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October in the baseball desert

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This might be Red Sox—or ‘I don’t watch baseball’—country, according to random sample of Big Sky baseball fandom 

By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER 

Graphics by ME Brown

BIG SKY — Bailey is the assistant manager at the Hungry Moose, and he’s getting ready to spend his sixth winter in Big Sky.  

“My heart’s a little broken,” he said, around an hour after his Atlanta Braves were eliminated by the Phillies in the National League Division Series. “We just couldn’t get our bats goin’.” 

Bailey wore his Atlanta hat to work, and their season most likely ended during his shift. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

As Bailey stocked the refrigerator on a slow Saturday afternoon, he stood 498 miles from Coors Field in Denver, as the crow flies. If Bailey wanted to see live Major League Baseball action, Google says he’d be driving nearly 11 hours on a 735-mile, roundabout route through Billings and eastern Wyoming.  

That’s to see the troubled Colorado Rockies, who finished 43 games behind in their division.  

Baseball fans like Bailey have another option if they’re willing to drive for two minutes longer. T-Mobile Park in Seattle is 50 miles farther as the crow flies, but I-90 offers an 11-hour fast track across 710 highway miles. The Mariners made the playoffs this season, leading media coverage as they advanced to a division series for the first time since 2001. 

The state of Arizona doesn’t observe daylight savings time, so the Diamondbacks of Phoenix spend the baseball season in line with the pacific time zone, making the Rockies the only baseball team truly playing in Mountain Time.  

All of this suggests why—just like every other major professional sport—Montana is the epicenter of America’s baseball desert. In fact, one bored Reddit user determined that the north-central Montana town of Turner is the American town farthest from any professional baseball. North of the Hi-Line and near the Canadian border, Turner is an equidistant 650 miles from both the Colorado Rockies and Seattle Mariners.  

Big Sky is 283 miles from the epicenter of the American Baseball Desert. GRAPHIC BY ME BROWN

With the 2022 World Series approaching, Explore Big Sky conducted an exhaustive survey of 170 locals, approximating the distribution of baseball fans in Big Sky.  

Almost half of respondents favor teams from the East 

“I’m from Boston, if that tells you anything,” said one man as he climbed into his van. He lives in Bozeman and works in Big Sky. “Though I don’t like to admit that in Montana. They’ll shoot people from California and Massachusetts.” 

Logo size corresponds to a team’s share of the random sample.
Barely visible with only one fan: Brewers, Royals, Angels, White Sox, Rangers, Athletics, Reds. GRAPHIC BY ME BROWN

The data reflects a significant share of Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees fans, with 30 and 21, respectively. That might speak to the presence of East Coast transplants, many who move out West to ski, etc. In all, 47.8% of surveyed locals said they follow a team from the East Coast. 

While many come seeking mountain life, there’s one man around here that might have left the East by way of exile.  

Adam said he’s a Yankees fan … and a Red Sox fan. That’s not something I—as a New Hampshire-raised Sox fan—have ever heard from one of the longest, most iconic rivalries in American sports.  

Adam was born and raised in Boston but went to high school in Connecticut—considered “no man’s land” by New England sports fans. As he grew older, he would go to Yankee games with his friends and remembers being at the old Yankee Stadium when David Cone threw his perfect game against the Montreal Expos on July 18, 1999.  

“I want them both to win … and I want them both to lose,” Adam said. “I want them both to be in the pennant race every year.” 

A mixed bag of locals 

Natasha bartends at Tres Toros. She’s been in Big Sky for two years, having moved from Portland, Oregon where the semi-pro Pickles dominate the baseball scene. She grew up in Seattle and still has fond memories of the steroid era club. 

“Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez, Joey Cora, Ichiro [Suzuki],” she said, listing her favorites from the turn of the century, all retired now.  

A pair of Marlins fans moved to Big Sky in the last two years. They still call their team the “Florida Marlins”, though they’ve been called Miami Marlins since 2012. They prefer the old Florida logo: a marlin wrapped around a black letter ‘F’. 

Scott has lived in Big Sky since 2007. He couldn’t attend any of the Cubs playoff games in 2016, but he still watched on TV as they ended their 108-year World Series drought.  

“My grandpa grew up in Chicago near Wrigley. Ever since I was a kid, he was putting Cubs hats on me, making sure I was a Cubs fan,” Scott said. He grew up in Vail Valley; Rockies territory. 

Scott wore his 2016 World Series commemorative Cubs hat to Ace Hardware. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

The Athletics have one documented fan in Big Sky.  

While bartending at The Independent, that fan called them “major league baseball’s farm team” in reference to their reputation for trading away homegrown talent. 

Another bar hand favors the Miami Marlins’ former minor league AAA-affiliate, the New Orleans Baby Cakes. He said their mascot was “nightmare fuel” before they moved to Wichita, Kansas in 2019 and changed their name.  

At BASE, one father and his two sons couldn’t decide on a team. A while later, their orange jeep pulled up beside me in Town Center. The back window rolled down.  

“My favorite team is the Mets!” the younger boy declared. His father smiled in the front seat and drove off.  

Multinational opinions  

Sunny and Josh moved here from India. 

“We don’t do any of that baseball,” said Sunny, who prefers cricket. He made sure I would write that India has the best team. 

“But I’ll have the Yankees,” Josh added. 

Josh and Sunny offered to pose with the 309th issue of Explore Big Sky. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

At Pinky G’s, one Turkish chef supports the soccer club Galatasaray S.K. but he doesn’t know anything about baseball.  

Waiting for his order at Mi Pueblito Taco Bus with friends, Francisco told me, “We’re Mexican—we’re about soccer.” 

Francisco supports Barcelona because, he said, “Mexico sucks” at soccer.  

The greatness of Justin Verlander 

“I’m a Detroit fan through and through,” said Marty Pavelich, four-time Stanley Cup champion with the Red Wings and local hero for 30 years.  

However, as he sipped coffee at the Hungry Moose, Pavelich said he likes the Houston Astros.  

On the previous night, 39-year-old Justin Verlander pitched six innings, allowing one earned run and striking out 11 Yankees to help the Astros take a 1-0 American League Championship Series lead.  

We then got slightly off track as Pavelich predicted another cup for the Red Wings in two years and a Tigers playoff bid in the same year (mark his words), but Pavelich said he’s a friend of Verlander from the starting pitcher’s 13 years in Detroit. With Verlander in a Houston uniform, the Astros have Pavelich’s attention.  

Marty Pavelich is 95 years old and looks forward to skiing this winter. He respects veteran athletes Justin Verlander and Tom Brady for following his lead and aging in style. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

The Phillie Phanatic 

Phil introduced himself as ‘Phil from Philly.’ He sipped a beer at Tips Up, celebrating Philadelphia’s playoff series win over highly favored Atlanta. 

He moved to Big Sky around six years ago, but said he’s been living the van nomad lifestyle around Helena in recent months. 

I mentioned the recent story I’d seen online, that every time the Phillies win the World Series there’s an economic crisis. 

He laughed, having heard the same thing.  

“Bring the recession,” he said, as his Phillies had just punched their ticket to the National League Championship Series.  

“If we win the [World] Series, I’ll take a couple bad years.” 

Phil from Philly points proudly to the Phillies cap. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

The mirage of baseball interest 

Plenty of Big Sky locals don’t bother watching baseball. Of 170 sampled, 30 didn’t give a favorite team, and a few offered names from football teams.   

“I don’t have the attention span,” one said.  

“My kids are more into skateboarding,” another said.  

Most non-respondents simply shook me away with something like, “baseball? No, not me.” 

By nature, I suppose there’s plenty else to do around here.  

Edited by Jason Bacaj, disgruntled fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates 

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