The headline in The Billings Gazette read: “New Mustang owners see Dehler as blank canvas.” Allow me to fill in some of the blanks.
Why me? Because this spring will mark exactly 50 years that I have been a baseball fan. And because I have faithfully attended Mustang games for more than two decades.
So here’s my advice to the new owners:
1. Don’t muck it up. Some minor league teams spoil the game with endless between-inning promotions: dizzy bat races, kiss cam, trivia questions, dance competitions, T-shirt launchers and on and on. I went to a couple of games of the Spokane, Wash., Indians a few years ago in which every three outs was marked by a noisy promotion, each dumber than the one before. There might have been a game in there somewhere, but I lost track.
2. The best promotions arise naturally. The best promotion the Mustangs ever had was a couple of kids who sold concessions at Cobb Field and also danced to the Village People’s “YMCA” once every game. I am so pathetic a dancer that I have a standing invitation to appear on “Dancing with the Nerds,” but even I could tell that these guys weren’t really great dancers. But their routine was so elaborate, and they performed it with such enthusiasm, that it was impossible not to take pleasure in it.
The second-best promotion, still going on, is the cheerleading throughout the stands by Barbara Berreth. Now in her 70s, she has made some concessions to age: She uses a megaphone now, and sometimes she hands over cheerleading duties to a kid. Other than that, neither the routine nor the cheer ever changes. Small pleasures.
3. Tell us more about the players on the other teams. One of the pleasures of minor league baseball is getting a chance to see top major-league prospects in their earliest professional years. Even dedicated Mustang fans applaud when an opposing player makes a great play or hits a long home run.
The Mustangs are already better than some local teams when it comes to treating the opposition with respect. I was appalled when I heard the Billings Bulls introduce the opposing team with the Beck song that has the lyric, “I’m a loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me?” I haven’t been to a hockey game since.
But the Mustangs could do even better. Why not put photos of opposing batters up on the screen in center field, as they do with the home team? In the Internet era, even I have the computer skills to pull that off in a slow-paced morning. Why not put some stats up on the board? Nothing to it.
4. Use the public address system to tell us something useful. Do we really need to be told, on the next-to-the-last day of the season, what a great deal joining the Knothole Gang is? But that’s what we get instead of stuff we actually would like to know.
I’ve seen players hauled off in ambulances with serious injuries, games canceled by rain, and pitchers ejected for using illegal substances on the ball, all without a word from the public address announcer. People who are actually at the game should not be the last ones to find out what is going on.
5. Nothing matters more than getting the best players on the field. Granted, the Mustangs owners don’t have much control over the player roster, but they must never forget that is the most important thing. More than any other major sport, the pleasure of watching baseball depends on the quality of the players.
6. No ads on the big screen during the game. Leave advertising where it belongs—in weekly newspapers.
7. No matter what you do, baseball won’t always be exciting. Live with it. So finely tuned a game is baseball that even at the highest levels, some games just fall apart. That’s not a bad thing. Life works the same way.
People who think that baseball would be better if the dull patches were removed probably also think that “Moby-Dick” would be a better novel if you took out the chapters about whaling. No, it wouldn’t.
8. That said, make the players play faster. The average length of a major league baseball game has increased from 2½ to 3 hours since 1981. I don’t have figures for the Pioneer League, but it’s probably gotten worse, too.
Get minor leaguers to pick up the pace, and their good habits will eventually rub off on big leaguers. A crisply played 4-2 game at a shade over two hours is a pleasure to behold; stretch that same game out over three-plus hours and it becomes a bore.
9. Make better caramel corn, available more consistently.
10. Sometime next season, use the seventh-inning stretch to play the Marx Brothers’ version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” It’s hilarious.
David Crisp has worked for newspapers since 1979. He has been editor and publisher of the Billings Outpost since 1997.