BILLINGS -- January in Montana. Too early to start thinking baseball? Not after what Billings Mustangs fans and other Pioneer League faithful have endured within the last year.
We told you in November the Mustangs will be back this summer, but no longer an affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. They're instead playing in a Major League Baseball partner league.
That means a longer season with a much earlier start. The Mustangs unveiled their Pioneer League schedule Wednesday showcasing 96 games instead of the traditional 76. First pitch is set for May 22 -- nearly a month earlier than ever.
“It’s another step toward this new arrangement becoming a reality,“ Mustangs general manager Gary Roller told MTN Sports.
The Mustangs' first home game will be on a Wednesday night, May 26, against the Rocky Mountain Vibes. All Pioneer League teams will play 20 more games than in the past with 10 at home.
"Number one on that checklist is going to be players and coaches," Roller said. "For me that’s the important part of this new arrangement, this new structure, our responsibility to go get our own players, our own coaching staff, and we will."
Is there a little feeling that Roller's role becomes more like that of Major League Baseball's Theo Epstein or Billy Beane, where he gets to make some player and manager moves?
"Quite honestly, I don’t want to go make some moves," Roller laughed. "I’ve never had to do that. I think if I had to we figure out a way, but there’s more qualified people to do that than myself.”
Standard start time for all home games will be 6:35 p.m., with the exception of holiday showdowns. And there's a new team on board over in Idaho -- the Boise Hawks will make an appearance in Billings during the week of July 21.
"They were not extended an invitation by Major League Baseball to become part of the 120 (affiliates to remain with MLB ties), so they were left in no-man's land," Roller said. "And it just so happens Orem (Utah) was moving to Windsor this year, that left an opening for Boise.“