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Following season-ending dispute, Tommyknockers face uncertain future

Posted at 4:40 PM, Aug 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-11 18:52:03-04

BUTTE  — On October 28, 2020, Dane Wagner formerly introduced Butte to its Expedition League team.

"We're looking to get people excited about the Mining City Tommyknockers," the now former general manager and co-owner of the team said at the time. "Basically create some buzz and get people excited about this baseball club."

Wagner, who ultimately proved to be more skilled at delivering a slick sales pitch than running a baseball team, was relieved of his duties last week in the aftermath of a season-ending dispute between players and management.

Within the span of a week, the years-long effort it took to bring an Expedition League squad to Butte evaporated.

At the center of that controversy was Wagner, who arrived in Butte offering the community a vision of a college level wood-bat baseball team that would serve as a worthy successor to the Copper Kings.

When he departs Butte, assuming he's still in town, he'll leave behind a trail of broken promises and unpaid bills.

Multiple attempts by MTN Sports to contact Wagner by phone, email and in person have gone unanswered. His office on Park Street still has Tommyknockers posters in the windows but, aside from that, appears to be nearly empty.

"The whole situation was a lot of broken promises," said J.P. Gallagher, Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive.

Gallagher, who had championed for the Expedition League to come to Butte when he was still the Director of Parks and Recreation, said that there were a lot of "unanswered questions"as he looked back on the Tommyknockers inaugural season.

"There were some red flags right off the bat," Gallagher said. "Some half truths and I would say even flat out lies, but I didn't know to what extent. It's a disappointment and I take it personally."

One thing that caught Gallagher's attention was a track record of Tommyknockers vendors who weren't being paid on time, something especially troubling from a business in its first year.

The future of the Tommyknockers is now in question and Gallagher said he couldn't give a definite "yes" or "no" on whether they'll be welcome to play in Butte next summer.

One point of contention is that Wagner's father, Steve, is the president and founder of the Expedition League as well as a co-owner of the Tommyknockers. Steve is scheduled to appear before the Butte Council of Commissioners later this month.

"I don't think we got what we were promised," Gallagher said. "It doesn't all fall back on Dane, it falls back on the Expedition League, and on Steve as well. He's got some explaining to do and we'll see where it goes from there."

"I'm not saying 100 percent that they're not coming back, but I think it'll be a challenge for them to come back and regain the trust of the community," he added.

Gallagher is still hopeful that, even if the Tommyknockers don't return, a different high-level league may someday call 3 Legends Stadium home.

"I think the ability to have a baseball team in Butte is still there," Gallagher said. "The fans liked it and the fan experience was pretty good."