rights), is located just a block north of historic 25th Street in downtown Ogden. The main gate is quite unique, with purple panels behind the stadium name on blue squares, and ticket windows just beneath. Oggie, the mascot who looks like he could give The Raptor (Toronto's NBA mascot) a run for his money, is outside to greet fans.



There are two types of ticket here: $12 reserved seats and $6 GA. This team draws amazingly well (averaging 3,450 in 2016) and when I arrived at the box office there were only GA tickets left. I wasn't planning to buy a reserved seat anyway, but was surprised at the support from the community.



Reserved seats stretch all the way from first base around home plate and down to the left field corner. As you can see in the shot below, taken during the game, most seats are actually filled.



There is a single general admission bleacher area at first base, and a small grass area behind the visiting bullpen where kids gather to chase foul balls.



There is also a deck behind left field known as the Tar Pit, but few fans use that.



You will notice that the sun sets behind third base, so sitting on the first base side will leave shading your eyes for much of the early part of the game. I moved around from place to place and found enough empty seats that were in the shade, so it wasn't a problem, but if you are a family of four, you might want to buy tickets in advance.



Much like Orem and Salt Lake City, the mountain backdrop here is spectacular. That's Malan's Peak, and there is a 5-mile hiking trail along it should you have time before the game.



The view from third base with the sun setting behind, leading to some difficult shadows on the field.



The shot below was taken just before the game is to start, as you can tell not only from the umpires standing at home plate, but the shadow has yet to creep into fair territory.



The scoreboard is beyond left field and has a small video board above the linescore.



Once the sun sets, the GA benches are quite nice as there is no protective netting. The seats past the third base dugout also provide a clear view.



The Raptors have been around since 1997 (and were originally based in Calgary from 1977-84), but Ogden has had pro ball before, including a star-studded Dodgers team in 1968. That's Bill Buckner, Tommy Lasorda, Steve Garvey, and Bobby Valentine in the shot below; the setting sun makes a good picture difficult with a phone camera.



There is also a Wall of Fame; Rickey Henderson played here when the Ogden A's were a AAA club in 1979. The A's became the Edmonton Trappers after being purchased by Peter Pocklington, and are now the Round Rock Express.



Current Dodger stars who got their start in Ogden are also featured along the concourse walls.



There is a sculpture atop the concourse wall behind home plate that has 9 players illustrating the various parts of the game. Once again, the sun made a good picture difficult, but I really liked this small touch that few fans will notice.



There are starting lineups, but they were not filled in properly: Orem was blank, and Ogden was incorrect. Thankfully I decided not to keep score on this night.



The high attendance was possibly due to the dollar taco promotion, which meant concession stand lines were long throughout the game, so I never did get around to enjoying the cheap eats. Good craft beer is also available, with 16-oz pours going for $6 and 24-oz for $8. I had to drive after the game, so did not partake in that either.



Overall, Lindquist Field is another beautiful minor league stadium that all ballpark travellers should visit. I am used to these smaller venues having lots of room, so it was a bit disconcerting at first to look for seats, but these are great fans who are fortunate to have a wonderful venue to enjoy the game. The sun can be a problem if you are not prepared, but now that you have read this, you will be prepared. So pay a visit to Ogden and enjoy a Raptors game!

The Game

This was my third time seeing Ogden and they have shown no trouble scoring runs, and that trend continued as they sent 10 men to the plate in the first, scoring 5. Raptors starter Edwin Uceta (below, being watched by former Expo pitching coach Bobby Cuellar) gave up no hits through three but was chased in the fourth as Orem scored 4 to make it interesting.



Ogden doesn't seem to like interesting games though, as they immediately responded with seven in the bottom half, including a grand slam by Luis Paz, to make it 12-4. I basically stopped paying attention around then, as Ogden romped to a 14-5 win. There were 12 total walks and four errors, another typical game for this level, but the game only took 3:07 for 330 pitches, a decent PPM of 1.764.



Notes

Torii Hunter Jr. (below) has just started his pro baseball career with Orem after playing college football at Notre Dame. He went 0-4, but is 7-19 overall in 5 games. It will be interesting to see if he can follow in his father's footsteps.



Before the game, I ran into Benjamin Hill, who writes for milb.com and maintains a blog of his own minor league roadtrips. He is quite well known among ballpark chasers, and we had a nice discussion about his work and current trip. He is doing a reverse of my Pioneer League jaunt, starting in Montana and moving south through Utah. It was great to finally meet him and see how much effort he puts into his job. Yes, he actually gets paid to do this! I'm not jealous.

Next Up

I'm heading to Montana for the Helena Brewers tonight and then Great Falls tomorrow as these two neighbours (90 miles apart) play a home-and-home series. Check back for updates as usual.

Best,

Sean