BILLINGS — Ben Tallman’s first chance at playing NCAA Division I baseball didn’t work out the way he wanted it to.
But now, three years later, Tallman, a Billings West graduate, is getting a second chance. The former Billings Scarlet has committed to play at the University of Iowa, where he’ll compete for playing time at catcher.
“It means so much to me. I’ve always wanted to play at the highest level, highest of my abilities,” Tallman said of his opportunity with the Hawkeyes. “Playing in the Big Ten’s a big deal, and I know I’m going to do everything I can on my end to prepare myself to play and play at my full potential. This opportunity’s a big one, and I’m just excited to get to work.”
Tallman will start the trek from Billings to Iowa City on Thursday, but his path to the Big Ten has been anything but direct. After graduating from West High in 2018, Tallman got a taste of Division I baseball at North Dakota State. He started 16 games for the Bison in 2019, hitting .151 in 53 at-bats.
It certainly wasn’t the on-field success Tallman was expecting, but he was struggling even more off the field.
“I went through some things. I was a young, immature kid,” he said. “I was outside of my comfort zone, and I think I didn’t handle it all that well just due to the inexperience of being away from my family, my friends.”
So after one year at NDSU, Tallman left the program and returned to Montana. He spent the 2019-20 academic year away from baseball studying at Montana State University in Bozeman. Tallman always knew he would return to the game he loved, so he still spent the year working out and hitting with his dad, himself a former college and professional catcher.
Troy Tallman was a standout baseball and football player at Napa (Calif.) High School and was inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame in 2003. He played three years at Stanford, including 1990 when the Cardinal went to the College World Series. Troy Tallman was then drafted by the Baltimore Orioles and toiled away in the minor leagues for a few seasons.
“He made it to AA, saw a little bit of AAA time, not much, and then called it quits after that,” Ben Tallman said. “But he’s got to do some cool things as far as baseball, so having him in my corner has been huge for me, no doubt about that.”
With the support of his family — including mom Julie and brothers Jake, Zack and Luke — and the help of former MSU Billings coach Aaron Sutton, Ben Tallman got back on his college baseball path after that one year at MSU. He explored his junior college options and landed at North Iowa Area Community College for the 2020-21 academic year, which Tallman said turned out to be a “pretty cool opportunity.”
“I was out in Mason City, Iowa,” he continued. “It’s a little, small town, about 25,000, 30,000 people. It’s pretty much baseball and hanging out with your teammates, it’s really all we did out there. Not a lot of social life or anything like that, which was good. It took away all the distraction and everything. I completely fell in love with the game, rekindled a little fire in me, so I was definitely devoting my entire life to baseball. It was one of the better opportunities in baseball I’ve had, which was awesome.”
Tallman got off to a slow start — “I could tell I had taken a year off, for sure,” he said — and hit just .162 in his first 12 games this season. He started to find his rhythm with the Trojans, though, and hit safely in eight consecutive games and 15 of 16. He hit .367 during that stretch and ultimately ended the season hitting .261 in 137 plate appearances. He registered five home runs, 22 runs and 21 RBI in 37 games.
“I’ve been playing baseball my whole life, so I knew I’d get back to it, but the biggest thing for me was not skipping any days, whether it be in the weight room, trying to get some extra work and swings and stuff at night after class and things like that,” Tallman said, acknowledging the NIACC coaching staff for his development. “By the end of the year I was pretty comfortable with where I was at. There’s always room for improvement, I can always get better, I know that and I believe that, so really working day in and day out to keep elevating my game is what I did there and is what I’m going to continue to do through the rest of my career.”
Tallman, who earned an associate degree in sociology at NIACC and intends to focus on business classes at Iowa, still has three years of eligibility remaining to play college baseball after the National Junior College Athletic Association Board of Regents voted the 2020-21 school year would not count against an athlete’s eligibility.