Opposing managers occasionally strike a certain rapport with Billings Mustangs fans, but nobody ever has done it quite like Nestor Corredor.
Corredor is the manager of the Helena Brewers, and he was a catcher for that team back in his playing days. When he took the field to coach third base on Wednesday night in Dehler Park, fans in Section 117 greeted him with applause and cheers.
Section 117 is as close to the third base coaching box as a spectator can get, and we have had season tickets there ever since Dehler Park opened. It’s a cozy ballpark, and managers, who typically also coach third in the Pioneer League, often toss the fans foul balls, take a rope of licorice from a generous fan or exchange small talk.
After a fan missed a foul ball earlier this season, one manager consoled her by comparing her to his shortstop, who had committed multiple errors that night. Another manager once gave a fan in our section an autographed baseball signed by Babe Ruth, Don Drysdale, Lou Gehrig and a dozen other Hall of Famers. All the signatures were fake, of course, but he followed an inning or two later by giving the fan a ball autographed by the team.
Corredor somehow stirs particular affection in the fans, with his ready smile, friendly wave and between innings chatter. On Wednesday, Corredor joked that Saturday’s season-ending game would be over in two hours. Batters would swing at every first pitch, he said.
The last time the Brewers were in town, Corredor managed something I have never seen in 50 years of watching baseball.
When the umpire called a sharp liner by a Helena batter foul, Corredor complained vociferously. He repeatedly pointed to the spot just inside the foul line where he said the ball had landed.
The odd thing is, the fans agreed with him. They began hollering “fair ball,” and some urged Corredor to get in the umpire’s face.
“We’ll back you up,” one fan shouted.
That’s baseball. Where else would fans root for a call to go against their team, just because they like the man complaining about it (and perhaps also because the ball really did look fair)?
Wednesday’s game had other attractions beside Corredor’s return to Billings. Hunter Greene, the Cincinnati Reds’ top draft pick and one of the top prospects in all of baseball, made his second start of the season. In three innings, he flashed his 100 mph fastball, giving up one hit and striking out four. The lone run he gave up was unearned because of a throwing error.
The Mustangs got a couple of home runs, including a grand slam from Jake Turnbull, to win 10-1. Shortstop Alejo Lopez also leaped to pull down a line drive well over his head, catching a base runner flat-footed and turning a double play.
Lopez is listed in the program at 5 feet 10 inches. If he had been 5-9, he never would have made the play.
This brought to a higher volume the chorus of mostly feminine voices who sing “A-le-eh-o, A-le-eh-o” whenever Lopez comes to the plate. Their melodious voices are all the more appealing because that song wasn’t thought up by some genius in the front office.
They are just baseball fans, out having a good time.