HELENA — The Helena Senators baseball program stepped up to the plate at Kindrick Legion Field and has taken over stadium operations.
With the Minor League Baseball Helena Brewers exit from town to Colorado Springs, Colorado, at the end of the season last year, the three American Legion teams will now play the bulk of the baseball on the field.
Kindrick Legion Field is city owned with the team paying $5,000 per year for a special use permit good for the next two years.
“This is a use agreement,” said Craig Marr, interim Parks and Recreation director for the city. “It basically authorizes them to use park property. We use (agreements) for a variety of entities.”
Under the agreement, the city still has the ability to schedule events at the field when the baseball teams are not using the grounds. The Senators are responsible for all utilities, upkeep and other expenses they incur at the park.
Under the Brewers’ old contract, the city received a list of repairs from the team and the city would have to respond.
“Basically, this took the expenses away from the city,” Marr said of the Senators taking over. “We’re always looking for more of a partnership (situation).”
The Senators have reorganized and established a more diverse committee to help oversee all the changes so nothing slips through the cracks.
General Manager Greg Thornquist dedicated three years to running the business side of the baseball teams. It’s part of his job to pay the bills, track finances and oversee ticket printing and sales.
However, this is not his paying job. During the day, Thornquist is head of Elkhorn Appraisal Services. He volunteers for the Senators. He has been involved with the group for eight years, five of those as a team parent.
To prepare for the season, which was scheduled to begin Saturday but was rained out, players from all three teams — Senators, Reps and Independents — and their parents spent hours working at the field. They hauled away 80 yards of debris, cleaned concessions, bathrooms and office areas, disposed of old and broken items left behind by the Brewers, repaired and painted fencing, repaired wiring and installed security systems and replaced locks. They also thatched and raked the entire field and replaced scoreboard lettering. Several upgrades also were made, including replacing inefficient lighting with LED lights.
This totaled hundreds of work hours the city would otherwise have had to pay for.
Funding for some of the associated cost is covered by American Legion Post 2.
American Legion Baseball originally began in 1925 in Milbank, South Dakota. Over the next year, the program spread. It began in Helena in 1926, had a few hiccups, and restarted in 1932.
Greg White, CEO for American Legion in Montana and Post 2 Adjunct in Helena, has been involved with Legion baseball in Helena since 2000. He said Legion sees the program as another opportunity to build leaders of tomorrow.
"We have to keep the young active and physically fit," White said. "These boys that play ball are the future of the U.S."
The baseball program works closely with the local Helena American Legion Post 2 and honors veterans before games.
Community involvement is high. Players run an annual youth baseball camp and spend time after practices to help area Babe Ruth baseball coaches with their youth teams. They are expected to set an example and be role models for children.
In Helena, there is a trust that has been established for the program. The post disperses the interest from the estimated $75,000 in the trust to the Senators baseball program each year.
Thornquist said the amount comes to about $5,000. Team expenses have been about $225,000. This year, that will increase. Only eight of the coaches received a small stipend for their time, the remaining three and other organizers are volunteers.
That endowment also keeps player costs down. To play Legion baseball in Helena, cost begins at about $800 per player. In Great Falls, the cost is about $1,800 and in Billings the cost goes up to $3,500, White said.
Players have the ability to earn some of the cost back selling game tickets.
Additional money to support the team and facility comes from sign revenue, program advertising and concessions. Thornquist said in times of need, the post has stepped up and helped generously. This year the team bus required repairs and the post stepped up and wrote a check for $15,000.
Taking on park responsibility is a huge undertaking and Post 2 understands that.
"It's a great deal more work and costs more money, be we understand," White said. "It's all part of our dedication to youth and the community and to the town to provide baseball."
All revenue from signage previously up on the back fence at the park belonged to the Brewers. The Senators are starting with blank fencing and selling it to sponsors.
Banners are $750 for a 4x8 and $1,500 for an 8x8. With that comes logo inclusion in the program, poster and front entry signage. Advertisers also receive recognition during online game broadcasts.
“We’re very thankful for the community’s support,” Thornquist said. “People in Helena are so generous.”
Montana is one of two states that doesn't have high school baseball, he pointed out. “This is our version.”
“When school is out for the summer, this is a great thing for our boys,” he said. “They get to get on a bus and go to places like Omaha or Minnesota to play a tournament."
The team is looking for ways to bring in community groups for baseball. They have a party deck available for possible business nights and hope to plan special event game days.
“I think it’s going to be a good partnership,” Marr said. “Ultimately, the commission will decide how it goes forward.”