KALISPELL — The Glacier Range Riders are only in their second season, but the organization is already making its mark, as the team's home of Glacier Bank Park has been named the best park in the country among MLB Partner Leagues per a "Best of the Ballparks" fan vote conducted by Ballpark Digest.
"It hasn’t even sunk in fully yet," said Range Riders owner Chris Kelly. "It's been a huge honor that our fans in our community have bestowed on us and what that means in the scope of things for a small town in northwestern Montana to have one of the best baseball stadiums in the entire country.
"It really means a lot to us. We understand how much it means to this community and the people who live here."
What makes Glacier Bank Park the undisputed number one in Kelly’s eyes?
"The fans are really what makes this, it's a packed house every night," said Kelly. "There's great positive energy. The players love it, they feel it. The opposing teams come in here and they feel it. They're in awe of what happens here every night. So that's what makes us the best ballpark in America."
One superfan who fills one of the 2,500 seats just about every game echoed Kelly’s thoughts.
"Honestly it's the crowd, but it's aesthetically just amazing," said Range Riders fan Sarah Hembd. "Like state of the art, there's room for everybody, and it's just a great atmosphere. Plus, Montana mountains kill it every year."
When it comes to what the Pioneer League franchise has meant to the Flathead Valley, Hembd said it's been a welcome addition.
"It's been fun. I mean, just to be able to have something to do during the summer that's close to home," said Hembd. "And you know the guys play awesome, and you get to meet them. I mean, (Hembd's daughter) met so many of them already, that kind of one-on-one connection, you won't get elsewhere."
The park's director of facility operations, Nick Hogan, has been around baseball his whole life and knows the 20,000 square foot Glacier Bank Park can’t be beat.
"I think there's not a bad seat in this place. Everybody loves their seats, you can see everything clearly, it's big but yet it's still personal," said Hogan. "You know the kids can run down along the fence line and yell at the players and talk to them and the fact that it's that open yet still has that big stadium feel."
As for what has made it such an incredible ballpark, Hogan gives credit to the fans.
"There's truly a love for baseball in the valley," said Hogan. "And it's showing every day with more and more fans coming out, more and more people from throughout the valley coming out and wanting to see professional baseball. And the fan base has been truly, truly welcoming and been a big part of the success of this stadium."
Kelly shared Hogan’s sentiment and knows the Range Riders wouldn’t be who they are without the families of Flathead Valley.
"It couldn't have been possible without the community support, without the support of the contracting base here in the valley," said a grateful Kelly. "With all that it never would have happened and we're so thankful and grateful that the whole community has really rallied around this and made this their center, their hub, their baseball park."
The Range Riders will be wrap up their season in in the independent Pioneer League in September and have plans to continue adding on to their ballpark in the foreseeable future.