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Baseball is back: Billings Mustangs open Game Week

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Posted at 5:36 PM, May 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-18 11:09:20-04

BILLINGS -- The new-look Billings Mustangs are funneling into town for a new-look baseball season starting with a first pitch Saturday, May 22, earlier than ever before.

The Mustangs open at Idaho Falls with their first home game a week from Wednesday, May 26, against the Rocky Mountain Vibes. Most home games are scheduled for a 6:35 p.m. start.

This year's glaring change involves a league which no longer has teams directly affiliated with Major League Baseball, but rather part of what's now a 'Partner League' of MLB. This means the Mustangs are not tied to the Cincinnati Reds which they had been for more than 60 years.

Coaches are now in charge of finding and signing players, and it's sort of like 'Back to the Future' for Mustangs manager Joe Kruzel, who was announced to return just last week after earning his managerial start in pro baseball 14 years ago with the Mustangs.

"I always enjoyed my time here when I was here in '07," Kruzel recalled to MTN Sports after Monday's team photo shoot prior to the Mustangs' first practice. "The people here, the fans were outstanding, I love the setting, the league has been pretty good. It's going to be a little different, a little more challenging this time around being an independent (team) affiliated with Major League Baseball. It's going to be exciting to see how it goes."

Kruzel's staff was also unveiled last week.

This season's most notable league change may come in extra innings where games will now be decided by a home run derby. Kruzel joking talked about rostering a couple former MLB ringers for those very moments.

"I put a call into Mike Schmidt, Dave Kingman, just to see if they want to come back," he said with a wide smile. "Hey, they don't even have to show up until the ninth inning ... stretch and hit home runs."

Aside from Pioneer Baseball League branding and logos, another twist is the expansion to a 96-game season -- 20 more than past years. That adds up to 10 more home games per team, including for the newly added Boise Hawks.

Mustangs general manager Gary Roller told MTN Sports ballpark prices will remain similar to those in 2019.