BILLINGS — While season schedules were adjusted last week with the loss of the Alberta teams due to travel restrictions, the Billings Royals have started the American Legion baseball season 4-0.
The Billings Scarlets are set to begin their 2021 campaign May 8 with games against Missoula and Rapid City Post 22 at Pirtz Field and the Royals will also join in the fun for that series.
And just down the interstate, the Class A Laurel Dodgers will begin their season hosting the Sheridan (Wyoming) Troopers on May 2.
With Lethbridge and Medicine Hat not competing in the league this year, Class AA will feature seven teams: the Royals, Scarlets, two-time defending champion Bozeman, state runner-up Helena, Kalispell, Missoula and Great Falls.
This year’s state AA tourney is set for July 28-Aug. 1 in Great Falls.
“A seven-team AA tournament doesn’t work all that well with one team getting a bye,” said Montana-Alberta American Legion Baseball general chairman Ron Edwards of Bozeman. “We would much rather have one of the Canadian teams in that tournament at the end of July. How we get there, I don’t know if that will happen.
“The best thing that could happen is the Canadian border opens up and we could get a AA Canadian team into the state tournament by the end of July.”
The AA league schedule will consist of 24 conference games with each team playing the other six four times.
Billings adds a Class B team
Billings American Legion Baseball chairman Jeff Ballard said the organization is now sponsoring six teams.
For the past several years BALB has sponsored the Royals and Scarlets in Class AA, the defending state champion Blue Jays and Cardinals in Class A, and a B team.
The Blue Jays are a feeder team for the Royals and the Cardinals are a feeder team for the Scarlets, but they each play true Class A schedules.
Previously the single B team was a mix of players from both the “red and blue” sides explained Ballard.
Now with two Class B teams, one will feature players who may eventually work their way up to the Blue Jays and/or Royals and the other will feature players who will have the opportunity to try and advance to the Cardinals or Scarlets.
“We had enough of a turnout in tryouts this year to warrant two (Class B) teams,” Ballard said. “Our goal is to try not to turn away kids as long as they fit in. At some point you run out of space because you can only have so many kids at the AA level.
“It’s a benefit to be able to do that for these kids to play. It gives the kids a home.”
While Class B doesn’t offer a state tournament, new Legion squads tend to start play there while building their program. The Montana-Alberta American Legion baseball website notes Class B is “primarily a Junior league” for players 17 and under.
Edwards said the Legion program is experiencing growth in Montana with a team from Plains set to compete in Class B this year and he said there is a possibility for a Plentywood team to be playing next season. Edwards also noted Froid began play last season. Malta won’t be playing this year, Edwards said.
Some teams have also benefited by the addition of individual players, according to Edwards.
“We are seeing some kids that played travel ball that wanted to come back to American Legion and play for their hometowns,” Edwards said.
Goldsmith Gallery tourney scheduled
The annual Goldsmith Gallery Tournament will be played at Dehler Park and Pirtz Field June 24-27.
The Royals and Scarlets will also play a doubleheader at Dehler on July 15, which is Senior Night.
Aside from those dates, the Royals and Scarlets home games will be at Pirtz, which features a synthetic turf infield unveiled in the fall of 2019.
The Billings Mustangs are the primary tenant of Dehler Park and once the Ponies finalized a schedule BALB had to work around their games.
“We just didn’t have the flexibility,” Ballard said. “We have to schedule with the rest of the league. Everybody else is ready to go and we have to make our schedule.”
BALB Hall of Fame banquet set for 2022
As with many events last year, the annual HOF banquet was canceled because of COVID-19 safety precautions and social distancing guidelines.
And while the curve of the disease has recently been flattened, there wasn’t enough time to plan the banquet this year. Ballard said the 2020 inductees will be honored in April, 2022.
Those who will be enshrined are Aaron Leavitt, the late Bill McIntosh and Randy Walter, all of whom played for the Royals; and former Scarlets Brandon Page, Jeff Uhren, and Tim Benjamin. Scheels will be presented the Dave McNally Friend of American Legion Baseball award.
“We weren’t sure that people were ready to gather yet,” Ballard said. “By the time we had to plan the party, it was very unclear if people were ready to gather even though the restrictions were lifted. We only had two months and to really try to plan a big event like that, it didn’t seem like we had the time to pull it together.”
The Scarlets are also set to play at the Helena Tournament July 3-5 and the Gopher Classic in Minneapolis July 9-14.
The Royals will compete at a tourney in Mandan, North Dakota, June 10-13 and will visit Bozeman for a round-robin July 9-11.
Laurel will play at the Spring Classic Tournament in Gillette, Wyoming, May 29-31. Laurel will also play in the Cloninger Classic in Helena June 24-27. The Dodgers are also entered in the Dickinson (North Dakota) tourney July 9-11.
The Eastern A Districts are July 22-25 in Glasgow and the State A tourney is July 29-Aug. 2 in Havre.
Email Gazette Sports Editor John Letasky at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsJohnL