Helena, it was announced Wednesday, will soon be losing professional baseball, when the Milwaukee Brewers’ Pioneer League team moves to Colorado Springs in 2019.
Helena, however, is not losing baseball.
There are, Greg Thornquist pointed out Friday, still going to be teams representing Montana’s capital city stepping onto the field every summer.
Thornquist is the general manager of the Class AA Legion Helena Senators. The Sens have stepped out of conference play this week and are playing in a series of road games, with Friday’s doubleheader taking place in Spokane. But when they return to play the games that really count, they’ll do so among the leaders with a 5-3 mark and a talented club.
“Hopefully the people that go to the Brewers games will not give up baseball, because we still have baseball. We still have the Senators, we still have the Reps,” he said. “Granted, it’s still not the same level of play. But this is our local team, so hopefully they will come out and support our local kids like they do for football, basketball and all that.”
The Senators depend on ticket sales and concessions, but tend to operate on a bit of a shoestring as attendance figures are generally relatively low.
Thornquist estimates home attendance averages between 300 and 500 a game -- as long as the weather holds out.
“We’re pretty consistent. If the weather’s lousy, who’s there? Parents and grandparents. Maybe some of the girlfriends of the players.
“But here in Helena, you’ve got a lot of other options. If people have a boat, we have the lakes and they’re gonna want to get out there and use them, and there’s just a lot of other attractions.”
Thornquist, in his first year as GM, has enjoyed a good working relationship with the Brewers, he said. But in particular, he’s been impressed with the grounds crew, as it keeps the field in shape not only for the Brewers, but the Senators, Reps and the other Legion club, the Independents.
“It’s a big task to keep that field ready and try and have the best product out there with all those feet running around,” he said. “Most of those guys are maintaining one field for one team -- which isn’t the case here.”
Two seasons ago, the two organizations came together for one night, allowing the high school players to face off against the pros during a preseason exhibition game.
Brewers pitchers faced Brewers batters, but the team in the field was the Senators. The roles then reversed in the second half of the inning.
During both games, the Brewers, predictably, came out on top. But it was never really about the score during those nights -- which, Thornquist said, will be tough to lose.
“The kids enjoyed the heck out of that. It was very enjoyable,” he said. “They got to see the talent level, the speed that the Brewers play at, the strength. I thought that was something that was positive for our program, and we were looking forward to maybe building on that in the future.
“It’s a sad thing, because there are a lot of people that are disappointed they are going. But it is a business decision on their part, and I understand that. They’ve got a lot invested. That’s a business while, for us, if we break even at the end of the year, God bless us. But if we can capture some of those fans that still love baseball, I’d be very pleased with that.”
Fans can get their next look at the Senators when they host the annual Keith Sell Tournament, scheduled to run Thursday through Sunday at Kindrick Legion Field. Nine teams from across the Northwest, will play a total of 22 games, culminating in the championship at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, July 2.
The Senators, who won the tournament a year ago, open with a tournament doubleheader, taking on the Eastside Cutters at 7 p.m. Thursday and then facing the Mount Vernon Riverdogs at 9:30.