EAST HELENA — Field conditions were not perfect, nevertheless East Helena and Browning met on a cold and squally Saturday last week at Bob Ryan Fields to open each school's first high school baseball season.
"It’s been tough because the ground hasn’t thawed out yet. And then when it does thaw out, a lot of the moisture comes up," remarked East Helena coach Ethan Hoffman between games.
Hoffman expressed how important it was for his players to get live game reps. The Vigilantes won the games by scores of 25-1 and 35-0. The first game lasted three innings while the second game went two innings.
“It was great to get out on the diamond," Hoffman said. "We spent all of this week getting this field ready, the boys put in a lot of time, we dug up a lot of clay. But they were really itching to get out here, that was their motivation. It was great to get some experience, getting some pitchers to see guys in the box is really important as we move forward."
Browning coach Douglas Blackman touched on some of the challenges he and his young team have faced starting a new program early in Montana.
“Well, all I can say is, we try to stay warm, umpires have been helpful with letting us wear warm clothing underneath and have been pretty lenient with some of the rules, and I think that's a good thing because once winter is over and the weather does get nice, we can really start playing ball with regular jerseys and not having winter coats on," Blackman said.
Blackman also spoke about what it's like being back in Montana after nearly 40 years away from Montana while living and raising his family in Oregon.
“My experience comes from Oregon,” said Blackman, who coached the JV baseball program at Chemawa Indian School in Salem. “I’ve been away for like 40 years and its great coming back to Browning. Just learning names and learning family again, and getting to know these kids from a Native American perspective. I've come home now."
The skill gap between the teams in their initial game was apparent. Blackman spoke about Browning's efforts to improve.
“They’ve really picked it up within the two, three weeks we’ve been practicing. We pretty much went from T-ball so they are improving every day," he said. "Basically (it's about) seeing the level of their experience in what we got and just breaking down the basic fundamentals to meet their needs and then building up so that they get a little bit better.”
Browning is playing their home games in Cut Bank, and Blackman said, "We haven’t had a chance to practice on it yet. We’re hoping we can get down there before our first home game and get the feel of it.”
With two dominant wins under its belt, Hoffman said East Helena will continue to push forward.
“We’re really developing our approach at the plate," Hoffman said. "We’re going to do our best with the field that we have, so we're going to get these guys to read a true ball off of grass, which we haven’t been able to in a gym or on our turf field over in East Helena. It’s going to be interesting but it’s fun to be out on the diamond.”