MISSOULA — The way Michael Schlact figures, this new home run derby style of deciding extra-inning Pioneer League baseball games is right in his wheelhouse.

"It caught me off guard hearing about it at first," the first-year manager of the Missoula PaddleHeads confessed. "In independent league baseball I've seen guys running bases on stilts, food fights in the stands during games and a lot of other things, but this takes it to another level."

Like any skipper, Schlact was thinking of ways to make it work for his team about 90 seconds after he found out it was real. Now that he knows for certain that a designated slugger from each team is going to get five big swings in the 10th inning with hopes of winning a shootout-style, sudden-death scenario, Schlact has devised a plan.

It all revolves around the person throwing the slugger marshmallows so he can hammer them out of Ogren-Allegiance Park with the greatest of ease.

"The first thing that popped in my head is if I went out there and pitched and did exactly what I did during my career, we'll win every (extra-inning) game," joked Schlact, a former hurler who reached the Double-A level.

"In all seriousness, it could be me throwing, it could be one of our assistant coaches. The trick of it is do you want a BP (batting practice) thrower when the hitters have been sped up all game at 90-plus? Where do you want to throw it from? I feel like you'd want someone who is really good at firm BP that has good command and knows exactly where to put it to help guys get the barrel on the ball."

Even if you despise the new rule, which takes pitchers and defense out of the equation, you're probably not going to leave your seat the first time the PaddleHeads go extra innings. Admit it: If you're an old guy like me, you enjoy watching one of those old 1960s Home Run Derby shows in black and white as much as you do watching old game footage.

I mean, come on, Mickey Mantle vs. Willie Mays and Harmon Killebrew vs. Ernie Banks? If you didn't like that, your trunk probably has soccer spikes in it instead of old softball shoes.

"You want someone that can hit the ball over the fence of course," Schlact shared on the topic of choosing his extra-inning derby hitter. "But then when we're at home in Missoula, we have the shorter lines and tall fences, so do you look at guys that hit the ball in the air?

"Then the wind could be howling in from right, so you want a righty up there to kind of go with the wind to left. But ultimately, you'll want your best guy who puts on a show during BP."

Considering Missoula Osprey attendance had been sagging in recent years, the Pioneer League going independent and adopting fun rules seems like a great way to stir interest. I realize a lot of you don't take kindly to the new nickname. But my goodness, I can't remember a time when I've been more excited for the home opener (May 22).

Then when you take the revamped league and rules and combine with the fact that we're going to see not just greenhorns but players that might be past their prime but still love to play ... let's just say it's a dream come true for seamheads and sports writers. 

Schlact and his PaddleHead front office pals have picked their own players, not some MLB also-ran team from Phoenix that shall remain nameless. The beauty of picking your own team is you can be choosy.

"It's been a fun process," Schlact said of building his roster. "I stepped away from the indie ball, recruiting a couple of years with the Brewers. Now back doing it, it's energizing.

"We have a great talented group, but more than that we have a superb off the field group as well. I have a goal to win a championship. But also they're going to represent Missoula and Montana really well."

Heck, if I wasn't getting in for free, I'd pay for tickets.

Now I just need to find a way to abbreviate PaddleHeads for short headlines. I know for sure that P-heads is out. Floaters doesn't cut it, either.

Ideas are welcome.

Bill Speltz is Missoulian Sports Editor and has served as Sunday columnist the past 15 years. Do you have a story idea? Email Bill at bill.speltz@missoulian.com.

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