Pioneer League (baseball)

The Pioneer League is an independent baseball league that operates in the Rocky Mountain region of the United States. Its teams are not directly affiliated with Major League Baseball (MLB). It is designated as an MLB Partner League.

Pioneer League
Founded1939 (1939)
PresidentMike Shapiro
CommissionerJim McCurdy
No. of teams10
CountryUnited States
Most recent
Grand Junction Rockies (2022)
Most titlesBillings Mustangs (15)

From 1939 to 2020, the Pioneer League was affiliated with Minor League Baseball and its teams were affiliated with MLB teams. It operated as a Class C league from 1939 to 1942 and from 1946 to 1962. It was elevated to Class A for 1963 and was a Rookie-level league from 1964 to 2020.


The Pioneer League began in 1939 with six teams in Idaho and Utah, operating at the Class C level. The original six teams were the Boise Pilots, Lewiston Indians, Ogden Reds, Pocatello Cardinals, Salt Lake City Bees, and Twin Falls Cowboys. With players in short supply due to World War II, the league suspended operations for the 1943 through 1945 seasons.

In 1948, the league expanded by adding two teams in Montana; the Billings Mustangs and Great Falls Electrics. In these early years, teams in the league either operated independently or were affiliated with Major League Baseball (MLB) or Pacific Coast League (PCL) parent clubs, as the PCL was attempting to grow (but ultimately failed) into a major league. When MLB's Los Angeles Dodgers displaced the PCL's Hollywood Stars in 1958, the Stars relocated and became the "new" Salt Lake City Bees, remaining in the PCL and taking away the Pioneer League's largest market.

By 1959, the Pioneer League was down to six teams; Billings and Great Falls along with the Boise Braves, Idaho Falls Russets, Missoula Timberjacks, and Pocatello Athletics. The league operated at the Class A level for one year (1963), before changing to Rookie league in 1964, when there were only four teams in the league; the Idaho Falls Angels, Magic Valley Cowboys, Pocatello Chiefs, and Treasure Valley Cubs. By 1978, the league had again grown to eight teams — Billings and Idaho Falls along with the Butte Copper Kings, Calgary Cardinals, Great Falls Giants, Helena Phillies, Lethbridge Dodgers, and Medicine Hat Blue Jays. With the exception of 1986 (when there were six teams), there have been eight teams in the league since then.

In 2016, total league attendance was 616,686,[1] down slightly from the 2015 total of 633,622.[2]

In its final years as an MLB-affiliated league, the Pioneer League was one of two "Rookie Advanced" minor leagues along with the Appalachian League. As such, it occupied the second-lowest rung in the minor league ladder. Although classified as a Rookie league, the level of play was slightly higher than that of the two "complex" Rookie leagues, the Gulf Coast League and Arizona League. Unlike the complex leagues, Pioneer League teams charged admission and sold concessions. It was almost exclusively the first fully professional league in which many players competed; most of the players had just been signed out of high school. It was a short-season league that competed from late June (when major league teams signed players whom they selected in the amateur draft) to early September.

After the 2018 season, the Helena Brewers relocated to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where they now play as the Rocky Mountain Vibes.[3]

As the start of the 2020 season was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic before being cancelled on June 30,[4][5] making the 2019 season the league's last as an MLB-affiliated league of Minor League Baseball.

In conjunction with the reorganization of Minor League Baseball in 2021, the Pioneer League was converted to an independent baseball league and was granted status as an MLB Partner League.[6] The reconfigured league continued with the same franchises using the same identities, with the exception of the Orem Owlz who relocated to Windsor, Colorado, as the Northern Colorado Owlz.[6][7] The Boise Hawks also joined the Pioneer League in 2021 after moving from the Northwest League.[8]

The Pioneer League announced a five-year naming rights deal between the league and ticket vendor TicketSmarter that would have the league go as The Pioneer Baseball League presented by TicketSmarter starting in time for the 2022 season.[9]

Current teams

Range Riders
Current team locations:[10]
  Northern Division
  Southern Division
Division Team Founded Joined City Stadium Capacity
Northern Billings Mustangs 1948 Billings, Montana Dehler Park 5,000
Glacier Range Riders 2021 2022[11] Kalispell, Montana Flathead Field 2,500
Great Falls Voyagers 1948 Great Falls, Montana Centene Stadium 2,500
Idaho Falls Chukars 1940 Idaho Falls, Idaho Melaleuca Field 3,400
Missoula PaddleHeads 1999 Missoula, Montana Ogren Park at Allegiance Field 3,500
Southern Boise Hawks 1987 2021 Boise, Idaho Memorial Stadium 3,452
Grand Junction Jackalopes 1978 Grand Junction, Colorado Suplizio Field 7,014
Northern Colorado Owlz 2001 2022[12] Windsor, Colorado Future Legends Complex 6,000
Ogden Raptors 1994 Ogden, Utah Lindquist Field 8,262
Rocky Mountain Vibes 2019 Colorado Springs, Colorado UCHealth Park 8,500

Current team rosters

Pioneer League teams (1939–present)

Bold text indicates active teams.

Teams by city

Teams by city
City, State or ProvinceTeam(s)YearsSeasons
Billings, MontanaMustangs1948–1963, 1969–present69
Boise, IdahoBraves, Hawks, Pilots, Yankees1939–1942, 1946–1963, 2021–present24
Butte, MontanaCopper Kings1978–1985, 1987–200022
Caldwell, IdahoCubs, Treasure Valley Cubs1964–19718
Calgary, AlbertaCardinals, Expos1977–19848
Casper, WyomingGhosts2001–201111
Colorado Springs, ColoradoRocky Mountain Vibes2019–present3
Great Falls, MontanaDodgers, Electrics, Giants, Selectrics, Voyagers, White Sox1948–1963, 1969–present69
Grand Junction, ColoradoRockies, Jackalopes2012–present10
Helena, MontanaBrewers, Gold Sox, Phillies1978–2000, 2003–201829
Idaho Falls, IdahoA's, Angels, Braves, Chukars, Gems, Nuggets, Padres, Russets, Yankees1940–1942, 1946–present79
Kalispell, MontanaRange Riders2022–present1
Lethbridge, AlbertaBlack Diamonds, Dodgers, Expos, Mounties1975–199824
Lewiston, IdahoIndians19391
Medicine Hat, AlbertaA's, Blue Jays1977–200226
Missoula, MontanaOsprey, PaddleHeads, Timberjacks1956–1960, 1999–2019, 2020–present28
Ogden, UtahDodgers, Raptors, Reds, Spikers1939–1942, 1946–1955, 1966–1974, 1994–present51
Orem, UtahOwlz2005–202015
Pocatello, IdahoA's, Bannocks, Cardinals, Chiefs, Gems, Giants, Pioneers, Gate City Pioneers, Posse1939–1942, 1946–1965, 1984–1985, 1987–1991, 199332
Provo, UtahAngels2001–20044
Salt Lake City, UtahBees, Giants, Trappers1939–1942, 1946–1957, 1967–1969, 1985–199227
Twin Falls, IdahoCowboys, Magic Valley Cowboys1939–1942, 1946–1957, 1961–1966, 1968–197136
Windsor, ColoradoNorthern Colorado Owlz2022–present1


Mike Shapiro is the current president of the Pioneer Baseball League, having been a senior executive in a wide range of professional sports including baseball, golf, basketball and hockey.[13]

Jim McCurdy is the commissioner[13] and a past president of the Pioneer Baseball League. McCurdy received his BBA from the University of Houston in 1970 and his JD from the University of Texas School of Law in 1974. He mediated the restructure of Minor League Baseball's governing structure in 1992 and was an inaugural member of the MiLB board of trustees from 1992 to 1994. In 1993, he was appointed by the president of MiLB to serve on the Professional Baseball Executive Council. McCurdy was elevated to the position of league president in 1994, replacing Ralph Nelles who was the president from 1975 to 1993. McCurdy also teaches sports law courses at Gonzaga University School of Law and the University of San Diego School of Law. His publications include: Sports Law: Cases & Materials (with Ray Yasser, C. Peter Goplerud, and Maureen Weston) (7th ed. LexisNexis 2011),[14] Thunder on the Road from Seattle to Oklahoma City: Going from NOPA to ZOPA in the NBA, in Legal Issues in American Basketball ch. IV (Lewis Kurlantzick ed., Academica Press 2011),[14] and, The Fundamental Nature of Professional Sports Leagues, Constituent Clubs, & Mutual Duties to Protect Market Opportunities: Organized Baseball Case Study, in Legal Issues in Professional Baseball ch. IV (Lewis Kurlantzick ed., Academica Press 2005).[14]

League champions

League champions have been determined by different means since the Pioneer League's formation in 1939. There were postseason playoffs when the league operated as Class C (1939–1962), except for 1939 and 1956, and for the three years during World War II when the league did not operate. In the league's one year as Class A (1963), there were also postseason playoffs. After becoming a Rookie league in 1964, the league champions were simply the regular season pennant winners through 1977. Since 1978, postseason playoffs have again been held to determine a league champion.[15][16]


  1. "Pioneer League: Attendance (2016)". Minor League Baseball. Retrieved August 15, 2017.
  2. "Pioneer League: Attendance (2015)". Minor League Baseball. Retrieved September 23, 2015.
  3. "New Name on Tap for Colorado Springs Pioneer League Team". Ballpark Digest. August Publications. June 13, 2018. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
  4. "A Message From Pat O'Conner". Minor League Baseball. March 13, 2020. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  5. "2020 Minor League Baseball Season Shelved". Minor League Baseball. June 30, 2020. Retrieved July 1, 2020.
  6. "Pioneer League named MLB Partner League". Major League Baseball. November 30, 2020. Retrieved November 30, 2020.
  7. Kirk, Alexander (November 30, 2020). "Orem Owlz announce move to Windsor in 2021". 9 News. Retrieved November 30, 2020.
  8. Kloppenburg, Katie (December 9, 2020). "Boise Hawks plan to join Pioneer Baseball League in 2021". Idaho News 6. Retrieved December 9, 2020.
  9. "Pioneer League, TicketSmarter unveil naming-rights deal". Ballpark Digest. August Publications. January 26, 2022. Retrieved January 29, 2022.
  10. "Pioneer Baseball League - standings". Pointstreak. Retrieved May 21, 2021.
  11. Reichard, Kevin (August 16, 2021). "Pioneer League adds 2022 Flathead Valley expansion team". Ballpark Digest. August Publications. Retrieved August 16, 2021.
  12. Reichard, Kevin (December 9, 2020). "Fresno agrees to Cal League move; 120-team MiLB lineup complete". Ballpark Digest. August Publications.
  13. "Pioneer League staff". Pioneer League. Minor League Baseball. Retrieved January 30, 2022.
  14. "James R. McCurdy". Thomas Jefferson School of Law. December 11, 2015. Retrieved August 11, 2016.
  15. "Pioneer League Champions". Pioneer League. Minor League Baseball. Retrieved August 13, 2017.
  16. Johnson, Lloyd; Wolff, Miles (2007). Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball (third ed.). Baseball America. ISBN 9781932391176.
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