Dehler Park

A double rainbow forms as the Mustangs play the Idaho Falls Chukars during opening night at Dehler Park on June 14, 2019.

It might be a quiet summer at Dehler Park. 

The Mustangs, Billings' Pioneer League Minor League Baseball team, announced Wednesday it was doubtful if regular season baseball for the team would start on time, if at all.

That's left the city of Billings to wonder how best to use Dehler Park, the Mustangs' home field. The Mustangs are affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds. 

"How do we diversify its use?" city administrator Chris Kukulski said of the park. "That's the question we're asking." 

Dehler Park is owned by the city and was built in 2008 when voters approved a $12.5 million, 20-year bond. The final payment on the ballpark will be due July 1, 2027.

With the questions surrounding Minor League season play in the age of COVID-19, the city has been working with Billings American Legion to ensure some baseball is played at Dehler over the summer. 

Dehler Park

Fans packed Dehler Park for the Billings Mustangs' home opener against Missoula in this 2016 photo.

"That's really been the focus at this point," Kukulski said.

So Dehler will host American Legion baseball, ensuring the community will still get to see games at the park, as part of the Goldsmith Gallery Tournament. Other matches are set to be played at Pirtz Field. The annual tourney will take place June 25-28. 

But other events are a possibility. A local group has approached the city about holding a community event at the ball park toward the end of the summer, Kukulski said. The city is open to it; the only concern is protecting the field, he said. 

Gary Roller, general manager of the Mustangs, said the organization is waiting to see what happens with the season. The Mustangs laid off three of its small front office staff in May. 

"We're considering our options for non-baseball events if we aren't able to play this summer," he said. "At this point we haven't committed to anything."

Other communities in Montana hosting minor league teams have looked to alternate events to keep their ballparks busy this summer. 

A letter released by Scott Reasoner, president of the Great Falls Voyagers, said the team will host family movie nights, a kickball league, American Legion baseball, trivia nights and other activities.

"The Voyagers' schedule was to begin on June 19 in Billings, and while we still wait for an official cancellation, the honest truth is we find it very hard to believe there will be professional baseball in Montana this summer," Reasoner wrote.

"The Voyagers know it is our job to bring family-friendly fun to our community no matter the challenge," he added.

COVID-19 restrictions this summer were one more blow to an already troubled Pioneer League. 

The entire league remains on the chopping block as Major League Baseball looks to strip as many as 42 MiLB clubs of their player development agreements in an effort to shrink the minor league apparatus, shorten travel and improve working conditions for players.

The summer 2020 season was going to be the last regular season before negotiations on the development agreements were to be settled. Billings officials had hoped to use the summer to pack the ballpark and demonstrate Billings' love for the game and for the Mustangs. 

Dehler Park was built on the site of the old Cobb Field Athletic Park and ended up costing $10.7 million after supporters collected $1.8 million in donations. In 2015, the city refinanced at a lower interest rate, reducing the amount taxpayers owed by another $542,000. 

Dehler Park

A sculpture of Billings baseball great Dave McNally stands at the entrance to Dehler Park.

Kukulski half joked about inviting the Cincinnati Reds to come play at Dehler should COVID-19 infections decline in the state and Gov. Steve Bullock move Montana into Phase 3 of the reopening. That seems unlikely now

He knows getting a Major League team to come to town is a far-flung possibility, but Dehler is one of the nicest parks in the Minor League and the Reds have long had a relationship with the Mustangs. 

"Let 'em see how much we love baseball here," he said. 

Retrospective: Billings baseball parks

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