(Note: This is the second installment of a four-part series featuring the four ballparks of the Pioneer League North. The “Day at the Park” series profiled Dehler Park in Billings last week and will look at the parks in Helena and Great Falls in the future. Parks are graded on facility, food, entertainment and overall atmosphere. New installments will run in Thursday editions of the Billings Gazette.)
Since moving to Missoula, the Missoula Osprey have won Pioneer League baseball championships in 1999, 2006 and 2012. They’ve also seen their share of individual talent – including Paul Goldschmidt, who was in the conversation to win the National League MVP following the 2013 season – move through the Arizona Diamondbacks’ farm club.
So when executive vice president Matt Ellis said the front office implements a philosophy assuming the team will lose every game 8-0, they’re preparing for the worst.
“We want to make sure that our product is good, so relying just on baseball for us is not our model,” Ellis said. “Our model’s to have a complete product, because that’s what minor league baseball’s about. As an industry, our minor leagues have been a pioneer in professional sports in terms of marketing, and we want to continue to be that.”
The Osprey perform different on-field promotions every game to provide entertainment for the more casual fans at the ballpark. According to Ellis, they have received national recognition for some of those promotions, specifically the peanut inning when fans can earn free peanuts if the Osprey score a run in the bottom of the sixth.
The Osprey provide a lot of entertainment outside of the baseball game when fans visit Ogren Park at Allegiance Field. The peanut inning gets the notoriety, but it seems like there’s always something happening on the field.
One promotion has fans replacing the bases between innings; another has youngsters stampeding across the field; or food mascots – a hot dog, hamburger and popcorn – will race down the third-base line. When you include Ollie Osprey’s antics, there’s always something going on to entertain the crowd.
“The peanut inning is what we’re known for nationwide. It’s one of the promotions that’s getting the most recognition we’ve had. Love it or hate it, it’s a staple,” Ellis said. “We truly try to make it a good experience for the fans on a nightly basis.”
Rating: Triple. The Osprey may go a little over the top, but the gimmicks provide consistent entertainment from first pitch.
Like most ballparks, Ogren Park serves the traditional concession stand fare. But the nontraditional food is about as unique as you’ll find: Bats & Balls, which includes fried Rocky Mountain oysters piled on a bed of french fries.
The Bats & Balls basket, along with Dehler Park’s Stang Burger, are finalists for MiLB.com’s top food item in all of minor league baseball.
“We’re known for Bats & Balls. That’s one of our big hits. Our menu isn’t much different from most ballparks,” said Ellis, noting that there are also milkshakes available on site and more than 22 different beers on tap.
“We’re known for our beer in Missoula, we’ve got a lot of micros in this town,” he continued. “So you’ll find that we have a lot of micro stands around the ballpark.”
Rating: Triple. If you like Rocky Mountain oysters, this is probably a home run. The food grades out just fine, and the variety of beer is a big selling point.
Ogren Park at Allegiance Field originally opened in 2004, built mostly by a non-profit group called “Play Ball Missoula.” Ellis said there weren’t any buildings when it initially opened, but they were built and in place for the start of the 2007 season.
The seating capacity is listed at 4,500 fans, which doesn’t include the free seats on a grass berm outside the center-field fence. The berm is situated along a trail that runs behind the outfield wall along the banks of the Clark Fork River.
Most unique, though, is the osprey nest overlooking the park.
“As far as we know – and we’ve promoted it and nobody’s challenged us on it – we’re the only facility that has their mascot in their natural habitat in their facility, so that’s pretty exciting,” Ellis said. “It’s fun to watch him. He’ll catch a fish and show it off in front of the fans, so he’s become part of who we are.”
Rating: Triple. No park is perfect, but Ogren Park at Allegiance Field is close. The osprey nest in center field is a cool touch, too.
Between the new facility, the promotions and the entertaining public address announcer, fans seem to really get into the game at Ogren Park at Allegiance Field. There’s a little something for everyone.
It all circles back to the front office approaching every game as if the Osprey are going to lose 8-0.
“If everybody leaves the park happy with an 8-0 loss, we did our job,” Ellis said. “That’s a challenge. But we have to have that philosophy, because we don’t control what’s on the field. We’re not perfect, but we really try hard to make it, from A to Z, a quality experience for the night.”
Rating: Home run. It’s a nice park in a beautiful setting with a quality organization and energetic fans. What’s not to like?