As Eamonn Byrne got to pitch against his teammates on Thursday night as part of an exhibition game at Kindrick Legion Field playing with the pros, he could rest assured he’d have the best defense of his baseball career behind him: The Helena Brewers.
The Brewers made their presence felt early, turning a double play in the bottom of the second inning.
“I kind of just try to throw the ball over the plate because I knew the defense was good enough to make any play they needed to,” Byrne said. “I mainly threw fast balls and one change-up. We wanted to keep it to fast balls today.”
The Senators and Brewers shared the field together, taking part in an exhibition game of baseball with a twist: Each team’s pitcher would face their own batters and use their catcher. The other team’s defense would back up the pitcher-catcher combination. It’s why Byrne could pitch to Isaiah Mesa, but have the Brewers turn a double play.
On a partially overcast day in Helena, the game felt more like baseball’s version an old improv TV show -- Whose At-Bat Anyway: The game where everything is made up and the points don’t matter. Sure, the Brewers won 6-2, but the game was more about introducing the community to this season’s Brewers, and giving some Senators a chance of a lifetime to face the pros.
“Honestly, it’s just the experience,” Senators coach Dave Thennis said. “It’s fun. Our kids love it.
“Things just speed up. Things that would be a hit at our level are just not at that level. They take things away. It’s fun how quickly things happen when you watch a professional team perform behind you. These pitchers, I know, they look behind them and go, 'All I have to do is throw strikes.'”
And in one fun stretch, a Senator had the opportunity of his baseball career.
Senators pitcher Jackson Maynard got his shot against a Brewer, Payton Henry. Henry had been catching while his team batted, and asked Thennis if he could hit during the Senators lineup. When Maynard heard the Senators had a shot to pitch to a big leaguer, he lined up.
In his third year with the Senators, Maynard had his tallest order.
With probably about 60 pounds of weight difference between the two, Maynard retired the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Henry, prompting a ground-out of the pro after he threw a change-up.
“I got him,” Maynard said, grinning. “It was cool. I wanted him to take me yard, honestly. It would have been cool to just see him hit a bomb, but it’s fun. It’s something I can talk about. Nobody can tell me I suck any more.”
The experience, more than anything, helped the Senators relax and refocus on the fun of the game, not the pressure of winning.
“It’s a good learning thing for us to play relaxed,” Maynard said. “We’ve been uptight lately, and it’s good to get another breather of a game and have fun.”
Earlier in the day, the Senators watched Brewers batting practice, some in awe of the hitting power of the young pros. The Brewers put up a run in the third, three in the seventh and another in the ninth.
As the Senators squeezed across a run in the eighth inning, with Ryan Arntson slashing a single that found a gap between the Brewer center and right fielders, Kienan Stief, mitt over wrist, jumped up toward the box. It wasn’t his turn in the batting order. He wanted to celebrate. Stief drew back an imaginary bow, aimed at Arntson, who had found his way to second, and released an arrow in his direction.
The Senators may have been a bit excited.
“Two run isn’t too bad, but it’s nothing to brag about it,” Byrne said afterward. “It helps us go into tomorrow’s game with a better mentality. It’s a blessing to play the game.”
The youngsters got another run in the inning, too.
Another wrinkle presenting itself on Thursday was catcher-infield dynamics. Any stealing attempts resulted in a Brewer throwing to a Senators crew he’d never worked with, and vice versa for the Senators. For the most part, save a pair of errors, throws were accurate.
It was a night of rotations in the scrimmage. The Senators and Brewers cycled through a slew of pitchers and tried to get everybody some pitches and at-bats.
Friday, the Senators are back at Kindrick Legion to face the Billings Scarletts.
“We’ll get after them,” Thennis said. “I hope the looseness from tonight translates to tomorrow and we come out and play relaxed.”
The Brewers, meanwhile, will continue to pull their roster together -- three players were scheduled to arrive in Helena on Thursday night -- and prepare for their season opener, Monday at Kindrick against the Great Falls Voyagers.