BILLINGS – In the span of one weekend, Jayden Kay went from being a future junior college baseball player to a Division I talent.
How? The Billings Royal had a stellar tournament during the Gopher Classic back in mid-July in Minneapolis. His play attracted the attention of North Dakota State coaches who soon after offered Kay to join their team in the fall.
“It was really crazy to think about. I hadn’t really thought about it ever,” Kay said. “When the opportunity came, it was like, 'Wow, this is awesome.' ”
He quickly said yes, flipping from Linn-Benton Community College in Oregon. He also joins Billings Scarlet Ben Tallman, who signed with NDSU back in November.
“I was pretty set on (Linn-Benton). I was either going there or an Arizona junior college,” Kay said. “I just decided to go to Oregon. I called my coach and told him all about (NDSU) and he was super excited for me and it went really well. That made me feel a lot better about that.”
Kay, who graduated from Billings Senior, won’t receive any scholarship money until his sophomore year with North Dakota State.
But he doesn’t’ care. Kay is just happy for the opportunity while getting a chance to enjoy his final week of Legion baseball.
“Everyone was just going to have as much fun as they could with everyone again this year and practice as much as we could for next year,” Kay said. “It’s just nice knowing that it doesn’t stop here.”
Kay is one of 10 recently graduated Royals players, seven of whom will go on to play college baseball. Behind the loaded lineup, the Royals head into this weekend’s state tournament as the No. 3 seed.
The Royals began the season 32-4 heading into late June, capped off with a win at the Goldsmith Tournament in Billings. July was a little less kind to the Royals, but they still ended the regular season 43-14 and 15-7 in conference.
Pitcher Brooks Zimmer, a Senior grad, will stay in town and play for Montana State Billings. Cade Torgerson (Senior) and Carson Klompien (Skyview) will both head to the University of Jamestown, an NAIA school in North Dakota. Tyler Frieders (Senior) and Jarret Leinwand (Senior) are both bound for Yakima Valley Community College in Washington, while Sam Evenson (Senior) is heading to Williston State, another junior college.
Those seven aren’t the only future college athletes though. Dawson Smith, another Senior grad, will head to the University of Providence to play hockey.
“A lot of us are going to a lot of different areas of the country so this weekend will be the last time we’re together for a while,” Zimmer said.
Despite the less-than-smooth July, the Royals are just focusing on keeping things loose and fun as they did in the beginning of the year.
“We’ve been having some good practices lately and having a lot of fun out here,” Zimmer said. “Us being seniors, we have nothing else to play for so might as well go out there and try to win one and just enjoy it.”
“We just tried to go back to simplifying it up and go back to fundamental stuff,” Torgerson said about the Royals adjusting to the setbacks in July. “Shoring those up kind of helped take care of itself and got us back on track.”
Torgerson, who is originally from Shepherd, transferred to Senior midway through his junior year. He was the Broncs’ backup quarterback on their 13-0 state championship team this past season, and will play both football and baseball at Jamestown.
“It was kind of hard picking between football and baseball and it was a hard decision,” Torgerson said. “Jamestown kind of made it easy in that aspect. And not just the both sports but the community and all of the things like that.”
Torgerson and Klompien will be roommates at Jamestown, with Torgerson saying it’ll be nice to have a familiar face around in a new setting. As for playing baseball and football, he knows it will be a challenge but one he looks forward to.
As far as a team with that many future college athletes, the players agree the energy level is always high.
“There’s a lot of competitive guys on the team that’s for sure. You have all of these guys going to college for sports and it’s for a reason,” Torgerson said. “It just helps us push each other that much more.
“We kind of give each other crap about whose college is better and that kind of thing. We’ll give each other a hard time. We were just in Great Falls and we’re calling it Smitty-town all weekend (for Smith).”
“You look around the dugout and you see athletes everywhere,” Zimmer added. “All of these guys are playing good college baseball at all levels. It’s just pretty cool having a team like this.”
Royal coach Bryan Benjamin, who is in his third year as the manager, said this many college athletes won’t be too uncommon with the Legion programs.
“For the most part, the Legion program does a really good job of getting those seniors out there and getting them scholarships,” Benjamin said. “It’s been pretty good since I’ve been here and even the two years when coach (Matt) Kimmet was here. Pretty good success and I know (Scarlets manager Adam) Hust does a good job too. The Legion program does a good job helping those guys get scholarships. They have to obviously do it on the field but they help schools look at them and stuff like that.
“It’s been a lot of fun this year. I’ve coached five or six of them all four years. It’s been a relaxed year and we’ve stayed pretty loose and I think that’s when this team plays the best.”
Frieders and Leinwand will also team up, experiencing a similar situation to Torgerson and Klompien.
“It eases the nerves a little bit I guess,” Frieders said. “You have a familiar face going there with you and it’s definitely nice that it’s my catcher.”
For now, they’ll focus on Saturday afternoon, when they open the AA tournament with their first-round game against Lethbridge. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m. in Kalispell.
“We’re all super excited about it and we’re just trying to go out there and leave it all out on the field,” Frieders said.