PARKER COTTON Bozeman Daily Chronicle
BOZEMAN – American Legion Baseball rules would dictate that recent Bozeman Gallatin graduates Michael Armstrong and Jake Vigen could compete next season for the Bozeman Bucks.
But the players already know their spring and summer will be taken up with practices and workouts with the Montana State football program. For that reason, they are trying to make the most of this summer and their final baseball season.
“Baseball is definitely something I’ll miss,” said Armstrong, who has been a part of the Bucks program since he was in eighth grade. “I’ll still be able to watch it when I can but obviously won’t be playing. It’s nice to have one last summer to play on a team with dudes you grew up with. “
The fathers of both players are on the Bobcats coaching staff. Brent Vigen is the head coach while Brian Armstrong is the offensive line coach and run game coordinator. The players began workouts with the team last week – a benefit of being local recruits. Michael Armstrong was recruited as a defensive back while Jake Vigen figures to be a defensive lineman or a tight end.
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The workouts have signaled just how close they are to being college football players. They are both trying to not let that cloud their vision for the baseball season, though.
“We just need to live in the present and not the future,” Vigen said. “It’s good to look forward to it, but not as much to where you’re not worrying about the practice ahead of you, or the game.”
As members of the Bucks, they are two of the team’s older players. Manager Sean Potkay said their leadership on the team will be missed beyond this season. He added that it’s clear their fathers are coaches at a high level.
“That translates into their character as players,” Potkay said. “Both of them are extremely competitive people. They’re very disciplined in everything they do. They’re easy to coach. “
Vigen estimates he took up baseball when he was around 5 years old, probably in a Tee Ball league. He’s played most of his life di lui since then, including in Wyoming before moving to Montana last year. He had always been a corner infielder and a pitcher, but he became an outfielder when he joined the Bucks.
Vigen lamented some of his inconsistency this season, but he thinks he’s finding a bit of a rhythm at the plate. He went 4 for 13 (.307) over the weekend in four games against the Kalispell Lakers, and he’s hitting .279 for the season (24 for 86). He usually hits at the top of the order, where he has eight RBI this year along with 20 runs scored.
“My biggest thing is just getting hits when I need to,” he said. “We need someone to step up in big situations, whether that’s starting off an inning or batting runners in. If I can be that guy, I’m happy with that. “
Vigen said he enjoys “the mental game” of baseball, something that differs greatly from football or his winter sport of basketball.
“It’s definitely something I love,” he said of the sport.
Potkay said Vigen is especially valuable in the first lineup spot because of his instincts on the base paths despite not being the fastest on the team.
“Jake goes in there and competes all the time,” he said. “Sometimes he doesn’t look mechanically perfect at the plate, but he’s a guy who goes in there and battles.”
Vigen has also taken “giant steps,” Potkay said, in his growth as a defensive outfielder.
“I’d say, defensively, he’s probably the most-improved person year over year in their spot,” he added.
In the past when Armstrong has been called on to pitch, it was mostly in relief. But he has been one of the team’s more effective starters this year. He has a record of 5-3 in nine starts and a 2.15 ERA in 46 innings. He has 28 strikeouts.
“His fastball has a lot of natural movement on it,” Potkay said. “Not overpowering, he just does a good job of moving that pitch around the zone. He misses a ton of barrels with it. And his curveball di lui is an above-average curveball. He’s able to locate it in the zone and keep hitters off balance and create some weak contact. “
Armstrong has come to enjoy the responsibility that comes with being the starting pitcher.
“It’s really something I like doing because you have so much control over the game,” he said. “From a competitor’s perspective, I don’t think it’s a lot of pressure, though some might see it that way. But I actually think it’s fun more than anything. Defensively, the outcome of the game, a lot of it’s on your shoulders. I don’t really have any stuff that will blow you away. But living in the zone, no free passes, no walks, and just trusting my defense has been the biggest thing for me to be successful this summer. “
Armstrong added that baseball, more than other sports, has taught him “how to fail and come back from that.”
“Football’s a sport where you get a chance every six seconds or so to go make a play,” he said. “But in baseball you have to know how to take that failure and just reset, treat the next pitch no differently than you did the last one. That’s something I’ve had to work really hard at.
“One thing about baseball is there are times when you feel like you have a bad game, and the good thing is you always play another one the next day. I’ve taken the position that it’s a chance to get better and you get a lot of opportunities in baseball compared to other sports to right your wrongs. “
There is still a lot of summer left for the Bucks (11-17). A long season can be a grind, but Vigen said they are focusing on making the most of the time on the diamond that they have left.
“Just not overlooking it and living in the present,” he said.
When they do trade the glove and bat for football pads in the fall, Armstrong said they will be better prepared for the rigors of being a Division I athlete because of the teachings that baseball offers. At the same time, they will be looking to specialize in a single sport for the first time in their lives. That in itself comes with a little bit of excitement.
“Competition is competition. I think your mindset going into baseball is different from football, but at the end of the day it’s still trying to beat another guy, ”Armstrong said. “But it will be nice to focus. I’ve never really had that in my life. It’s always been one sport to the next for the most part. It will be nice to focus on one sport and see how good I can get. “
Parker Cotton can be reached at email@example.com or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @ByParkerCotton.