BILLINGS — If you had to give just one indication that summer had officially arrived in the Magic City, you’d likely say opening day of Billings Mustangs baseball.
That was supposed to be this Friday, but for the first time in more than 50 years, it doesn’t look like there will be any professional baseball in Billings this summer -- a sobering reality thanks to COVID-19. And now the question remains: Will there ever be again?
“I personally never thought at that point in time that we’d still be in the situation we are today," said Mustangs general manager Gary Roller.
When the pandemic shut down the sports world three months ago, Roller wasn’t too worried. The Mustangs' season opener was still 100 days away, plenty of time for things to get back to normal.
“As serious as it is and as serious as it was back then, it’s going to pass, and it’s going to pass fairly quickly," Roller thought. "We’d probably be playing here in the next week, week and a half.”
But with normal still a long ways off, even the most optimistic man can’t deny an inevitably.
“We’re still hopeful that at some point Major League Baseball can get the players to us and allow us to play some sort of season," Roller said, "but with each passing day, it doesn’t look probably as bright as it did a month or so ago.”
The biggest clue came three weeks ago, when Roller officially became the only Mustangs employee, the rest of the staff a casualty of COVID-19 layoffs.
“I’m the only one here right now, which includes taking care of the field, so I’m the groundskeeper now as well as guy in office," said Roller. "Everybody has been giving me pointers on what to do here, what to do there, in regards to the field and some of the other things. Right now, we’re just trying to survive until we get to a better day in minor league baseball, whenever that better day might be.”
For most clubs, it will be the 2021 season. But for the Mustangs, one of 40 teams on a Minor League contraction proposal list, that day may never come. The Professional Baseball Agreement between the major and minor leagues expires in September, and though talks have stalled since the pandemic began, the signs aren’t good.
“Certainly the scenario has crossed my mind that it could be a situation that the last Mustangs game as we know the Mustangs was played last September," Roller said. "That’s unfortunate -- it’s really unfortunate -- and honestly it’s really, really sad.”