Jeff LeProwse has been trying to retire as head coach of the Butte Miners for a few years now.
He even advertised the position so that anyone in the world could apply. Each year, however, the only suitable candidate to replace LeProwse has proven to be LeProwse.
So every year when April rolls around, LeProwse, who is president of Butte’s Legon program, is again the man in charge of Butte’s Class A American Legion baseball team.
It is a job that not many people are willing to take, and with good reason. It takes all your free time.
For the past 10 years, LeProwse has spent most or all of its vacation taking miners around the state to play baseball.
Again, LeProwse is trying to say that last season was his last, and no one believes him. Those who know the coach best say that he is serious, but they still give him a 50/50 chance to return next season.
It’s time we let LeProwse follow his word. It’s time for him to retire after a 10-season run that could go down as the most important stretch in the history of Butte’s Legion program.
Nor is this statement a hyperbola of any imagination.
If it were not for LeProwse, and a few other dedicated souls, there is a very good chance that Legion baseball in Mining City would have disappeared completely.
LeProwse took over the program in 2012, and it quickly spread that the team could no longer play in their home at the Alumni Coliseum at Montana Tech. This is because Orediggers was to install their artificial turf, a project that has been a great benefit to Tech and society.
It turns out that the grass project did not take off until 2013, and the miners were allowed to play at their long-standing stadium in 2012. The word that they would not drive any players away before the season started.
As a result, the Miners played that season in Class AA with only 11 players, and that was an impossible task. While the miners had a good talent on the small roster, it was not close enough to compete.
The Miners 2012 went undefeated in the Eastern AA Conference Games.
That the miners at all opened the season next season was a little upset. Despite rumors that there would be no team, LeProwse got 29 players out of the program. That was enough to bring the younger Mucker team back from the dead.
However, the Miners were a team without a league and without a home.
The Miners played their home games at Field 4 at Copper Mountain Park. Although it is a decent field for the Senior Little League, it was by far the worst American Legion facility in the state.
LeProwse also knew that the program was not able to compete with the Class AA teams. Butte also could not play in Class A because a few short-term members of the state’s American Legion Baseball Committee would not let them.
As it turned out, Butte had 16 too many students in grades 10 to 12 to go down to grade A. An exception, which seemed like a no-brainer for anyone who cared about the general condition of the baseball game, could have been made , but it was not.
So, the miners had to play a non-conference plan and turned around for matches with any team that wanted to play them. They were not eligible to play in any district or state tournaments.
Instead of getting bitter about the situation, LeProwse got creative and turned it into a positive. In July 2013, he took the Miners to the Western Region Big League Baseball Tournament in Bremerton, Washington. The miners played as “Team Montana.”
All these years later, those players would probably tell you that the trip to Seattle knocked the heck out of a trip to the state. There is no Space Needle in Oats.
LeProwse and the Miners played four seasons on Field No. 4.
On May 26, 2017, the Miners played their first game at Miners Field at 3 Legends Stadium. Now the Butte boys have one of the best Legion stadiums in the state, and they can thank LeProwse for that.
While the “three legends” are Jim Hanley, Jack Whelan and Jack Cavanagh, no one had more to do with the new stadium than LeProwse.
Even parents who like the coach can not deny it.
Baseball has also been pretty good during LeProwse’s period. The coach has helped send more than a handful of kids to play baseball in college.
Now that Butte’s student population allows miners to play in Class A, the team put together winning seasons for the first time in recent memory.
This season, the miners were missing a battle to qualify for the Class A state tournament. In the decisive game, The Miners lost to Gallatin Valley, who suddenly had a player from San Diego on the playoff list, the Miners played shorthanded.
They lost three of their best players – Zach Tierney, Kenley Leary and Rylan Richards – to injury. Tierney missed the entire season with a shoulder injury in wrestling, and Leary missed most of the season from an excessive hip injury that came from playing four sports.
Richards broke a toe late in the season.
Richards will play college ball in Dickinson State, and Tierney and Leary will surely have college baseball options if they choose to take that route. It may not be fair to say that the miners would have stated if they had all three players, but it would certainly have been nice to find out.
However, LeProwse never made an apology. He led the Miners out game after game and worked hard to ensure the team played to its potential.
Finding a replacement for LeProwse will not be easy. The job is time consuming and it pays almost nothing.
It is a job that is ideal for a teacher who gets the summer months off, but it is not suitable for recruiting people from the city because it is not a real job related to it.
The dream is to steal Johnny Graham from Belgrade because he can be the best coach in the state. He also loves Mining City and is married to a Butte girl.
But how can you ask a guy and his wife to quit their jobs just so he can train Legion baseball? You can not.
Someone has to get up. The program is in good shape, and it is about to get a huge influx of talents. Butte recently won the state championship in the Junior Little League, and they made it look easy.
In a few years, the Miners may just be the favorite to win their first state title since Jim Kello and the Miners won it all in 1953.
Right now, there’s probably a 50 percent chance that LeProwse will be the head coach of the Legion when these guys play for the Miners. However, it would certainly be nice if he did not have to.
The coach has clearly put in his time, and then some.
– Bill Foley, who lives in a general state of hyperbola, writes a column that appears on Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Send him an email at email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74