HELENA — An era came to a close on Labor Day.

It will be missed by a small slice of the community. And it's a close-knit, passionate group. 

Gone is something that symbolizes the Americana lifestyle like apple pie and, well, baseball.

Professional baseball threw its last pitch in Kindrick Legion Field — at least for now — when the Helena Brewers concluded their final home game in the 86-year-old ballpark on Monday.

The Brewers lost 4-0 to the Missoula Osprey before a near-capacity crowd, but that was the backdrop to what was felt in the stands.

"It's weird; I've been doing this for more 29 years," Brewers general manager Paul Fetz said. "One season leads to another. However, that's not the case here. This ballpark has been my whole life the past 16 years."

The Advanced Rookie League affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers heads to Colorado Springs, Colorado, for the 2019 season. It was a business deal by the parent club to make the move.

With the departure of the Helena team, it leaves a void in the city for its baseball community.

"It sucks," said longtime fan Kim Ranger, who is also part of the team's booster club. "I've been coming here for 20 years. To think we are not going to have baseball here is kind of sad. I've housed players. It's an emotional day for many people."

Professional baseball has been played in the stadium since 1978 when the Helena Phillies joined the Pioneer League. They were an independent team for a stretch, known as the Gold Sox.

Then the Milwaukee Brewers became the parent club in 1985. There was a two-year stint when the team moved to Provo, Utah, from 2000-02, but a team from Medicine Hat, Alberta, came to town to become the Brewers.

"I was part of the crew that brought them back here in 2003, so I don't think there's anything we could have done to keep them here," Ranger said. "I think there are things the city could have done to help keep them here, but it didn't happen. The regular-season ticket holders are here regularly. We don't miss games unless its important life stuff. The hard part is seeing that baseball won't be here anymore."

Will there be another pro team in town?

City leaders are interested, but that opportunity won't come for some time. One of the biggest obstacles now — besides the limited attendance — is minor league teams are looking for more modern venues such as in Missoula and Billings.

A summer wood-bat collegiate team from the Expedition League hopes to fill the void, but that's being decided later this week.

"We are trying," Ranger said of a new team. "We are going to meet with City Commission on Sept. 5. Lots of us will be a the meeting. We want baseball, just something other than American Legion so we can watch kids who are going to go beyond high school. It's just a different level."

Helena has celebrated four Pioneer League championships over the years in 1984, 1995, 1996 and 2010. There have been six Northern Division titles, four when the Brewers won the league title and in 2005 and 2013.

While the championships were nice, minor league baseball is about the experience and atmosphere. It's more of a gathering place for summer evenings with friends and family.

Only hardcore fans remember many names on those teams because players quickly come and go through the minor league system. General fans could name Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, Gary Sheffield, Jeff Cirillo, Mark Loretta and Ryan Braun as the big names to come through town, but that's about it.

So it's hard to have a rooting interest. Minor league baseball, however, is not about the wins and losses for the team, or the fans.

Children chasing foul balls and eating ballpark food for dinner and adults catching up with old friends are what happens at these games. 

Catching an occasional postgame fireworks show, picking up a team giveaway and having a cold beer are the highlights. Heckling the umpire and the opposing team remain staples.

Then there's the between-innings entertainment. Different places do things differently with the Chicken Dance or the "Macarena" dance-along. Helena has the fish toss.

A plastic fish is slingshot into the air for a child to catch with a net with dramatic, active commentary. While it's interesting to read, it's something else to see in person.

The best part of the whole minor league experience? It's not ridiculously overpriced and you don't have to battle traffic like at a Major League Baseball stadium.

That's what makes minor league baseball enjoyable. It's a peaceful time in a small town with people who share your interest.

And that will be missed by the Helena baseball community.

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