Recapping the Pioneer League North ballpark tours

2014-07-17T17:29:00Z 2014-07-19T09:47:04Z Recapping the Pioneer League North ballpark tours The Billings Gazette

This week’s profile on Centene Stadium in Great Falls concluded my series on the four ballparks in the Pioneer League North. I’ll start by saying touring around Montana to take in baseball games is not the worst way to spend a work week.

I would be lying, though, if I didn’t say the series turned out to be more of a challenge than I was expecting. The actual day at the ballpark is easy and fun. But getting back to the office and having to grade the different parks on the facility, food, entertainment and atmosphere? That proved to be challenging, especially when you set the bar that Dehler Park in Billings only earned a triple for its more-or-less state-of-the-art minor league facility.

If I had to do it over again, maybe I would have given Dehler Park a home run, as it’s the best in the Pioneer League North. I have no reservations when I say that, even though it’s not quite perfect. As I noted, the baseline seats directed towards the outfield instead of the infield are a big problem for me. Other than that, though, Dehler is awesome.

So if we’re ranking the four Montana parks in order, we’re going Dehler, Ogren Park at Allegiance Field in Missoula, Centene Stadium in Great Falls and then Helena’s Kindrick Legion Field.

If we’re ranking them on the food – I love ballpark food – Dehler Park’s Stang Burger tops the list as the best food I ate on my tour. Missoula’s Bats & Balls ranks as the worst. (On a side note, I can’t believe I ate Rocky Mountain Oysters for the first time on this trip. I’ve lived in Montana all my life, grew up on a ranch, have been to dozens of brandings, and my first dining experience of the Big Sky delicacy was at a baseball game!?) I won’t be eating those again.

As much as I like the Stang Burger, I’m going to give the Great Falls Voyagers the top spot on overall menu. Centene Stadium just has so many different options that you’re going to find something you like. Plus, I’m a sucker for the Bottom’s Up Beer gimmick. That was the first time I had seen one, and it was pretty cool. I didn’t drink one, as I was technically on the clock, but I wanted to.

After Great Falls, the food rankings go like this: Billings, Missoula, Helena. I’m tempted to move Kindrick Legion Field ahead of Ogren Park at Allegiance Field, but the Osprey offer a little more variety, so they get the edge.

Moving on down our list, entertainment is next. This was probably the hardest category to rank, as people want different things from their ballpark experiences. If you just want to watch baseball, Dehler Park is your best bet. If you like on-field gimmicks every half inning, Ogren Park tops your list. Helena and Great Falls fall somewhere between those two.

I tried to stay neutral on my series rankings, but, personally, I like the balance between baseball and entertainment. Missoula goes a little too far over the top for my taste, and Billings doesn’t do enough outside of the game. I thought the Voyagers in Great Falls did the best job of walking that line.

On entertainment, Great Falls again gets my vote for No. 1 in the Pioneer League North. Helena is next, followed by Billings and finally Missoula. The peanut inning, which is nationally renowned, is just too much for me.

Lastly, I ranked the overall atmosphere, which basically answered, “At which park did I have the best time?” It’s hard not to have a good time at the ballpark on a summer night, even though all four stadiums offer a different fan experience.

I gave home runs to Billings and Missoula and triples to Great Falls and Helena, so I obviously enjoyed all four parks. If you’re making me pick the best, though, I’m going to be a homer and choose Dehler Park. The Mustangs do a fantastic job, which is supported by their attendance figures.

Missoula would rank second, but it’s close with Great Falls. Helena, while it ranks fourth for me, is still a fun time. The fans are what make the atmosphere special at Brewers’ games.

All in all, Montana is fortunate to have four great parks like the ones in Billings, Missoula, Helena and Great Falls. Whether you’re taking in the game at 80-year-old Kindrick Legion Field or at 7-year-old Dehler Park, it’s still baseball. And it’s America’s pastime for a reason.

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Greg Rachac

Sportswriter for The Billings Gazette covering Montana and Montana State athletics in addition to various high school sports.

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