BILLINGS - Its mid-April and snow covers the Dehler Park baseball field in Billings. Weather permitting, the independent league Mustangs are set to hit the diamond in a little over a month.
MTN Sports told you in February how the Pioneer League's Mustangs landed 5-time Major League Baseball manager Jim Riggleman this off-season, along with a pair of highly-regarded coaches with big league experience.
So, how did team owner Dave Heller pull off one of the great all-time coaching moves in small market baseball?
"You wake up and feel like its Christmas," Heller told MTN Sports with a big smile, "...like you just won the lottery or something."
Heller turned a very ugly part of professional baseball into a crown jewel for the Magic City.
A couple years ago when Major League Baseball owners decided to eliminate over 40 of their lower level teams across the country, Billings fans weren't even sure a team would survive here. Heller, after overcoming the initial shock, went to work.
"There's no way it happens without Minor League Baseball going through the contraction process, for sure," Heller said. "Because those managerial decisions are made - or at least for 46 years, those were made by the Cincinnati Reds - and not by the Billings Mustangs."
Riggleman is not Heller's only eye-popping catch. He brings along MLB buddies Dan Radison (pitching coach) and Mike Toomey (hitting coach) who has a sharp eye for players.
"Mike is in the Scouting Hall of Fame, for goodness sake," Heller marveled. "How often to you get to bring a Hall of Famer to Billings? How cool is that?"
"He's the first conversation I had about this, and Mike brought it up to Dan Radision," Riggleman explained to MTN Sports. "The three of us have known each other for years."
Heller iced the deal with a heartfelt welcome.
"That was nice to hear, that you're wanted someplace," Riggleman said.
"I've really never been to that part of the country but I hear great things," Toomey added. "They say it's the best city in the league, best ball park in the league, great fans. We're all looking forward to coming out there very much."
Because Billings is now an independent team, meaning big league clubs no longer send players this way. The Mustangs have to find their own. Heller's hires should give Billings a supreme edge in fielding a winner this summer.
"Think about this, if you are a 20-21 year-old prospect and you're trying to decide, do I want to play for Billings or Missoula, or go out and play for Ogden, Utah... and your choice is going to play for somebody you've never heard of, or Jim Riggleman and Dan Radison and Mike Toomey? I think we win that fight every time."