HELENA — The City Commission will meet at 4 p.m. on Aug. 22 in the City/County Building to hear more public comment about a summer collegiate baseball team from the Expedition League to take the place of the Helena Brewers when the pro team leaves town after this season.
An Expedition League team could be ready to play in Kindrick Legion Field in 2019. The Midwest-based league, a summer baseball opportunity for college players, is trying to expand into Montana.
A team in Butte is set to begin in 2019, and there's negotiations for a team in Bozeman. The league likes to cluster teams close together to help in their travel.
The Expedition League team hopes to share Kindrick Field with the American Legion baseball program in town, the Helena Senators, the way the Brewers have done over the years.
President Steve Wagner plans to work with the Senators in scheduling and field improvements. The Senators, however, are at odds with the addition of another team.
They are interested in more field time to host more baseball tournaments, allow their third-level team the Independents more home games and to use old Brewers space for an indoor batting facility.
The Brewers have been in search of an indoor facility for winter use so the program can be more competitive with the rest of the programs around the state with indoor workout areas.
"With the current field situation (with the Brewers), there is not much flexibility regarding the tournaments we host," Senators coach Jon Burnett wrote in an informational document for the Legion Baseball Committee. "Having full range of the field would allow us to expand our tournament dates and the number of teams we host."
The Senators must run their tournaments at all three levels early in the season when school is in session before a summer team arrives. That means fewer teams in the tournaments because games have to be done over a weekend so students don't miss school.
Being able to run tournaments late in the season, and more of them, allows for more teams to stay in Helena longer. Revenue would go up for the Senators and the city with extended visitors.
Burnett would also like Kindrick Legion Field to be the site of American Legion state and regional tournaments that bring in eight teams during the course of five days. That can't happen when sharing the field with a collegiate or pro team.
The Senators also hope to work with the local Babe Ruth League so the seventh and eighth grade baseball players in the city can use the field for their tournaments, playoffs and tournaments.
Burnett was surprised with the turnout of the youth baseball players for a camp run by the Senators for the first time this year. There were more than 100.
"I would like to expand and host multiple youth camps," Burnett wrote. "One early season camp and then another later in the season, and I would think the interest in the community would be huge."
Wagner, however, said they would work around the Senators when it comes to scheduling just as his teams have in other American Legion cities.
"Our approach with scheduling is to have Legion baseball drop in the dates of their conference games and recurring tournaments and we come in behind that and prepare our schedule," Wagner wrote in a letter to the City Commission. "Helena Legion has been frustrated with the Brewers since Legion feels that they have been squeezed out of game availability in some of the nicer weather months. The Expedition League team can and will be flexible with Helena Legion Baseball so that Legion is allowed an adequate number of games in this window of time."
Wagner also plans to sell advertising at Kindrick Legion Field for the outfield wall and give a portion of the profit to the Senators so they don't have to sell ads. The Brewers did not share their revenue with the Senators.
The Expedition League plans to practice around the Senators schedule. Wagner wrote there's only limited amount of practice for the collegiate team beyond game day.
The Senators counter with the natural playing surface needs rest to recover with all the use. It's become an issue at the end of the American Legion season with the Helena Brewers also on the field.
Wagner says there's an economic benefit for an Expedition League team in a city because he hires three or four local full-time employees and several summer part-timers. And opposing teams are coming into the city on a regular basis.
"What the Expedition League has brought to the communities where we have teams is an enhanced quality of life in the community," Wagner wrote. "The Expedition League is about fun. The entertainment that now exists in our communities is incredible"
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story made reference to the Exposition League, not the Expedition League. This has since been changed to reflect the correction.