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Bottom of the ninth

Sarah Daisy Lindmark documents the Osprey’s second-half \nplayoff run as the team’s stadium-financing deadline looms.

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by Skylar Browning

This summer was a make-or-break season for the Missoula Osprey. With their three-year-old ballpark still unfinished and up to neither Missoula City-County health codes nor Major League Baseball’s minimum stadium requirements, the team was told by its parent organization, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and MLB’s minor league office that time was almost up. The message was simple: it was the bottom of the ninth, and in order for the Osprey to pull out a victory, the team didn’t have to hit a miracle home run—it just had to finish its home.

So, while fans poured through the front gates in record numbers and cheered as loudly as ever for their pea-nuts during the regular seventh-inning promotion, and the team enjoyed one of its most competitive championship runs in recent memory, Osprey management and the nonprofit Play Ball Missoula worked behind the scenes to secure a financial package that would pay off all existing debt, finish construction of the stadium and solidify the team’s future in Missoula.

As of press time, Play Ball chairman Wes Spiker says a $6.4 million loan involving First Security Bank, Missoula Federal Credit Union and five private citizens is “98 percent done.” Osprey owner and general manager Matt Ellis says the team is in “as good a position as it’s ever been in—attendance is up, the product on the field is good and, finally, it looks like the construction will move forward.” Spiker is optimistic the financial support will be in place in the next two weeks — one vital step, having the city agree to use the stadium as collateral, is currently in committee — and that construction will start, as planned, at the end of the season.

That couldn’t be a moment too soon: Arizona’s director of player development, A.J. Hinch, says the team remains firm on its Sept. 7 deadline to make a decision on the Osprey’s future with the Diamondbacks.

“Right now we’re keeping a close eye on everything and hoping for the best,” says Hinch, who visited Missoula in July to evaluate the city and stadium. “It’s a great city and a great community with great people—a great spot for baseball. All the positives seem to weigh out. Really all we need is some resolution on when it will be complete and, of course, how it’s going to get funded. They still have a little bit of time.”

Over the next two weeks, the Osprey’s 2006 playoff hopes will be determined on the field—a 15-9 record currently has the team in second place of the Pioneer League’s Northern Division. Off the field, the team’s future in Missoula hangs in a careful balance. Indy photographer Sarah Daisy Lindmark spent the second half of the season capturing the stretch run—from the team’s front-office personnel to the players on the field, from the pure joy of game day to the blemished backdrop of the unfinished ballpark, from the casual fans getting their first taste of professional baseball to the loyal diehards who attend every game.

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