BILLINGS — The champions are back to defend their crown.
Lightning Baseball of Colorado is entered in this year’s 12-team Goldsmith Gallery Tournament hosted by Billings American Legion Baseball.
The tourney begins Thursday and runs through Sunday at Dehler Park and Pirtz Field. The championship is set for 3 p.m. Sunday at Dehler.
The Lightning begin defense of their title with the nightcap at Dehler on Thursday, playing the Billings Royals at 8 p.m.
The Royals begin tourney play with a game against Williston (North Dakota) at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday at Dehler.
The Scarlets play back-to-back games at Pirtz on Thursday, first against Dickinson at 5:30 p.m. and then against Beaverton (Oregon) at 8 p.m.
While teams in Montana are playing American Legion Baseball this year, the season started late due to the coronavirus pandemic. And, virus related concerns did affect one Legion tourney recently as it was ended prematurely by local authorities.
Last week, the Missoula City-County Health Department shut down the Missoula Mavericks Memorial Tournament during the event. It was later reported by 406mtsports.com the round-robin format of the tourney was the primary reason for the health department ending the tourney early.
BALB chairman Jeff Ballard said he doesn’t have “any concerns or worries” the tourney in Billings will suffer the same fate. He said BALB “has everything in place we need to do and it’s been approved” by the Yellowstone County Health Department.
Ballard did say disinfectant wipes will be available to wipe down seats and the bathrooms will be cleaned several times throughout the day. Every other row of seats at Dehler near the press box will also be taped off.
“That is the biggest shade area and we are trying to keep everyone from gathering in that area,” he said.
The drinking fountains will not be an option for fans to use, however, there will be food trucks at Dehler selling food and beverages.
It will be the first time the Scarlets and Royals have hosted games at Dehler this year. The other home games have been at Pirtz, and the program will continue with the same protocols at Pirtz it has employed this season, noted Ballard.
The teams have been divided into three pools.
Pool A will consist of the Royals, Lightning Baseball (Colorado), N.W.P. Red (Idaho), and Williston (North Dakota).
Pool B will consist of the Billings Scarlets, N.W.P. Black (Idaho), Dickinson (North Dakota), and Beaverton (Oregon).
Pool C will consist of the Great Falls Chargers, Sheridan (Wyoming), Idaho Falls (Idaho) and Clutch Baseball (Colorado).
The Idaho Falls team is a Legion club, but it isn't the Post 56 Bandits that won the American Legion World Series last year, Royals coach David Swecker noted when the pairings were first released earlier this month.
In an earlier interview with 406mtsports.com, Swecker did say the World Series champion Bandits will be in Billings on July 25-26 to play the Royals and Scarlets.
“We have teams from all over the surroundings states coming to play in it,” Swecker said on Wednesday. “It will be people we usually don’t see and we are hoping for a good tournament with a lot of good competition.”
Ballard agreed with Swecker, saying the games should be enjoyable for fans.
“It will be a great tournament. We have a good field. It will be good competition,” Ballard said. “It is exciting for players to have a tournament like this in their hometown. We aspire to have a good tournament every year.”
Last year, the Lightning defeated the Laurel Dodgers 13-4 for the championship. Laurel begins play at a tourney in Helena on Friday. Swecker said it was important for the future of the annual Goldsmith tourney to be played this season.
“Sometimes, if you are running these tournaments, if you don’t run one that year, it is hard to fill it the following year,” he said. “Hopefully all the teams are happy and they want to come back next year and play in it again.”