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Brokaw hoping to turn Legion ball into scholarship
Billings Royals' Jeff Brokaw bats in the bottom of the first inning against Standley Lake on Wednesday during the Fleetwood/UAS Tournament at Cobb Field.

Learning on the job is something Billings Royals player Jeff Brokaw does every time he steps on the baseball diamond.

The former football and wrestling standout at Hardin High School is playing his first — and last — year of American Legion baseball for the Royals.

It's not that Brokaw doesn't have any experience on the diamond. Baseball is his favorite sport and he's played two years of Babe Ruth baseball and one year for the Heights Senior Little League team, winning a state championship with each team.

In addition to pitching, Brokaw has played primarily shortstop in the past. With the Royals, though, he plays third base.

"Moving to third has been a challenge," said the 19-year-old Brokaw. "I've never played third base before. I played shortstop and second base. At third base the ball gets there a little quicker — the hot corner.

"From the first practice, I've learned something new every day. Every day coach (Shawn) Malley is coaching me at third base … every time I come to the dugout after an inning they tell me what to do and just little things."

One of the reasons Brokaw decided to play Legion baseball is to pursue a college baseball career. He did learn many skills at the various levels he played the game, but felt the Legion program would be the best way to learn the intricacies of the game, develop and get better.

Like the Scarlets' Tom Danahy and others before them, Brokaw is able to play Legion as a 19-year-old due to an American Legion rule that passed last year.

Brokaw went to Jefferson College in Missouri last fall to play baseball. But he didn't feel he was up to par with the rest of the team, so he transferred to Montana State University in Bozeman. After joining the Royals, he commuted to Billings every Friday for weekend practices until the school year was over.

"Right now we've had college coaches express interest because of his upside," said Royals coach Andy Emard, adding Brokaw will be fun to watch as he progresses at the college level. "He's a phenomenal athlete and once he learns how to play the game… He hasn't even tapped how good he could be."

One area where Brokaw has improved dramatically this summer is baserunning. Brokaw said he also learns from watching players like shortstop Corey Crum in practice. He explained that although he is older than most of his teammates, they've been in the program longer and been able to pick up on things.

In turn, Brokaw learns by watching and emulating them.

"When I was in Missouri, those guys had all played high school and Legion ball and they knew so much about the game and I was so far behind," said Brokaw. "Now that I've played Legion ball I feel like I can compete and even start."

So far this season, Brokaw is doing more than just competing. Through 33 games, he is hitting .413, which is second best on the team. He has also scored a team-high 35 runs and his 26 RBIs is third-best on the team.

On the pitcher's mound, Brokaw is 5-1 for the Royals, who have posted a 21-14 record. The team has been missing key pitchers Thomas Ackerman and Chandler Griffin for most of the season and Brokaw's presence has helped.

"He's not really a pitcher per se," said Emard. "But in the situation we're in, he's stepped in and done a good job for us.

"Ever since I've been back Brokaw is the best athlete I've coached. He has phenomenal foot speed, arm strength and agility — the whole package. He comes out and works hard and is dedicated to getting better."

The Royals are the defending Class AA state champions and although Brokaw wasn't on the team last year, he said this year's team is also capable of doing well.

"As a team we are playing pretty good," said Brokaw. The games we lost we shouldn't have lost. We haven't been beaten by a team better than us … as a team we are coming back and scoring a couple runs in the last two innings and winning."

As a wrestler for Hardin, Brokaw was a state champ at 152 pounds as a senior. He was also a state runner-up twice and a four-time state placer. He was first-team all-state at running back, strong safety and returner in football. But his passion has always been baseball.

"I always liked baseball more," said Brokaw. "That's what I liked as a little kid. I didn't play football until junior high. I started wrestling when I was five and I got worn out.

"I miss it, but I've always enjoyed playing baseball the most."