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Centene Stadium

Centene Stadium reflects Great Falls' pride

Community-owned team invests $2.2 million in ballpark

By Sapna Pathak / Special to MLB.com

Professional baseball came to Great Falls, Mont., in 1940, but it wasn't until the 1950s when the city proved how far it would go to keep the game within its borders.

When Centene Stadium, formerly Legion Park, was built, it was done so thanks to former President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps. Young men charged with conserving America's soil produced one of Minor League Baseball's most quaint parks.

Since Centene Stadium was constructed using government funds, the act that created the CCC called for the facility to be owned by the taxpayers of Great Falls. After a decade and a half, however, baseball left the city-and the ballpark.

Enter the Great Falls Baseball Club Inc., a group of 100 businessman-and baseball lovers-that rescued their vacant and dilapidated ballpark. Each pledged $1,000 toward renovating Centene Stadium.

In 1965, the Dodgers sited a franchise in Great Falls, mending the union between baseball and the city. Today, the concrete beauty is home to the Great Falls White Sox, the Pioneer League affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.

The GFBC has full operating rights to the team, gaining no profits beyond paying its few full-time employees. It is one of the only true community-owned clubs in the country.

Centene Stadium has reaped the benefits from formation of the GFBC. In 2003, a $2.2 million renovation program was launched that is ongoing. Every aspect of the park, from concessions to seats to a new clubhouse, dugouts and bullpens, has been revamped.

A new picnic area down the right field line will join an existing group area near first base. In 2007, a kids play area will open where the visiting bleachers now sit. Clubhouses complete with weight rooms, umpire quarters and staff offices have been added as part of the project. A sleek handicapped-accessible restroom area is slated.

With such a large-scale renovation in progress, one could ask where all the money comes from.

Enter the Great Falls Baseball Foundation. A non-profit group formed by the GFBC, the foundation raises funds that are re-invested in the park and the team.

Of the $2.2 million required for the overhaul, only $600,000 has come from the city.

"The community wanted to keep baseball in Great Falls," said GFBC vice president Bill Harp. "We, the taxpayers, own the franchise and earned the Minor League affiliation, and there's no chance we're going to let baseball leave our city."

Great Falls sits along the Missouri River, getting its name from five major waterfalls, including one that's right outside the stadium parking lot.

Fans heading to Centene Stadium can not only check out prospects of the defending World Series champions but have the opportunity to visit the ballpark's two famous neighbors.

About a mile away is the Lewis and Clark Center. Fans can retrace the steps the famed explorers took while mapping out the western United States. Giant Springs, one of the world's largest natural springs, along with the shortest river in the country, are also near the stadium.

The C.M. Russell Museum, located within a mile and a half of the ballpark, gives fans a look at one of the country's most popular cowboys. Another feature on display, and most likely the proudest part of Centene Stadium, is a World Series ring given to members of the 2005 Chicago White Sox.

White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf decided to present the owners of every one of his Minor League affiliates with a World Series ring. So who got the ring in Great Falls?

"He called to find out the ring size and I said, 'Any size will do, we're just going to put it on display,'" Harp said. "I told him the community owns the team, so just send a ring and we'll make sure everyone gets a piece."