Big Sky team off to strong start
By Brandon Walker EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – The sound of a bat cracking a ball and the ensuing cheers of spectators marked the return of Little League baseball to the Big Sky Community Park on June 23 when the 11- and 12-year-old Big Sky Royals beat the Belgrade Dodgers, 12-6, in their first home game of the season.
“It’s a bit of normalcy, we’ve been waiting for it,” said Big Sky Royals coach Matt Morris, addressing the importance of the sport’s return to his young team.
With a temperature of 75 degrees at game time, the Royals got off to an equally hot start, putting the ball in play and taking advantage of some Dodger fielding miscues, earning them a 10-0 lead at the end of the first inning. For the remainder of the contest the Dodgers did their best to claw their way back into it, but to no avail as the Royals added a couple of runs late in the game to shut the door.
In a season that nearly didn’t happen, the Royals find themselves with a sparkling 4-1 record and a No. 1 ranking atop the Belgrade Youth Baseball League standings. With four more games left on their schedule before the league tournament, the Royals have been running rampant throughout the league, outscoring their opponents by a combined total of 58-20 and only being held to single digit runs once throughout their first five games. As a team the Royals are batting .385 for the season and turning in strong performances on the mound, resulting in a 2.98 earned run average.
Following a later start to the season due to COVID-19, the Royals added new players as young athletes originally from New York and Texas have recently relocated and are lacing up their cleats to represent Big Sky this year. “As a new kid in a new environment, there’s nothing better to mix you in pretty seamlessly than a sport,” Morris said of how the game has helped the group grow closer.
As the team camaraderie has blossomed, the wins have begun to rack up with some athletes on the team unaccustomed to the winning ways. The returning 12-year-old players endured a tough season last year, going winless for the entire season, according to Morris, who is coaching for the first year at the 11- and 12-year old level.
“They’re starting to learn how to win and I think that’s important,” he said. “I know winning’s not everything, but to create a winning atmosphere makes it a lot more fun and it’s great to see those guys now, who have put in time and took their lumps are out there winning ball games.”
The 11- and 12-year-old group aren’t the only ones swinging a bat in Big Sky, however, with a 9- and 10-year-old team trailing closely behind.
The return of America’s national pastime to the Big Sky community is one example of society’s phased restart, albeit with some tweaks to the game such as not allowing players to slap hands or chew sunflower seeds. “[A] little different this year,” Morris said of the guidelines for play. “But I’m happy I’ve got my squad and we’re able to learn the game of baseball.”
A sunflower seed enthusiast having to adjust himself, Morris is simply thankful to get his team back onto the field, even with the adjustments. He described celebrations as being the toughest habit to break because they are natural, enthusiastic reactions rather than a thought-out gesture. “You know it’s hard to play baseball any other way,” he said.
The team typically competes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with the occasional Saturday game mixed in. The Royals don’t hold set practices, instead Morris notifies the rest of the team when he is going to be at the field to hit and throw the ball with his own son and usually the entire group will show up to participate.
The outside practice time is one bounty provided by the late season as teams traditionally practiced inside once a week before the season began due to the unpredictable Montana spring conditions. “That’s been, I think, our biggest benefit of the season,” Morris said.
Restoring a summer staple to the lives of unassuming little leaguers appears to be a win for everyone. “I think the whole community creates a great environment and it’s … fun to see,” Morris said.