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Gjerde enjoys return to Cobb
JOHN WARNER/Gazette staffArt LaGaly leans into a pitch during Saturday’s home run contest among legion alumni at Cobb Field. Former Scarlets’ player Jeff Ballard was the only hitter to knock one out of the park.

The Alumni I team opened the Billings Legion Baseball Alumni Tournament Saturday morning at Cobb Field with a 9-5 win over the Billings Scarlets.

Among those helping Alumni I to victory was Jeff Gjerde, who played four seasons with the Billings Royals and one with the Billings Blue Jays before playing collegiate ball at the University of Arizona.

Gjerde also played two years in South Bend, Ind., at the Class A level for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

"They were fun," said Gjerde of his years in minor league A baseball. "But it was a little rough. I didn't do as well as I would of liked, but I gave it a shot. It was fun and a good job."

Gjerde, 28, finished his collegiate career in 1997 and earned a degree in biology at Arizona in 2000. The 1993 Billings Senior graduate now works for the lab at the Billings ExxonMobil refinery.

"I love it," Gjerde said of his job. "It keeps me in Billings."

Last year Gjerde was unable to play in the Alumni Tournament. This year, he was glad to do it and also was glad it was a nice, sunny, warm day.

"It's fun," he said. "I was surprised how well we did today. We stole a win. All these guys we had were good. Every single one. We had 10 guys and all 10 were good."

Even though some of the players hadn't played together for quite some time, Gjerde said the game just kind of naturally came back to them.

"It's funny. We kind of know everybody. It's really kind of fun how we can do that," he said. "We showed up ready to play. Although we might not of been physically ready 100 percent. But we just showed up ready to play and have fun. There was no pressure on us. And especially on a day like today."

In a bit of a joking manner, Gjerde got a lighthearted jab in on former Scarlets players.

"Absolutely it was a lot of fun seeing all those guys," said Gjerde, before pointing to Scarlets' alumni, "even those guys."

Gjerde has played all over the country, but he still enjoys the atmosphere at Cobb the best.

"I was hoping I could come out again. I was hoping to face the best pitcher on the Scarlets or Royals. I want a piece of him to see what I've got. It's fun to try and hit the fastball or slider or whatever they are throwing."

Jimi Romero had three RBIs to help Alumni I to the win over the Scarlets.

More than a few of the people who have contributed to Billings American Legion Post 4's rich history in baseball were on hand Saturday at Cobb Field for the annual Alumni Tournament.

Longtime coach Rex Welton was a key component to several of the teams' successful runs and he was in attendance taking in the games. Welton was the first coach of the Scarlets when they were the Royals' B team.

"There was a lot of enthusiasm. It wasn't that difficult," Welton said of starting the Scarlets. "It wasn't always easy to win, but that's part of it."

Welton, who was born on December 26, 1917, joked that "all the presents said Merry Christmas and happy birthday." He was in a good mood all day at the park, chatting with youngsters running around and shaking a lot of peoples' hands. Friday night, he threw out the first pitch before the Royals-Scarlets game.

Throwing out the ceremonial pitch to Pernnell Booth was just one in a long line of memories for Welton.

"There's too many to point out, really," he said. "We went to the Legion World Series three times when I was with the Royals. We had quite a stretch of championship teams."

Welton was born and raised in Billings but he did spend 14 years in Glendive as a math teacher.

Gjerde said Welton was an excellent hitting coach.

"The guy knew hitting and the mental side and being aggressive when you were up to bat," said Gjerde, who had Welton as an assistant coach while playing for Ed Bayne. "He seemed to know a lot about everything, but Rex really taught me how to bat and to be prepared and be ready. He didn't like you to take strike three. Rex was just a big part of our coaching staff when I played."

These days, Welton says he doesn't keep as close of tabs on the Legion program as he used to. But board member Joel Hawkins, who played under Welton, is one of his friends and urged him to attend the alumni tournament.

"This is fun," said Welton. "My oldest son (Mike) was down this morning until he had to go home to Bozeman."

Art LaGaly was pretty proud of the past accomplishments of the Alumni II team as he penciled in on the lineup card that the squad had a combined 17 state championships. And he wanted PA announcer Bob Sandler to announce it to the whole crowd.

The team consisted of Troy Trollope, Todd Teegarden, Mike Studiner, Todd Wilson, LaGaly, Brent Bolin, Travis Teegarden, Kevin Rauch, Doug Studiner, Kirt Driscoll, Les Musgrave, Jim Driscoll, Jerry Vincent, Kyle Johansen, Mike Nardella and Jeff Ballard.

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