Ogren Park at Allegiance Field, Missoula, MONTANA
Number of states: 29
States to go: 21
First game: July 2, 2009 (Missoula Osprey 14, Great Falls Voyagers 9)
(Click on any image to see a larger version.)
Looks great–sounds awful.
For our seventh-annual 4th of July Minor League Baseball Road Trip (and our first with spawn), Michelle and I headed out to Montana for my first Pioneer League game. We were quite impressed with Missoula as a city–a nice university town surrounded by gorgeous mountains.
Ogren Park at Allegiance Field is located almost perfectly within that gorgeous town–just off of downtown and in the shadow of the Rockies. You can’t do better than that for location. There’s a view of a little bit of downtown, but not much; mostly, the ballpark feels sunken into the ground. This hardly matters, however, since the mountains are so beautiful. Watching the last of the sun reflect off of the mountains between pitches is as good as it gets. If you ever go to the ballpark, please sit on the third-base side. Not only is it the shady side, but you can’t go wrong with that view.
The ballpark is pimped out a little more than I’d like. For starters, I think the name is backwards…shouldn’t the field be at the park rather than vice versa? Local car dealer Kathy Ogren bought the naming rights to the park (although apparently not the field)…but then named it after herself rather than after her business, Bitterroot Motors. I suppose that name choice is better than Bitterroot Motors Park would have been (although not nearly as graceful, beautiful, and locally appropriate as Bitterroot Park). And once inside, there are a few too many corporate reminders for my tastes. I worry a little about a ballpark viewed as a promotions transferrence device. But to sit underneath those mountains, I can live with some of that. (Who looks at advertisements when there’s baseball and a fantastic foothill view?) Although one cannot see the mountain marked with the letter “M” (for the University of Montana), one could see the mountain marked with what was a mysterious “L”. An usher informed me that said “L” is for Loyola High School.
As I poked around before the game, I found a lot that I liked. For starters, the place is appropriately quirky. The right-field line is really short–only 297 feet to the pole, so the team compensates with a particularly high Monster-like wall there. Unlike some ballparks of recent vintage, this isn’t a forced attempt at character. There are railroad tracks and a bike/walking path there that compel them to cram right field into very little space. The idea that a railroad, including a gorgeous railway bridge one can see from the pavilion area by the right field foul pole, would be so prominent in a Montana ballpark helps this place. I was also impressed that the locals who were biking and walking the path could stop and watch the game from the distance in center field…for free. Alas, they would be denied the “bats and balls” offering in the concession stand…which, the concession worker told me with just a bit of a blush, are french fries (“bats”) and, as she directly put it, “buffalo balls.” Um…no thanks. But I’m glad they’re available. Adds to the local color.
Speaking of local color, the name “Osprey” is locally appropriate–in spades. Most impressively, an actual Osprey lives in a nest perched atop a giant wooden pole just past the wall in right-center field. A telescope sits on the third-base side of the pavilion, trained full-time on the nest. By the telescope stands a wildlife expert who can answer all of your actual small-o osprey questions. It’s hard to take a picture through a telescope, but I tried…how often does one get a opportunity to take a picture of osprey young in their nest? The baseball club doesn’t just name itself after these birds, but they make them into what I think is as gorgeous a logo as you’ll ever see on a minor league hat–the outline of a flying bird holding a fish in its talons.
While the place was pimped out to the gills, it did give me a sense that baseball was valued. I appreciated the large tributes to former Osprey who had made the major leagues, both with the parent Diamondbacks and with other clubs. I’ve never seen quite such a large display, and that’s something I always enjoy, particularly at the lowest level of the minors like this. And on top of that, they had a promotion that I was quite looking forward to because of its baseball-relatedness. If something highly unusual were to take place in a specific inning (a triple play, for instance, or the team hitting for the cycle, or nine pitches for three strikeouts), a fan would win $10,000. I figured that, while unlikely, would be fun, so I entered my name. (Alas, my name was not selected. And I do mean “alas,” for reasons that will become clear later.)
Happy we had made the trip, I bought one of the team’s gorgeous hats and prepared to enjoy a game in gorgeous, unquestionably-Montana surroundings, alternating my night focusing on my wife, son, baseball, and foothills.
What could possibly go wrong?
Well, as it turned out, quite a bit.
The front office of the Missoula Osprey have a Rolls Royce of a ballpark. It’s a shame that they believe that the purpose of a Rolls Royce is to gun the engine, blast the bass, do some donuts and leave as much rubber as possible on the pavement.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the way the Osprey presented their game left me feeling as disappointed as I’ve ever felt in a ballpark.
It all started in about the 6th inning. The peanut inning.
The PA announcer didn’t even announce it–or if he did, he announced it so quickly that I didn’t catch it. (Not quietly, mind you. Quickly.)
Next thing I know, the PA man was shouting at us. The ushers were shouting at us. And the citizens of Missoula, Montana were shouting alongside them like trained seals.
Here’s what it sounded like:
“I SAY PEA! YOU SAY NUTS! PEA!” Nuts! “PEA!” Nuts! “NOW I SAY NUTS AND YOU SAY PEA! NUTS!” Pea! “NUTS!” Pea! NOW I SAY PEA, YOU SAY NUTS! PEA!” Nuts!
“NOW JUST THE WOMEN! PEA!” Nuts!
“NOW JUST THE KIDS! PEA!” Nuts!
“OK! NOW THE FIRST-BASE SIDE SAYS PEA, AND THE THIRD-BASE SIDE SAYS NUTS! GO! ” Pea! Nuts!
This is the point where I might say “You get the idea…” except that you absolutely have no idea the depths of hellishness this crap sank to. Between every single pitch of the entire inning, this clown of a PA announcer shouted “PEA-PEA-PEA!!!” or some variety thereof. Meanwhile, the ushers stood at the front of the rows and raised up their signs like elderly cheerleaders. I felt like they were demeaned, to be honest. I do not believe it is their job to lead cheers. I believe it is their job to help spectators. I also do not believe that the public address announcer’s job is to shout out garbage through the game, but rather to provide information to enhance our enjoyment of the game and to take care of advertisers. Apparently the Osprey disagree.
Plus, when the dude shouts “PEA!!!” it sounds like he is ordering us to urinate. (Although I would imagine peeing nuts would be far more painful than any kidneystone.) Which led me to wonder…as readily as everybody was going along with this guy, would they have gone along with such an order! If he’d have shouted out–”HEY! FIRST BASE SIDE! EVERYBODY TAKE A CRAP! DEFECATE, EVERYONE! SHIT ONTO THE SEATS!”…and had the ushers demonstrate…well, I do believe everybody would have followed orders.
Thankfully, the Osprey did not score in the inning. I’m worried I’d have heard the PA guy pull a Meg Ryan from When Harry Met Sally while the ushers imitated his every sound.
And then–well, then it got worse. By which I mean more bizarre.
Remember that promotion where someone could win $10K if something strange happened in the inning? The 7th inning promotion would award a woman named Martha $10,000 if the Osprey scored exactly 7 runs in the inning.
Well, that was the inning that the Great Falls Voyagers, leading by a score of 8-1, suddenly lost the ability to pitch a baseball.
After a leadoff strikeout, the following transpired: walk, single, single, error, HPB, walk, walk, walk, double.
With each Great Falls Voyagers screw-up, the music became more frequent, to the point where it was nearly between every pitch. Any time the music subsided, the PA guy repeatedly ordered the brainwashed crowd around, saying hey, everybody shout, everybody up on your feet, everybody go crazy. Saying hey, the Osprey need you to help them out. Saying let’s all put our hands together.
PA guy, I have an honest question for you. Do you believe that the citizens of Missoula are comically stupid? Or is it tragically stupid?
I do believe that, particularly in a university town, that people are smart enough to know that a late seven-run rally to tie the score is exciting. Additionally, the people know that Martha has $10,000 on the line. That’s also exciting and fun to watch.
So, given that only someone with absolutely no sense would be bored by the developments on the field, why do you feel the need to blast your voice all over the ballpark between nearly every damned pitch??? Especially in an inning that lasted about a million pitches?
In the midst of all of this, my son, who normally sleeps through baseball games–even dramatic, ninth-inning rallies–could stand it no longer. I took him up to the pavilion (where it was slightly quieter, albeit still too loud). I watched the brunt of this lamentable inning from there.
Before long, seven runs were in. The Osprey had tied the score 8-8. Men were on second and third. There was one out.
“Now remember,” the PA guy said. “The Osprey have to score EXACTLY 7 runs for Martha to win her $10,000.”
And at that moment, a hilarious thing happened. The Osprey let their priorities show.
The PA guy shut up. The music stopped. After a million sound clips in the inning, and with the lead runs on second and third, the Osprey suddenly stopped audible expressions of support for the home team. Oh, there may have been the occasional rhythmic-clapping clip. But the PA guy stopped talking, and the loudest of the music stopped.
To the team, the promotion mattered more than winning the game.
To confirm this, I sidled up to an usher and asked the obvious. “So, at this point, are we rooting for Great Falls?”
He looked at me and said “Don’t tell anyone, but right now, yes, we are.” I promised not to tell anyone. (As this post shows, I lied.)
The Osprey’s next two batters were retired before the 8th run could score, so Martha won her $10,000. I’m glad she did, but the whole experience would have been far more exciting if they’d simply announced it at the start of the inning and treated the rest of the inning like normal (by which I mean normal for ballparks that value baseball, rather than normal for the loudmouthed pots-and-pans-banging folks for the Osprey).
Even thereafter, the PA guy wouldn’t shut up. When the Osprey took the lead, he started cracking jokes between pitches. “Hey fans…are you enjoying your night at Ogren Park at Allegiance Field now?” Laughter from the peanut gallery. One pitch later: “and you thought I had two heads when I said they could pull it off!” Meanwhile, of course, there’s a guy in the batter’s box, but that’s apparently of little or no interest to Osprey game management.
And that’s where my fun night at the ballpark went. It was destroyed by the larynx of an egomaniac who believes that he is the most important person at the ballpark. That last comment of his proves it: it shows that he believes the PA announcer was central in all of the spectator’s minds. Not the massive comeback, the beautiful setting, the woman who won the big money, or even the abysmal Rookie League play. He believed that we all were thinking about him.
And he was right. We were thinking of him because he was forcing us to.
So, to sum up, my hopes for an evening of baseball in a fine, quirky, locally-flavored ballpark were ruined by a front office and a public address announcer who put baseball dead last on its list of priorities. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. I was so worked up and frazzled that I vowed to tear out the PA guy’s larynx if I ever encountered him. But I’ve calmed down since then. Now, instead, I will simply avoid Ogren Park at Allegiance Field until the Osprey are run by someone else–someone who values baseball. To put it simply, they took what might be the most physically beautiful setting for a park I’ve ever seen and managed to make me not enjoy the night.
Please–everyone who runs a team–learn from this. Less is more. Baseball is enough.
Regional feel: 10/10
The ballpark is quite literally as good as it gets in this regard. Local landmarks visible on the mountains, respect for past Missoula minor leaguers, and bull testicles for sale. That’s fantastic.
Physically? Sure. But beyond that, this ballpark has all the charm of a screaming chainsaw.
Hey Osprey: Shut. The Hell. Up.
Team Mascot/Name: 4/5
Ollie Osprey and me. Unique, locally appropriate, and a logo that’s a gorgeous as any I’ve seen.
The ballpark itself is quite nice–not perfect–but oh, those surroundings. I just can’t imagine anything much better.
Nice respect for the past. Lots of room to walk, and always within view of the game.
Did a lot wrong here. They completely ignored at least one pinch-hitter, and I had to get information after the game from the internet…which the team posted improperly for a while.
I appreciate the number of them, but I think they are complicit in the Osprey’s sins–serving as accomplices.
I’ll admit I want to go back–but only once someone else is running the show.
BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:
These kids need a bit of work, especially Great Falls’ relief pitching. Missoula, once down 8-1, scores 7 runs in the 7th and 6 more in the 8th to win an endless game.
Nobody had more than two hits, but Missoula was the beneficiary of a dozen walks. Paul Goldschmidt and Kevin Broxton walked thrice each.
Ramon Castillo homered for the Osprey. Nick Ciolli homered for the Voyagers.
(Written September 2009.)