EUREKA — With high school baseball getting started in the Treasure State, schools and players that are participating in the inaugural season couldn’t be more excited.
"I’m super stoked, it’s gonna be an awesome experience," said Whitefish senior Ty Schwaiger. "It’s gonna be a great time."
Schwaiger, who has committed to pitch at Washington State University and played for a travel team out of Post Falls, Idaho, is now ready for his first year of high school baseball.
"Having a bunch of buddies at school that I talk to about baseball and they haven’t played in five years and they’re already doing great, it’s just awesome to see that," said Schwaiger.
While at first opposed to high school baseball, Schwaiger’s new head coach, Kyler Blades, couldn’t turn down an opportunity to open more doors for kids wanting to play.
"Initially I was not for high school baseball until I talked to some school officials," said Blades. "They emphasized that so many more kids are going to be playing if high school baseball is approved."
Another Whitefish senior, Fynn Ridgeway, who also played on the same travel team as Schwaiger, couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to wrap up his high school career playing baseball.
"It’s pretty special, this is a special thing we get to do," said Ridgeway with a smile. "We played for Whitefish when we were little and were pretty successful, so it’s cool to put the 'W' back on and play some baseball."
Of the 21 high schools participating in the inaugural season, one happens to be Whitefish’s rival, Columbia Falls.
"I’m excited for the kids, for their chances to go on and play the game they love and have a chance to play at the next level," said Columbia Falls coach Bill Sapa. "I’m excited for the community, we have a great, tight community here and they love baseball, and I’m just excited for everybody. I mean, I just want to see this work and it’s going to be a fun inaugural season."
Sapa's son Reginald, a sophomore, has been playing Little League and Babe Ruth baseball his whole life. Now he's ready for the opportunity at the high school level.
"This year only a few teams have registered across the state and so as the years go on I think more teams will start buying in and then the divisions will be a lot tougher and baseball will just grow in Montana," said the younger Sapa.
Fellow teammate and junior Jace Hil,l who also plays football and basketball, can’t wait to now play baseball.
"(It's) something we’ve been wanting for a few years. Around the state too I think everyone’s wanted (it)," said Hill. "I think we got a good group of younger kids too coming up so the future’s looking bright, so should be a good next couple years as this goes on."
Eureka is one other city in northwest Montana with a Legion team — the Kootenai Valley Rangers — and now they’ll also be participating in the inaugural high school season.
"It’s nice to have it as a sport this year as a high school sport," said Eureka senior Caleb Utter. "I’m just excited to play baseball. I haven’t played in like five years, so I’m just excited to play this year."
Fellow senior Cole Hurst, who’s been a part of the Legion team in Eureka, is eager to see all high school baseball has to offer.
"I’d say it’s definitely exciting, it’s a lot different, it’s cool to be the first year to do baseball for the school sport and it’s our last year, so it’s cool," said Hurst.
Eureka co-head baseball coach Colter Comstock is grateful for the opportunity to help pioneer the sport and knows it’ll only get more kids into baseball.
"I am glad to see it happen cause I think that it’s a good opportunity to get more kids out for baseball that are willing to put in three months rather than five or six months which I think is the one thing for a lot of kids for American Legion that is the difference," said Comstock.
Montana now becomes the 48th state in the country to offer high school baseball as a sanctioned varsity sport.