Eric Blakeley (Photo: Seattle Mariners)
Injuries have delayed Eric Blakeley's progress through the Mariners farm system, but the utility man is finally healthy and hitting the ball hard at Mid-A Wisconsin. InsidethePark's Kevin Damask talked with the 24-year-old recently, getting an inside look at his long journey back to the diamond.
After a successful collegiate career at Indiana University, Eric Blakeley entered the professional ranks two summers ago hoping for instant success. What he was confronted with instead was a myriad of injuries that delayed his development.
Fresh off a successful 2003 campaign at Low-A Everett, Blakeley was prepared to start the 2004 season at Wisconsin. While participating in spring training drills, though, he suffered an ankle injury and spent the next several weeks rehabbing. As the season got underway, he was stuck in Peoria, Ariz., working out there with the extended spring training club.
On May 15, a healthy Blakeley was promoted to Mid-A Wisconsin, energized and ready to contribute to an offense that struggled to score runs through the first six weeks of the season.
When he finally got word that he was getting called up to play in Appleton, Wisc., Blakeley was excited at the idea of reuniting with his old teammates.
"I played with a lot of these guys last year and in spring training, so it made it a little easier to come up here,"? said Blakeley.
In 1999, Blakeley joined an Indiana Hoosiers team not known for their success on the diamond. While Indiana struggled during his first two seasons with the team, Blakeley's game steadily improved. During his senior season, he hit .330, smashed 10 home runs and drove in 60 RBI. Blakeley wondered if his impressive final season in college would get him drafted by a major league team. It did, as the Mariners drafted the infielder in the 21st round of the 2002 draft.
It was soon before Blakeley was about to embark on his dream of playing professional baseball that he was dealt a tough blow. He felt some soreness in his arm while playing for Everett in 2002, and that pain turned out to be a torn rotator cuff. He needed Tommy John surgery, ending his season.
Blakeley faced a long rehab of over the next nine months, and came back quicker than expected even when it meant dealing with some reoccurring pain at first.
"I feel fortunate that everyday I can go out there and play," he said, looking back at the injury that could have ended his career prematurely. "You can come back from (a torn rotator cuff) pretty easily these days. The arm feels good now."
Blakeley came back from his injury to play 59 games for the Everett Aqua Sox in 2003. The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder batted .318 in the final three months of the season and showed his versatility by playing five different positions.
He joined the Timber Rattlers figuring on being an infielder, but has played primarily in left field, a position he has had little experience at having played shortstop all four years in college.
Timber Rattlers manager Steve Roadcap believes that Blakeley's ability to play multiple positions makes him much more valuable to any team he plays on this year and down the road.
"He plays all lot of positions, which is a plus for the ball club," said Roadcap. "He plays the ball pretty well, from what I've seen so far. We've put him at third base and left field and he's done a nice job."
Wisconsin has went 7-9 since Blakeley joined the team, but the team has been hitting a lot better than it had been in April and early May. Blakeley is a large reason why, currently leading the team with a .271 batting average through his first 48 at bats. In the process, he has shown terrific plate discipline with 11 walks and just seven strikeouts and smacked four doubles.
At age 24, Blakeley may be considered old for a player on a Class-A team, but for a guy who has had to battled adversity to get back on the field, he is just thankful for the opportunity to return to the baseball diamond.
Injuries may have stunted the progress of a promising career, but for Eric Blakeley perseverance and determination have him back on the right track.