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Kindrick Legion Field History

Kindrick Legion Field
by Curt Synness

When Helena's Kindrick Legion Field was first built in 1932, local players, as well as the townfolk, were extremely anxious for a new ballpark. Baseball was a huge activity back then, with two different City leagues comprised of about 10 adult semi-pro teams, one Junior Legion club and several youth teams. There were five ballparks in use then - Smelterite Park in East Helena, Campbell Field (located approximately where the Memorial Apartments are on Euclid Ave.), the Sixth Ward Field (across the street west of Mergenthalers Transfer), Scullen Field (by the Carroll P.E. Center) and Fort Harrison Field - but none had bleachers, dugouts or an outfield fence. When the new park opened, it was quite an event.

"Helena baseball fans in large numbers witnessed a brilliant game of baseball last evening which marked the opening of Legion Park, new home of the Helena Baseball Association," reported the Helena Daily Independent on August 24, 1932. "The league-leading Eagles defeated the Orange Crush by a 2-1 score in a game that was as good as any fan would care to see."

"The crowd expressed pleasure at the splendid plant which was made possible through the efforts of William C. "Bill" Campbell and the American Legion Lewis and Clark Post No. 2, which donated the funds held by them for legion stadium. These funds, coupled with the earnings of the league this season and the acceptance of "script" by Helena merchants assured construction of the plant which will doubtless be fully paid for by the end of the season."

Campbell, who was a reporter for the local newspaper then, but is perhaps best remembered as the author of the history books "From the Quarries of Last Chance Gulch," had helped spearhead the drive to build the park for several years before things came together in the summer of 1932.

Post No. 2 leaders Earl Angle, Dr. H.C. Watts, C.W. Henry, Addison Lusk, Jay Diamond, Floyd Smith, Carl Kretlow and Jack Higgins, authorized the contribution of $650 of American Legion monies to the mission, which during the Great Depression was a sizable sum. About another $900 was collected by promoters of the project, with many local construction businesses donating materials. The building of the park was under the supervision of contractor Harry T. Blain. Much of the construction was paid for in "scrip," meaning the carpenters and laborers were paid in coupon books from local merchants, used the businesses used as "advertising for their civic enterprise."

The materials for the 8-foot outfield fence were paid for by the City League players themselves, who donated their season's earnings to the cause. They were banking on speculation that they could make more off of a percentage of the gate, than the old tradition of passing the hat after every game. And there were at least six players who served as non-gratus laborers on the project.

Five tiers of bleachers were built behind home plate, in addition to a set of bleachers along the first base line, "so that the evening sun will not be in the eyes of the spectators."

All-told, the new park cost about $1,500. "The Helena Baseball Association, under officers Charles Weisner, Campbell and Daily Independent sports editor Al Gaskill, was incorporated to acquire and make improvements thereon," according to the Daily Independent. "In view of their kindness and interest, the new baseball field, will be called Legion Park, in honor of the Lewis and Clark Post.

"The space on the third base side inside the fence will form a "coop" where all of the kids in town under 12 years of age may see the ball games free of charge. They may bring their dogs, boxing gloves and enthusiasm free of charge."

The original outfield distances were 300 feet to left and right field ("25 feet greater than the same fences in New York's Polo grounds," the paper noted) and 400 feet to center.

After the much anticipated first game was played, the newspaper reported, "For the opening contest, a section was reserved along the first base side for American Legion members, the executive council and board of directors. Price of admission was 25 cents, and all games thereafter will be 15 cents." The bleachers seated 600 fans, with the first paying customer being one Lidner Walker.

Earle Angle, commander of Legion Post No. 2, threw out the first ball. R.E. "Red" Morrison piloted his plane over the field with Helena photographer Les Jorud and his newly invented aerial camera. "Mr. Jorud took several pictures from the air of the crowded stands, the field and whatever the sharp eye of the camera was able to pick up."

That very first game, which was also witnessed by Montana's Governor J.E. Erickson, was a dandy. Bing Madden, leadoff man for the "Crushies," whacked the first pitched ball by Ray Culver for the very first basehit in the new ballpark. Tommy Mitchell of the Crush scored the first extra base hit, and the Eagles' Les Rudio scored the first-ever run, when he was driven in by Culver's single in the second inning. The first out was a strikeout by Culver.

The contest was a pitching duel between Culver, who allowed six hits and struckout nine, and the Eagles' Steve Molnar, who fired a 3-hitter, fanning six and walking only one. The Eagles went up 2-0 in the fifth when Ben Briscoe got aboard with a 2-out single, advanced on an error, and was driven in by Dr. Sas Keane. Keane had been a standout football player for Mt. Saint Charles (Carroll) and world-class sprinter for Creighton University in the 1920s.

The Crush scored their lone run in the sixth, after Kes Rigler - who owned the distinction of being the first one-armed ballplayer to reach the minor leagues - scored on a long sacrifice fly by Vahl. The 6½ inning game was a fast-paced affair, completed in only one hour and 19 minutes. Other players collecting hits in the game were the Orange Crush's Lou Berg, Red Haggerty, and Leo "Dutch" Schneider.

The ballpark, which has remained the local Legion team's homefield for the past 73 years, has gone through several name changes and numerous renovations, improvements and expansions over the years. For awhile it was called Memorial Park Field, and then in the mid-1970s the name was changed to Kindrick Legion Field, in honor of longtime Legion supporter Ace Kindrick. From it's completion in 1932 until the mid-1960s, the field was the site of thousands of ballgames for the semi-pro City and Copper League games. It also served as the location for the Helena High football team until Vigilante Stadium was built in 1935, as well as the field for the Helena Cathedral and Central High's football games from 1955-68. Since 1978, with the exception of a couple years, the park has been the home to the Helena Phillies, the Helena Gold Sox and the Helena Brewers.

CURT SYNNESS is a sports writer for the Independent Record and a local sports historian. He can be contacted at 449-2150 or email curt52s@msn.com.