Editor’s Note: Mark Cryan, former MiLB general manager and Ballpark Digest contributing editor, embarked on an epic ballpark tour this summer, and he filed regular dispatches from the road. Today’s stop: Helena.
The Pioneer League section of our journey continued with a visit to Helena, Montana state capitol. We were struck by what a small town Helena is, particularly for a state capitol, but it’s important to keep in mind that this is a state of only about a million people. There are roughly as many people in the Raleigh-Durham metropolitan area as there are in the entire state of Montana. Wide open spaces, indeed!
This is definitely a town with a pioneer feel to it, beginning with streets with names like “Prospect” and “Last Chance Gulch,” which recall this city’s roots as a mining town where some people were taking their “Last Chance” to get rich. The rustic ballpark that the Helena Brewers call home is no exception. Built in 1932 to accommodate American Legion and other local baseball leagues, Kindrick Legion Field, more commonly referred to simply as Kindrick Field, has been in use continuously, including the addition of Pioneer League baseball in the late 1970s.
The main seating area is the original covered wooden grandstand, which looks every bit of its age, except for the actual chair seats, which come in a variety of shades of orange. These seats began their life in the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, as evidenced by the Oakland A’s logos on the metalwork, but were re-used in Helena, adding a touch of the 1970s to the 1930s-era era grandstand. The interior features massive wood beams supporting a roof with exposed rafters. The exterior of the grandstand is covered in sheet metal, and the press box is cut into the roof in a unique way that provides views from high above home plate.
There has clearly been some money invested in this park in recent years, including lots of concrete walkways, new metal bleachers down each side, and a VIP area above the third-base dugout. There are standalone concessions and clubhouse buildings, and like many parks at the lower level of the minors, there is easy access to players, with seating and picnic areas immediately adjacent to the bullpens and clubhouses. In fact, the visitors have to walk through the right-field picnic area to get to their clubhouses.
Surrounded by a dirt parking lot and flanked by a city pool, an old warehouse, and a city maintenance yard, Kindrick Field isn’t going to win any beauty contests, but it is a charming glimpse into an earlier age. The park was clean, concessions prices were good, much of the food was fresh off the grill, and the crowd seemed to be having a good time.
Helena is small, but there are some interesting places to visit. There was a nice big municipal baseball/softball park where we spent some time, and that was adjacent to the campus of Carroll College, a powerhouse in NAIA football. The campus and park gave us a great place to stretch our legs and throw a ball.
The Capitol building in Helena is also well worth a visit. This is a beautiful, ornate building of the type that government doesn’t build any more, and it is full of great and history. Paintings commemorate the linking of the eastern and western halves of the United States via rail, including a depiction of U.S. Grant driving the “Golden Spike” that completed the railroad. Some of the art here also honors the role of Native Americans in Montana, including some works by famed artist C.M. Russell.
During a free tour that is offered hourly during business hours, we also learned about Helena’s battle with the town of Anaconda over which community would become the state capitol. The vote was won by Helena, although numerous ballots cast in favor of Anaconda turned up many years later, stuffed in the walls of the house where the votes were tallied.
There is also an upscale mixed use development on the edge of downtown, across the street from Carroll College, with restaurants, a movie theater and more. And, just across the street? A casino, of course.
Previous Installments in the Baseball Across America Series
Kansas City, Kansas
Kansas City, Missouri