Billings Mustangs fans long have known their ballpark was special. Now they can say it’s the best.
Dehler Park was voted the top rookie-level baseball park in America, based on a Best of the Ballparks contest conducted by Ballpark Digest magazine.
Home of the Mustangs since 2008, Dehler Park beat Suplizio Field in Grand Junction, Colo., in the final round of fan voting by a 78-22 percent margin.
“I just love the ballpark,” Carol Stief of Billings said prior to Thursday night’s home game against the Ogden Raptors. Stief and her husband, Larry, are season-ticket holders and have lived in Billings since 1966.
“I missed Cobb Field for a while … and it has a lot of memories,” she added. “(But) we have a beautiful ballpark here.”
According to the magazine, more than 130,000 fans from across the country voted in the competition between the 18 ballparks from the Pioneer and Appalachian leagues.
Billings had a first-round bye and beat the Bristol (Va.) Pirates in the second round, the Burlington (N.C.) Royals in the third round and the Pulaski (Va.) Yankees in the semifinals.
“There’s such a rich baseball history in Billings, and Dehler Park is a large part of that history,” Kevin Reichard, Ballpark Digest publisher, said in announcing the results. “That history is reinforced by the statues of Dave McNally and Ed Bayne outside the ballpark, and with a family-friendly atmosphere inside for Mustangs games, it’s a perfect match for the Billings market.
“With a great view of the Billings rimrock, the delicious Stang Burger and a convenient downtown location, Dehler Park offers one of the most pleasant experiences in all of Minor League Baseball. The Mustangs are one of the top draws in all of rookie ball, and Dehler Park is a big reason why.”
The setting certainly has something to do with appeal of Dehler Park, but it’s much more than that. Other rookie-league ballparks, including others in Montana and the Pioneer League, also have beautiful settings. Idaho Falls won last year’s fan vote.
“I’ve seen some around Montana and I know they don’t hold a candle to it,” said Doug Harper, of Billings, who estimates he comes to about half the home games each season. “I think it’s by far the best in Montana and I’ve seen others in other states. It’s still by far the best park.
“The fact it’s new is a big help. It’s well designed. I remember old Cobb Field and this is light years ahead of it. People still love that old park, but I wouldn’t want to go back to it.”
The Mustangs are averaging nearly 3,000 fans per game this season. In the first 22 dates they averaged 2,990, second to Ogden in the Pioneer League.
“I think any time you receive an award like that, it’s a pretty big deal,” Mustangs general manager Gary Roller said. “You look at some of the ballparks we were up against, even at the rookie level, it sets you apart. It is a big deal.
“With or without this award, we’re very proud of this stadium and the community and everything we are.”
Roller said he hears compliments often from fans who see Dehler Park for the first time. It’s the ultimate compliment, he said.
“A lot of people coming through stop and know we have a team or a minor-league park … and they see it for the first time and they say, ‘Wow!’,” Roller said. “It’s pretty impressive for a rookie-league park.”