BILLINGS -- Pick a cliche: home-field advantage, home away from home, or home sweet home. Truth is, Jalen Garcia could literally call Dehler Park his house.
He's practically lived here for the past decade. Garcia put up mind-blowing America Legion Baseball numbers for the Billings Scarlets. Then he did it again playing three years for MSU Billings at Dehler. Now, a pro baseball call with the Pioneer League's Billings Mustangs. It's a surreal feeling, Garcia said, that opened a tsunami of childhood memories when he donned the official gear Monday.
"Just growing up and listening to you announce these games and talk about the Mustangs, coming out to these games ... I remember coming out here when it was Cobb Field," Garcia recalled to MTN Sports.
Garcia and the Mustangs open their 2021 season Saturday at Idaho Falls for Game 1 of an expanded 96-game schedule. Their home opener is next Wednesday at 6:35 p.m. against the Rocky Mountain Vibes.
When word arrived that Garcia would not only be playing pro baseball, but right here in Billings, the reaction of his parents was priceless.
"They were elated. They were probably more happy than me, if that's possible," Garcia said. "They're so proud and I'm just happy to make them proud, too."
Garcia has his share of favorite memories on the Dehler diamond. One of them, back in his Legion days during a pair of quick-turnaround showdowns between his Scarlets and the crosstown Billings Royals.
"Matt Dillon hit a walk-off against us, I hit one against them the next week. It was crazy," Garcia said.
Of course, Garcia also has his share of memories as an NCAA Division II GNAC champion with MSU Billings. And it turns out former Yellowjacket teammate Daniel Cipriano is also on the Mustangs' roster. Sort of an informal package deal that manager Joe Kruzel stumbled onto thanks to a heads-up from longtime Mustangs general manager Gary Roller.
"With the two local kids, I've always thought it's good to have some connection (to the community)," Kruzel told MTN Sports. "And I think it's not just the connection, those two guys are really, really good players."
The respect between Garcia and Cipriano is mutual.
"He was a great teammate in 2019 with me here at MSUB and I'm excited to play with him again," Cipriano said of when the two crossed paths as Yellowjackets. "He was definitely one of my favorite guys to play with in 2019."
"I hit in front of him for a year and I know what he can do," Garcia said. "I know he'll do well here too, and having him out here with me makes it more sweet."
Home sweet home, home away from home, or just Jalen's house. Any way you slice it, Garcia's welcome mat remains perched on Dehler's porch.