(Note: This is the first installment of a four-part series featuring the four ballparks of the Pioneer League North. The “Day at the Park” series will rank the parks in Billings, Missoula, Great Falls and Helena on the facility, food, entertainment and overall atmosphere.)
By now, Billings Mustangs fans are more than familiar with Dehler Park. The simple yet refined stadium replaced Cobb Field in 2008, giving the Mustangs a place to play that matches the award-winning organization.
The Mustangs organization won the John H. Johnson award in 2010 and the Bob Freitas Award for the Short Season in 2012. Both awards honor sustained excellence throughout the organization.
“Our focus is really the fans themselves and the customers themselves,” said Mustangs general manager Gary Roller. “We’ve been here since 1948, we’ve never been about gadgets — the dizzy bat races and those types of on-field promotions. And that’s not to say that doesn’t work in other markets, because it does. We just find that what we’re about here is really baseball.”
When you walk into Dehler Park, there is no doubt you’re in a ballpark where the game itself is the most important feature. There are few items that detract from what’s happening on the field, so the action gets the fans’ undivided attention.
“The biggest part of the facility itself from a fan standpoint or fan’s experience standpoint is the playing surface,” Roller said. “That’s what everybody sees. We’re very proud of it. It affects the fans, we think. We get an awful lot of comments about it, because, again, that’s what they see.”
The field’s perimeter is surrounded by a concourse for spectators to enjoy the game from the outfield with standing-room only tickets. The park has roughly 3,000 seats situated behind home plate and along each baseline.
Rating: Triple. The only thing preventing a home run is the seats are angled towards the outfield, rather than directed towards the pitching mound.
Dehler Park is home to the Stang Burger, whose reputation is growing throughout Montana and the rest of the Pioneer League. With strips of brisket draped across a traditional hamburger, the Stang Burger makes for a unique and tasty treat.
“We kind of hang our hat on the Stang Burger,” Roller said. “The people that come in here and visit know about it, surprisingly, they do. So word does travel throughout the league and throughout Montana that we have the Stang Burger, and it’s very well liked, probably our most popular item.”
Beyond the well-known burger, the Lead-Off Grill offers fans bratwursts, pulled pork and other meat options. For traditional ballpark fare, the concession stands behind first and third provide hot dogs, nachos, popcorn and the likes.
Rating: Home run. I don’t know if you’ll find a more delicious concessions staple than the Stang Burger.
The focus at Dehler Park is on the baseball game. Baseball purists would say that’s the way it should be. But minor league baseball is known across the country for its gimmicks, which often bring fans on the field for promotions and other shenanigans.
The Mustangs do employ a mascot, Homer, as well as a bounce house in his likeness to entertain the kids. There’s also a speed-pitch game and gate giveaways.
“We know that the 4- and 5-year-olds aren’t going to sit there for two and a half or three hours and watch the games, so we’ve got to give them something to do,” Roller said. “With the addition of the Homer bounce house, and we’ve got the speed pitch and Homer himself, we’re always looking for ways to make it a little more kid friendly, a little more fan friendly. And however it is we can do that, we certainly do it.”
Rating: Double. This is a happy medium. Baseball purists love that the focus is on the game, but there isn’t much in the way of fan promotions at Dehler Park for the casual spectator.
Since Dehler Park opened in 2008, the Mustangs have led the Pioneer League North in average attendance every season. Of the eight total Pioneer League teams, only Ogden has had better attendance than the Mustangs.
The beautiful ballpark, which sits so fans can watch airplanes depart and approach Billings Logan International Airport, combined with the affordable prices and top-notch customer service, provides fans with a great family outing during the Billings summer. Roller said even opposing players find Dehler to be a welcome host.
“They like the atmosphere, they like the setting,” he said. “It’s beautiful here at night with the Rimrocks as a backdrop and being in the landing pattern, the flight pattern of the planes coming in. I’m not sure it could be any better here in Billings, Montana.”
Rating: Home run. There aren’t many summer nights in Billings that can compete with the Dehler Park atmosphere.