A League of Their Own

Youth baseball in Bozeman.

As the sun warms the Gallatin Valley and the only visible snow lingers high in the mountains, look closely as you wander around town—signs of area athletes are everywhere. Roof racks have traded rocket boxes for kayaks, stream overpasses become coveted parking spots for eager anglers, and trailheads buzz with activity. But listen carefully and you’ll realize that Bozeman sports aren’t limited to rocks, rivers, and trails. Walk by a park and you’ll hear the ping of an aluminum bat and cheers of parents encouraging their youngest. Drive by the fairgrounds and hear the first-baseman’s mitt pop with a six-four-three double play under the lights.

Welcome to Bozeman Baseball, the town’s only organized youth-baseball league. It contains three divisions: six- to 12-year-olds play on sized-down fields in the Cal Ripken League (including conventional Little League); 13- to 15-year-olds play in the Babe Ruth League at Kirk Park; and 16- to 18-year-olds compete in the American Legion League at Heroes Park at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds.

Without an intercollegiate squad or professionally affiliated team in town, the Legion division, comprised of the Double-A Bucks and the Single-A Spikes, showcases the town’s best gloves, bats, and arms. Though Bozeman lacks an official high school squad due to the short Montana spring, the town’s teenage talent does not go untapped. In fact, the dearth of high school baseball in the Big Sky state may actually benefit the area’s Legion nine. While many teens around the country must transition from high school to Legion ball in mid-summer, the Bucks and Spikes “already have fifteen games under their belt,” explains Tim Huntsinger, president of the league’s Cal Ripken division. As a result, the town can focus its money and resources on one league, not divide them between interscholastic and amateur teams.

Though the league cuts very few players from its Legion teams (and does so reluctantly), its level of play remains high and has even drawn the attention of Major League scouts in recent years. Last June, for example, the Atlanta Braves chose Bucks’ outfielder Nick Weidenaar in the 48th round of the Major League draft, and Huntsinger projects that teams may select more players this year.

Heroes Park, the premier Legion stadium in the state, provides a professional-level home for the Bucks and Spikes. With closely cropped grass, groomed dirt, sunken dugouts, and the Bridgers as the centerfield backdrop, who could ask for a better depiction of Rocky Mountain Americana? The stadium proves a popular destination for baseball aficionados of all ages, and some games have drawn 2,500 fans.

The league doesn’t measure success by how many of its players are drafted or how many fans attend the games. Its goal is simply to “give kids a quality baseball experience,” says Huntsinger. The league’s operations clearly reflect its focus on the players and fans. Admission rates to Legion games are nominal ($3 for adults, $2 for seniors and children over 12), and those interested can purchase season passes at reduced rates. Also, the league hasn’t raised its player’s fee ($50) in 12 years, and, thanks to privately funded scholarships, no one has ever been turned away for financial reasons.

Without the league, Bozeman’s youth would never have an opportunity to snare a line drive, fire a strike, or drive in a run. Whether they hope to impress professional scouts by hurling a no-hitter or impress their mothers by putting the glove on the correct hand, local kids—and area fans—have Bozeman Baseball to thank.

For more info on Bozeman Baseball and schedules for the Bucks and Spikes, visit bozemanbaseball.com.