Kindrick Field, Helena, MONTANA
State number: still 31
States to go: 19
Number of games: 1
First game: July 8, 2010 (Great Falls Voyagers 15, Helena Brewers 2)
Kindrick Field underwhelmed me. Seriously–in one of the most gorgeous states around, and in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, there’s not an attractive feel to the place. The neighborhood, which is sort of semi-industrial-semi-residential is not anything that impresses. And even though the field is unusually oriented such that the sun sets behind right field, perhaps bugging the batter, there’s not much of a mountain view. The ballpark’s appearance from the outside is–let’s face it–a bit ugly. So there wasn’t much going for the place on the way in. Once I got on the inside, however, there was a little bit of charm, and the people of Montana made this into one of the most memorable nights I’ve ever had in a ballpark in spite of a laughable loss by the home team.
Like many old-time ballparks (Eugene’s old Civic Stadium comes to mind), there is a battle going on inside of Kindrick Field between the comfort of modern ballparks and the charm of old. The orange seats and the green wooden edifice give a bit of an old-timey feel on the inside, and we welcomed the significant legroom the second row offered, since we could simply put Steven on a leash and let him run up and down the row. However, it’s a good thing that we didn’t have general admission seats. They’re simply wooden benches, and they stretch all the way from railing to railing. Rather than putting in a convenient (and safe) staircase, the Brewers just painted a few stretches of the benches white, thus declaring that area to be the aisle. If I were at all elderly or even just suffering from a bum knee that day, I’d have a lot of trouble clambering over the benches to get to my seat.
On the whole, the place simply lacked amenities. I’m not talking about big-time Diamondvision or skyboxes or any of that business. I’m talking about the following conversation I had with an usher on a nearly-90-degree-day:
ME: Excuse me, can you tell me where a drinking fountain is?
USHER: I don’t think we have any.
USHER: I don’t think we have any drinking fountains.
Call me crazy, but I don’t think it’s asking too much to have a drinking fountain available for fans. The place was built in 1939, and drinking fountains certainly were invented before that…you mean to say that nobody has thought to install a fountain in this place in 71 years?
In any event, I did spend some time walking the water-fountain-less pavilion. I liked the photos of every former Helena player currently playing in the majors: I’ve seen such lists in other places, but seldom photos of everyone with their current team listed. However, while I appreciated the nod to history, in some ways it felt like they were barely even trying. Their historical exhibit consisted of a printed-out version of the Helena Brewers Wikipedia article. Seriously? That’s the best you can do? And their commemoration of the only Hall of Famer ever to put on a Helena uniform–Ryne Sandberg–actually misspelled his name. Both of these left me with the impression that somebody could have done much better if they’d put in just a little time and effort.
There’s atmosphere in the pavilion area, but not a lot of room. An usher stopped me from walking behind the left-field general admission stands to get closer to the Helena bullpen. A place this small usually allows one to get closer to the players than Kindrick Field does. So I headed down the right-field line, where I was greeted by a private party area, an usher who wanted me to have a wristband to enter, and my own hubris.
My goal was to get past the usher, through the beer-drinking members of whatever company had booked the party deck, and down by the Great Falls bullpen to see if I could grab an autograph of a player or two I had watched play in Missoula the previous year. I asked a question that usually nets me access: “Can I just head back there to take a picture or two?” The usher wasn’t sure. He told me to ask his boss, who was approaching. I did. The boss appeared uncertain. “Well, we really don’t like doing that…” And then, he asked me a question that surprised me. “Are you the guy who’s been to all the ballparks?”
Wow! Recognized for the second year in a row! Erik the Peanut Guy in the Tri-Cities had started a trend! I wondered how he knew I was coming…maybe someone who reads this site had seen my name in will call or something?
Anyway, surprised and flattered, I answered in the affirmative, and he let me head back there to take some photos. Much to my surprise, the Great Falls Voyagers’ clubhouse was back among the partying businesspeople, and so ballplayers were sitting on picnic tables adjacent to revelers. Not just passing through, not exactly hanging out, either, but sitting there. It was a little weird.
When I heard the first-pitch announcement, I became newly aware of my own arrogance. The guy throwing out the first pitch had been to 125 minor league ballparks, over twice my total. So it wasn’t me that the guy was asking about. Funny.
The best memory by far of the evening will involve the wonderful family sitting next to me. I had Michelle and Steven on my right, and a dad with three daughters on my left. One of the girls was in about third grade, one in about sixth or seventh, and the third maybe a sophomore in high school. The girl on my immediate left–the middle one in age–started making eye contact with Steven. She’d look away and then zip her gaze back to him. He started laughing. My son, when he really gets going, has a hall-of-fame worthy laugh…a loud, massive baby guffaw that makes the whole world crack up with him. Since he was taking as much of a shine to this girl as she was to him, the laughs started to increase in both volume and joy level. The game, which was 12-1 in favor of the visitors at this point, wasn’t much of a game, so people weren’t distracted by events in the field. We were the best thing going on at Kindrick Field. People in the rows around us started looking to see what was making Steven laugh so much. Then, they started laughing too, since Steven’s laugh was so contagious. Before we knew it, Steven and this sweet girl had more or less the entire section laughing like crazy. Since we were in the second row behind home plate, I think this might have been a bit of a confusing development to the players, who were likely wondering what this laughing was all about.
I was so struck by how wonderful this was that I asked the dad if I could take a picture of my family. He introduced himself as Lenny and said that he and his girls were on their way back from a camping trip. He also said that the girls had a brother almost exactly Steven’s age, so their skill with him was due to practice.
At any rate, we put Steven on the leash and let him wander over to where the girls were, and the girls, especially the younger ones, played with Steven the entire rest of the night. Steven would point at the letters on the girl’s sweatshirt, and they would identify them. There was peek-a-boo. There was funny faces. There was so much laughter that Steven’s goodbye wave later that night was just a little more wistful than usual…or maybe that was my imagination. I gave Lenny the web address for this site, and I hope he finds it and emails me. Lenny–I’ve got a few good pictures of your kids playing with my kid I’d like to send you. Fire off a comment or an email for me.
Missing out on all of this joyous raucousness was the motorcyclist we had met the previous night in Idaho Falls. Just like he said, he was at the ballpark that night, in the row ahead of us and about five seats down, just past the family. In spite of this immediately-behind-home-plate seat, he only remained there for a few innings. We suspect there were too many kids nearby, so Grumpy decided to go somewhere else. His loss.
So, while I’m afraid the ballpark doesn’t have too much going for it, I will remember my night in Helena with nothing but affection. Often, a ballpark is about the people in it more than anything else, and it’s good to have reminders of that from time to time.
Regional feel: 6/10
There are a couple of mountains visible, and a nice effort to honor past Helena players, but the nondescript location hurts the score here.
At times, this was lovely.
Could do a bit more for Rookie ball, and it was hard to hear what was happening because of a pretty bad PA system.
Team Mascot/Name: 2/5
“Kitty!” and “Roar!” my son said when he met these mascots (once they were at a safe distance). He liked them more than I do. Surely Helena can find a new name than that of its parent club–it’s the only team in the Pioneer League that does so. The mascot will follow. But bonus points for naming these guys Lewis the Lion and Clark the Cougar.
Ugly on the outside, beautiful on the inside. View is decent–not as nice as I’d expect in a place as gorgeous as Montana.
A little claustrophobic, and not much going on. Seriously–no water fountains?
Did a pretty good job here. Didn’t always know which player the error was on, though, but always knew hit or error in a timely fashion. Bad PA hurt with pitching changes and pinch hitters.
Quite easily the highlight of the night. Many, many fabulous people at the ballpark engaged in making my son laugh…over and over again. We’re talking about nearly ten strangers ogling my boy. How cool is that?
The people of Helena got me over my negative first impression of the park and made this a fantastic night.
BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:
Some ugly, ugly stuff. Great Falls led 10-1 after a 4-run third and a 6-run fourth. Let’s tally up just those two innings: Ten runs, nine hits, four wild pitches, three errors, and a hit batsman.
Rafael Vera leads the Great Falls attack with three hits.
A day Brewers’ pitcher Thomas Keeling would rather forget. He came to mop up the ninth, and proceeded to walk the first four batters he faced. He got two guys out, but then gave up a hit and a fifth walk. Connor Lind, normally a position player, had to come in to finish off the game by getting Kyle Davis to pop out to second.
(Written July 2010.)