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The Northstars shrugged off disappointment, then earned their way to state


August 4, 2020

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Havre Northstars head coach Patch Wirtzberger gives a sign during an American Legion baseball game last month at Legion Field. That game would be Havre's last at home this season - a season that was supposed to include the Northstars hosting the state tournament at Legion Field. Instead, Havre ended up earning their way to state the old fashioned way.

Today marked the start of the first week of August. Or, it's also known as, the dog days of summer. And boy has it been one crazy summer, including months filled with what could haves and what might have beens.

That's true of the Havre Northstars American Legion baseball team, too.

This week, the Northstars are getting ready to play in their first Class A state tournament in 15 years. It's an exciting time for the Northstars, led by Patch Wirtzberger. The trip to state has been a long time in the making.

But this week is also bittersweet for the program and for Havre.

You see, before coronavirus really took hold in Montana, the Northstars had won the bid to host the Class A state tournament. Like making it to state, having an American Legion state tourney in Havre was a longtime coming. In fact, in many ways, it was long overdue.

Playing a state tourney at Legion Field was overdue because, Legion Field is easily one of the best baseball venues in Class A, and even more so, one of the best small-town baseball fields in all of Montana, and perhaps beyond.

Sure, am I biased? Absolutely I am. But being biased doesn't make me wrong.

For starters, I'm old enough to remember what Legion Field was like before the "fence fund," before the irrigation system, and the batting cages and all of it. I remember the green bleachers in the grandstand. I remember the splinter. I remember playing Babe Ruth on an infield full of rocks. I remember the gophers in the outfield. I remember it all.

And, you know, what's crazy is even back then, even before Legion Field's amazing transformation - which you can learn more about in our sports section later this week - even before all of that, I still thought that stadium was awesome. As a kid, you just couldn't grow up fast enough to get to play up on the hill. As a youngster, you would go to Legion Field to watch the Northstars, chase foul balls for candy, and really just watch the game of baseball at its highest level in Havre. Yeah, I spent a lot of time at the old ball field by the water tower, in the days long before it was what it is today.

But, through the hard work and dedication of so many over the years, 20 to be exact, Legion Field isn't that same stadium I grew up idolizing. Instead, it's been reworked into a stellar summer baseball facility, all the while maintaining the character and history that it's always been known for. And because of that, I think it's safe to say, we were all looking forward to showcasing our stadium at the state tournament.

Coronavirus, though, had other ideas, and for a time, it looked as though not only was Havre going to lose the state tournament but, at least back in April and May, there was doubt as to whether there would even be baseball this summer.

Thankfully for Havre, that didn't happen. We did lose the tournament, and with that, the Northstars lost their auto-bid to state. But they didn't lose the season, so they got a chance to go to state anyway. They got a chance to earn their way in - and last week in Great Falls, that's exactly what the Northstars did.

Yes, it had to be a tough pill to swallow when Havre found out it wasn't going to host the state tournament anymore. In fact, I'm sure, for a time, it was pretty deflating. But by the time the Northern A District Tournament rolled around last week, the Northstars were long over that, and their mission was to go to state regardless. And, with a thrilling win-or-go-home win over Tri-County last Thursday morning, they did something very special - they earned the right to go to state. They won their way in, and that's something no one can ever take away from them.

Sure, it will be disappointing that this summer will end with the state tourney in Lewistown and sure everyone involved can look back and think "what might have been" this week up at Legion Field. But, there's also ways a silver lining.

That's right, even in these dark times of a global pandemic and so much uncertainty, there are still silver linings and the Northstars found theirs. Their silver lining is that, they are still playing in a state tournament, and, they are doing so not because of a rule or as an automatic bid. No, this Havre team lost that ticket to state. Instead, they found their silver lining by doing it the hard way, by going out and earning it. The Havre Northstars are going to state because they won two really big baseball games, and there's no better accomplishment than that.

So, while we'll miss state this weekend in Havre, and it would have been a hell of a show up by the water tower, the show goes on for the Northstars. They'll shine bright in Lewistown instead and, one day, the state tournament will be back at Legion Field.

Good luck at state Northstars.


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