By Marya Pennington, Public Relations Manager

Photos Courtesy Paul Ruhter/Billings Mustangs


Billings Mustangs May Be Facing Their Last Summer

They say baseball is America’s pastime, with scenes of bright-eyed youth gathering for a glimpse of their heroes of the game, hot dogs and bags of peanuts, and the sun reflecting off faces eager to watch the greatest game ever played.  The same can be said for most Billings natives, who grew up attending Billings Mustangs games at Cobb Field (now Dehler Park), since 1948.  The possibility of 72 years of Billings’ only professional athletic team vanishing is disheartening to many.

Baseball is at a crossroads.  Major League Baseball (MLB) has proposed dropping 42 Minor League Baseball (MiLB) teams, including three Montana teams from the Pioneer League – the Billings Mustangs, the Missoula Paddleheads and the Great Falls Voyagers – in order to cut costs.  MiLB pays an 8% tax on all profits to MLB, and those teams paying the least are on the chopping block. The principle criteria for the cuts are simply the financial stability of the franchise and whether they can consistently turn a profit. But this move would eliminate a significant economic resource for the Billings community, as well as alter its quality of life.


Economic Impact

According to Mustangs owner, Dave Heller, the Billings Mustangs bring in just over $1M to the Billings economy.  They partner with local businesses for many of their operating needs, from printing businesses to wholesalers, hotels and restaurants.  Visiting teams and their fans, along with visiting Mustangs fans, all spend money playing, staying and eating in Billings when they visit.  And this doesn’t include the impact of losing the 150 jobs that are provided by the Mustangs if the Pioneer League is dissolved.  Gary Roller, General Manager of the team, began with the Mustangs as an intern and has spent his entire career working with them.  “At the end of the day, there is a real human cost to contraction” says Heller. The impact goes far beyond dollars, which is significant.


Community Involvement

In addition to the economic impact of the Mustangs, there is a community impact as well.  The Billings Mustangs donate over $50K each year, from tickets and non-profit donations to providing books for students in Title I schools in partnership with the United Way of Yellowstone County. In fact, Brenda Ludwig with United Way shared that since 2011 they have partnered with the Billings Mustangs to distribute 12,781 books to children all over Billings, Shepherd, Laurel and Lockwood – books the Mustangs purchased. “Gary speaks to the kids about the importance of reading throughout the summer for 20 minutes to avoid falling behind in reading ability,” Ludwig reflected. “He made a great impact on the students every time he spoke.”

The team also spends time in the community with various programs, such as reading to kids in the Reading Rocks program and exercising with residents at Canyon Creek Memory Care. The Billings Mustangs are not just an economic resource, but they are “deeply woven into the very fabric of the community. We are part of Billings’ DNA” says Heller.  When asked why he is so passionate about Billings Mustangs baseball, Heller replies “it’s about the people of this community. It’s about watching kids’ faces light up when they get an autograph from a player, or when Homer, our mascot, crashes their birthday party.  We are not in the baseball or entertainment business. We are in the memory making business.”


Player Impact

The Mustangs have played a huge part in the development of players for MLB. The Billings Mustangs have been affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds since 1974, and in that time there have been a sizeable number of Mustangs that have gone on to play for a MLB team.  Two of the most notable players are Hall of Famers George Brett, who played in Billings in 1971 when the Mustangs were affiliated with the Kansas City Royals, and Trevor Hoffman who went on to play for the Cincinnati Reds in 1989.  The Mustangs have played a significant role in providing experience and training for their players to afford them the opportunity to move on to the next level at a MLB baseball affiliate.


Join the Effort

So what happens now?  Heller worked with Montana legislators to submit a resolution outlining the importance of MiLB for local economies and asking Congress to no longer allow the MLB to be exempt from federal anti-trust laws, laws designed to protect consumers from predatory business practices and ensure that fair competition exists within an open-market economy. The Pioneer League teams are all independently owned, “mom and pop” franchises, not owned by MLB or large corporations, which is rare. The decision whether to dissolve the Pioneer League will be made at the end of the 2020 season.  And if turning a profit is what the MLB is looking for, then communities need to step up and get to a game.  “We need to wake up the community” says Heller.

So consider doing your part. Make the Billings Mustangs a group outing this summer.  Purchase season tickets for your business and give them out as an incentive or customer appreciation gift, or entertain a group of clients at a game.  Heller says “you can watch baseball on cable sure, but one thing that brings people all together in this community is cheering for the Mustangs. That is a special thing.”


Mustangs Who Made the Majors

The list of Mustangs who went on to play either a few

games or had a lengthy Major League Baseball career is quite

long, so below we’ve limited this list to those who may

be household names from the modern era. The list includes

the season that they played in Billings and in parentheses

is their current Major League team, or in the case of them

playing for more than one MLB team, their most notable team.


Nick Senzel ’16 (Cincinnati Reds)
Tanner Rainey ’15 (Washington Nationals)
Tyler Mahle ’14 (Cincinnati Reds)
Alex Blandino ’14 (Cincinnati Reds)
Shed Long ’14 (Seattle Mariners)
Aristides Aquino ’14 (Cincinnati Reds)
Phillip Ervin ’13 (Cincinnati Reds)
Jesse Winker ’12 (Cincinnati Reds)
Amir Garrett ’12 (Cincinnati Reds)
Robert Stephenson ’12 (Cincinnati Reds)
Tony Cingrani ’11 (Cincinnati Reds)
Tucker Barnhart ’10 (Cincinnati Reds)
Billy Hamilton ’10 (Cincinnati Reds)
Josh Smith ’10 (Cincinnati Reds)
Didi Gregorius ’09 (New York Yankees)
Miguel Rojas ’08 (Miami Marlins)
Todd Frazier ’07 (Cincinnati Reds)
Chris Heisey ’06 (Cincinnati Reds)
Drew Stubbs ’06 (Cincinnati Reds)
Justin Turner ’06 (Los Angeles Dodgers)
Jay Bruce ’05 (Cincinnati Reds)
Adam Rosales ’05 (Oakland A’s)
Sam LeCure ’05 (Cincinnati Reds)
Travis Wood ’05 (Chicago Cubs)
Paul Janish ’04 (Cincinnati Reds)
Joey Votto ’03 (Cincinnati Reds)
Chris Dickerson ’03 (Cincinnati Reds)
Edwin Encarnacion ’01 (Toronto Blue Jays)
Ben Broussard ’99 (Cleveland Indians)
Todd Coffey ’98 (Cincinnati Reds)
BJ Ryan ’98 (Baltimore Orioles)
Adam Dunn ’98 (Cincinnati Reds)
Austin Kearns ’98 (Cincinnati Reds)
Scott Williamson ’97 (Cincinnati Reds)
DeWayne Wise ’97 (Chicago White Sox)
Ray King ’95 (Milwaukee Brewers)
Jason LaRue ’95 (Cincinnati Reds)
Aaron Boone ’94 (Cincinnati Reds)
Reggie Sanders ’88 (Cincinnati Reds)
Jack Armstrong ’87 (Cincinnati Reds)
Rob Dibble ’83 (Cincinnati Reds)
Lenny Harris ’83 (Cincinnati Reds)
Jeff Montgomery ’83 (Kansas City Royals)
Joe Oliver ’83 (Cincinnati Reds)
Kurt Stillwell ’83 (Kansas City Royals)
Tom Browning ’82 (Cincinnati Reds)
Kal Daniels ’82 (Cincinnati Reds)
Paul O’Neill ’81 (New York Yankees)
Danny Tartabull ’80 (Kansas City Royals)