UPDATE: Baseball games, with fans included, to return under Montana Legion umbrella
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UPDATE: Baseball games, with fans included, to return under Montana Legion umbrella

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Helena Senators' Cy Miller beats the throw to home during the 2019 Keith Sell Tournament game at Kindrick Legion Field in Helena.

HELENA — Baseball is about to return to Montana.

The Helena Senators and Missoula Mavericks are scheduled to face off at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Kindrick Legion Field, both teams confirmed to 406mtsports.com. The two squads are part of a conglomerate of American Legion teams in Montana who still plan playing baseball this season.

And in breaking news Tuesday night, 406mtsports.com learned they'll do so under the Department of Montana American Legion umbrella -- meaning they won't have to cover their American Legion logos. The staff recently reported that the national governing body would not sanction the season and would have to play possibly as the Montana Baseball League.

The teams learned Sunday about the Montana Legion sponsorship.

"A very good outcome for Montana and our baseball teams," Ron Edwards, the Montana/Alberta American Legion Baseball general chairman, wrote in an email to 406mtsports.com confirming the decision.

Said Laurel coach Doug Studiner: “We were thrilled our state American Legion still wants us to play American Legion. We’ll play under American Legion rules just like always. It’s a good thing for everybody.”

Coronavirus has shut down sporting events in the state since early March, but with the state heading into Phase 2 of Gov. Bullock's reopening plan, more restrictions have been lifted. 

However, a request for approval had to be sent to the county's respective health boards. As of Tuesday afternoon, Lake County, Lewis and Clark County both had approved teams to play. Missoula Mavericks president Ginger Claussen said that Yellowstone County, Ravalli County and Gallatin County had also received approval or were going to in the coming day.

She expects teams across the state to be playing by this weekend.

Mavericks manager Brent Hathaway said his players were understandably ecstatic. 

"They’re awfully happy that we get to travel to Helena and play in Lewis & Clark County," he said. "That’s what we’ve been waiting for is to start playing games. We’re biting at the bit to get back out there and play some baseball. Now we just have to get the approval of the health department in Missoula County."

Helena Senators head coach coach Jon Burnett, who previously submitted the plan to the county for approval, said the Senators would be allowed to have fans for the game too, with capacity limited to approximately 25 percent. 

"We just got our approval from the county and so we're going to try to play (Wednesday) night, weather dependent," Burnett said.

Precautions such as abundant hand sanitizer and social distancing are being taken seriously with the Mavericks. The team will come to Helena in a bus, but just 17 on the team — three coaches and 14 of 16 players — will make the trip.

There will be no temperature checks before the game, Hathaway said, but everyone is aware of COVID-19 symptoms.

"I think some teams initially were taking temperatures. We’ve checked in with our kids every day and said we all know what the symptoms are: cough, fever, loss of appetite, dizziness, shortness of breath," Hathaway said, "If you have any of those, stay home. We were trying to be proactive that way."

When the American Legion announced more than a week ago it would not sponsor baseball on national, state or local levels, baseball in Montana appeared to be in jeopardy.

However, teams across the state banded together and agreed to have a season with or without the Legion sponsorship. Teams purchased their own insurance and adopted their own rules. 

Teams in Class AA and Class A formed regular-season schedules and also set dates for state tournaments. The AA state tournament will be Aug. 5-9, while Class A will be Aug. 6-9. Sites have yet to be determined. 

According to Billings American Legion Baseball chairman Jeff Ballard, BALB is still working on finalizing game day protocols with the Yellowstone County health commissioner, but hopes to be have approval sometime this week.

If OK'd, the Royals and Scarlets first games would be May 30-31 in a round-robin with the Mavericks at Pirtz Field in Billings.

The Laurel Dodgers' first game will be June 2 at Thomson Park when they host the Billings Blue Jays in an Eastern A conference doubleheader with games at 5 and 7 p.m.

Studiner said the program plans to work with the county health department to “make sure everybody is on the same page.”

“The warm weather brings out the good in all of us,” Studiner said. “We have been out practicing and trying to get ready. We are a little behind like everyone else. We are trying to get in shape and get our arms strong and get ready to play so when games start up in June we are ready to go. It might not be our normal June, but we should be ready to play by then.”

Studiner said he hopes the Dodgers can play 35-40 games in the regular season. The Eastern A District tourney is scheduled for July 30-Aug. 2.

The Missoula Mavericks are still not sure as to whether they will host their Memorial Day tournament this weekend. They are still seeking approval from Missoula County.

"We’re scheduled to have 10 teams in here and a total of 22 games. It’s a big weekend for us," Hathaway said. "We’re really hoping that we get approval. We put in an operations plan with the county, and they said at this time, no athletic events allowed yet, which would mean we’re in phase one still."

Reopening guidelines have been a patchwork across the country and some of the Phase 2 ordinances originally submitted when the plan was first announced have been relaxed.

This has led to some confusion.

"The stuff that they’re saying can be open and is opening up already is phase two stuff, and nobody’s said we’re in phase two," Hathaway said. "It was bars and things like that, that weren’t supposed to open until phase two. Gyms, too. I’ve already heard where they’re allowing graduation. Farmer’s market’s been approved with quite a number of people expected to attend. It’s a little confusing."

In any case, baseball -- American Legion baseball -- will move forward across the state.

Helena IR Sports Editor Chris Peterson, Missoulian sports writer Frank Gogola and Billings Gazette deputy sports editor John Letasky contributed to this report.

Matthew Kiewiet covers high school and community sports for the Independent Record and 406mtsports.com. Email him at matthew.kiewiet@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter @IRmattkiewiet.


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