BILLINGS — If Calvin Bjorgum could’ve picked the year he would make the move from assistant to head coach, he probably wouldn’t have picked 2020.
To his credit, though, the first-year Billings Blue Jays skipper has made the most of this season with a team that bought in nearly from the get-go.
“It was definitely a little bit stressful at first, but once everything kind of got rolling, I started to settle in, everything kind of got a little bit easier and I started to get a lot more comfortable, especially being around the guys and that kind of stuff,” said Bjorgum, who spent the past two years as an assistant coach before being elevated to the head position prior to this 2020 Montana Legion Baseball season.
The Blue Jays started Bjorgum’s head coaching tenure with two wins to start the season on June 1. The Ws have kept coming as the Billings Class A club has compiled an overall record of 28-9. The Blue Jays went 9-3 in the Eastern A to win the league’s South subdistrict and earn the No. 1 seed for the district tournament, which is scheduled for July 30-Aug. 2 at Pirtz Field in Billings.
Billings will close out its 2020 regular-season schedule with a doubleheader Saturday at the Lewistown Redbirds, the runaway No. 1 seed in the Northern A and one of the best offenses in the state.
“We saw Lewistown earlier this month here in Billings, and they can hit. They are very impressive offensively,” Bjorgum said. “It’ll be nice to go up there before postseason starts, because that’s a team, if we make it out of our district tournament, that we could potentially see in the state tournament, and that’s what we want to see, because they’re a very good baseball team. Playing teams like that kind of shows where we’re at, too, comparison-wise, see what we need to work on to be able to beat teams like that.”
The Blue Jays are riding their own hot streak. They’ve won seven consecutive games and are 13-3 in the month of July. While the club hasn’t endured any prolonged slumps during the season, Bjorgum said the Blue Jays’ development has been noticeable and that they’re playing their best ball of the season right now, which has stemmed from individual players coming together as one team.
The improvements haven’t just come from understanding roles and building team unity, though. Billings’ strides are also evident in the team’s play, especially on the defensive side, which has provided a confidence boost in the field and on the mound.
Sophomore lefties Lance Schaaf and Reagan Walker and sophomore right-handed pitcher Davis Mosier have led the way on the mound, while Hunter Eliason and Gunner Thompson have stepped in as relievers.
“On the mound is probably where we shine the most,” Bjorgum said. “Every time (Schaaf, Walker and Mosier) go out there, they give us a chance to win. Then we can bring in (Eliason and Thompson) right after them that definitely are shutdown guys, for sure, that can close the game away any time we need them to, so that’s nice.”
Bjorgum added a caveat, though: “When it comes to tournament play, we definitely need to be more efficient, get ahead of hitters early, stay ahead of hitters early, and limit pitch counts since pitch count’s such a big thing now.”
One area Bjorgum isn’t particularly worried is on the base paths. Though the Blue Jays are solid at the plate — specifically shortstop Jessen West and the Schaaf brothers, Lance and Austin — they’re most dangerous once they’re already on base.
“We’re a pretty fast team and we can roll out, we probably have nine or 10 guys that can move. When we get guys on base, we can be dangerous. That’s definitely something that helps, especially when you need runs late in games. We can manufacture them if need be if the bats are kind of quiet, so that’s definitely a strength of ours,” Bjorgum said.
This season, which has been condensed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, has already presented challenges with fewer off days between games. But it’s also provided opportunities for a team like the Blue Jays, which features a roster of 18 capable players. Bjorgum said a number of the guys can fill in on the bump and any of them can contribute at the plate, allowing the team the versatility and flexibility to fill different lineups.
“We’ve got a great group of kids, good baseball minds, a lot of baseball intellect between the 18 of them that we have,” said Bjorgum, who played for the Blue Jays in 2013 and 2014. “For it being my first year, it’s been nice having the group we have. They’ve taken a lot of pressure off me, for sure, so that’s been nice.”