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Billings Mustangs owner grateful for congressional effort to save minor league baseball

Posted at 2:42 PM, Dec 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-05 16:42:03-05

The latest in the growing concern that America's favorite past-time could become a thing of the past in many cities, including Billings, now has Congress involved.

And for Dave Heller, general partner for minor league baseball's Billings Mustangs, said it's imperative to have the support of lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

“What I really like more than anything is the bipartisan spirit,” he said. “It’s wonderful what’s happening here and the kind of support that we’re getting from both sides of the aisle. And it’s really nice to be able to see our congressmen working together as we sort of hoped they would to do what’s best for the country and not what’s best for any one political party.”

Major League Baseball owners and executives are discussing a proposal that could eliminate 42 minor league baseball teams, including the Mustangs and other members of the Pioneer League after the 2020 season.

The announcement was met with criticism from Capitol Hill, where members of the U.S. House organized a Save Minor League Baseball Task Force .

On Wednesday, Heller met with six U.S. senators, including Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and staff of nine others who all had concerns about the proposal.

Heller also said U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., has also shown support for minor league baseball.

The House heard from Minor League Baseball's president and owners at the inaugural meeting.

The task force will advocate for the 42 communities that could lose teams under the Major League Baseball proposal.

Heller said in addition to the political parties, the minor league baseball issue has brought together all the bigger baseball markets.

He talked about the importance of backing from Congress.

"It's life or death for the Billings Mustangs,” Heller said. “Without (Congress), we run the very real risk of being wiped out by Major League Baseball. I don't think (MLB owners) care one iota what Dave Heller thinks or what the people of Billings, Montana, think. I think they do care very much what members of Congress in general and United States senators think, in particular."

Heller expects the Senate to propose its own version of the task force.

Tester posted a comment on Facebook Wednesday morning.

"The Pioneer League is just one set of the many minor league teams that provide family fun, spur economic growth, and create long-lasting communities in rural America,” Tester wrote. “We’ve got to make sure these leagues are here to stay."

Daines sent a letter to Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred.

"The cities of Billings, Great Falls and Missoula have made significant investments into stadiums using public funds,” Daines wrote. “I hope Major League Baseball will continue to make the same commitments to Montana communities."

In November, members of Congress also sent a letter to Manfred.

Heller's company, Main Street baseball, owns four teams:

  • Billings Mustangs, Pioneer League (Rookie)
  • Lowell (Mass.) Spinners, New York-Penn League (Short-Season A)
  • Lowell (Mass.) Spinners, New York-Penn League (Short-Season A)
  • Quad Cities (Davenport, Iowa) River Bandits, Midwest League (Single-A)

He said the proposal would affect two of his teams.

As for the 2020 season, Heller said the Mustangs will open in mid-June.

“We hope everybody will want to come out to Dehler Park and show Major League Baseball why the Billings Mustangs are so important to this community,” Heller said. “That’s the best thing the people of Billings can do.”

Major League and Minor League negotiators will work out a new Professional Baseball Agreement at the Baseball Winter Meetings, starting Friday in San Diego.