JACKSON, Tenn. - 4/18/2006 -
By: David Roach
Cardinal & Cream, Union University
Standing there signing an autograph for a young fan in Corpus Christi, Texas, Blake Allen realizes he is living the dream of boys around the world. And while there is still a lot of work to be done before he sees his face in a pack of Topps baseball cards, he also knows how many dreams get shattered before ever tasting where he is now.
Blake Allen of Humboldt, Tenn., was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in 2002 in the eighth round as the 244th pick overall. He had just completed his junior year at Union with an 8-1 record and a 2.35 earned-run average.
Allen is now in his second season with the Corpus Christi Hooks, the double-A affiliate of the Houston Astros. This year, Allen is 0-0 with a 6.23 ERA in five appearances. As a mid-season call-up from single-A last year, Allen went 1-3 with a 5.36 ERA in 16 appearances with the Hooks.
Allen’s season started in late February with spring training in Kissimmee, Fla. While Allen participated strictly with the minor league players, he did get experience around major leaguers. In particular, he met a potential major leaguer this season named Roger Clemens, who was at camp supporting his son Koby, also in the Houston organization.
“You can be around big-league guys, but being around Roger Clemens is completely different,” Allen said. “I still get awestruck thinking about it.”
Not only did the aspiring Allen get an opportunity to see Clemens, but Clemens and Houston catcher Brad Ausmus even spent some time talking with Allen and other pitchers.
“There is so much knowledge coming from him,” Allen said. “Since it’s coming from Roger Clemens, you listen and do whatever it takes to apply it on the field.”
But in this instance, Allen might have rather had Clemens stay in the bleachers.
“He told the pitchers to listen to the catcher and trust that they know what you have working that day,” he said.
Clemens is not the only major leaguer Allen has been able to glean knowledge off of.
“Last year, Jeff Bagwell did some rehab with us. He even bought some of the players Outback one night, then lobster the next. Big leaguers have been here before and know the feeling, so they don’t mind treating us sometimes.”
And why not? After all, they can afford to.
While the league minimum for major leaguers is $325,000 a year, Allen gets paid $1700 a month to play double-A ball, which adds up to slightly over $20,000 per year.
“Let’s just say I’m not playing minor league ball to be playing minor league ball my entire life,” he said.
Andy Rushing, current Union golf coach and longtime Union baseball coach, wasn’t sure he would have predicted that Allen would be a “draftable guy.”
He said a lot of the credit for Allen being where he is today can go to current Bulldog head coach Brent Fronabarger, who worked a lot with him on mechanics.
“Blake did not always keep his upper and lower body in sync,” Fronabarger said. “He wanted his delivery to be fast, but the faster the body goes the more your arm tends to stay back and your pitches stay flat, which makes them easier for hitters to hit.”
Keeping the body in sync is naturally harder for Allen, who stands 6’2” and weighs 210 lbs. But if he can, he is a powerful lefty with three pitches, something that major league teams love.
“There are [left-handed pitchers] who get to the big leagues just to get lefties out,” Fronabarger said. “And as complete a player as Allen is, there is always a chance.”
One thing that won’t stand in Allen’s way is intimidation.
“The minor leagues are full of guys with talent,” Rushing said. “[Allen] is probably playing with guys from southern California. For some guys it would be intimidating, but not for Blake…. He steps it up, and that’s what’s important, and that’s why he has a chance to go up the professional ladder.”
Since the minor league system is full of talent, climbing the ladder will certainly not be easy. But Allen realizes he deserves to be where he is, and plans on doing everything he can to keep progressing.
“At this level, you have to believe you are better than who you are facing. Sometimes things don’t fall right, but you have to make adjustments and keep going.”
For now, married and soon to be a father, Allen is living up the dream of playing baseball, but inside there is only one reason he is doing what he is. It’s simple—to get to the majors. But how long is he willing to stay in the trenches of minor league ball? He answers that question quickly.
“As long as it takes.”
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