June 28, 2012 8:44:28 PM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
Brett Blaise has not let the fact he has been overlooked his entire career deny his dream of being a professional baseball player.
Blaise, a native of Columbus, was passed over by big college programs coming out of Heritage Academy. After two years at Pearl River Community College, he was set for that opportunity on the big stage. It didn't happen. He would sign to play at Belhaven University in Jackson.
"It was always my dream to play for Mississippi State University being around the Starkville area my whole life but that never got close to happening," Blaise said. "I was just glad at every level to have a place to play. When I got there, that's when it was time to show what I could do."
Then a month ago, Blaise sat for three days and watched the 2012 Major League Baseball draft without seeing his name come up on his computer.
At that moment, he seriously contemplated what he'd be doing with his life with his baseball career on life support.
"I'm not going to lie because there was a thought of what kind of job can I start to look for in the real world," Blaise said. "I figured I'd get a shot in pro ball but you're never completely sure."
Two weeks ago all the hard work and perseverance proved to be worth it when he the Tampa Bay Rays organization called saying they had a roster spot available on their Rookie League team.
"They told me over the phone that they were impressed with what they saw live in my starts at Belhaven and were surprised I didn't get drafted," Blaise said. "My parents were so excited. My dad has been here already when he travels for work and my mom loves baseball more than I do so she gets to say her son is a pro ballplayer."
His coaches at Belhaven promised Blaise they would get him looked at by scouts and player personnel executives and are just as excited as the player himself that their phone calls to professional teams didn't go without benefit.
"We are very happy that Brett has signed a pro contract with the Rays," said Belhaven Assistant Head Coach and Pitching Coach Clay Smith. "He has worked extremely hard to become a quality pitcher and hopefully the organization will give him a chance to continue to improve. He has the ability to be really good if given the opportunity."
Less than a week after that phone call which revived the dream, Blaise was on the mound in Port Charlotte, Fla., last Tuesday making his professional debut for the Rookie League team for the Tampa Bay Rays in the Gulf Coast League. After dealing with the appropriate set of nerves, Blaise pitched a perfect inning with a strikeout in the process of getting a hold in a 3-2 victory.
"The hardest thing for me is being in a new environment that is completely different than college," said Blaise, who made his professional debut on his 22nd birthday. "It's all about getting your work in at the ballpark and treating it like a job. I can say now that you're just not putting in the mental effort to your craft in college with so many other distractions and factors involved."
Since making that transition move on and off the field as a professional baseball player, the left-handed pitcher is doing something he hadn't done since leaving high school -- be a relief pitcher out of the bullpen. This past season Blaise posted a record of 4-4 in 2012 and made 15 starts with Belhaven, which ended up being the third most starts in a single season in school history.
Blaise logged 68 innings in those 15 starts and registered 48 strikeouts with one complete game.
"It's been a little different that's for sure," Blaise said with a laugh. "I think it's nice right now to throw everything I got in one or two innings but knowing that the roles on this team aren't close to finalized."
In his final college season he held opposing hitters to a .222 batting average. During his two year career at Belhaven, Blaise notched a 12-5 record with 112 strikeouts in 136 innings and owned a 3.97 ERA. Over that span, Blaise made 29 starts and left with a .706 winning percentage. The Ray organization has allowed him to begin his career simply throwing the way he's comfortable with before their coaches begin to work with any mechanical or philosophical defects that pop up along the way.
"The Rays have a 30-day rule where they let you do it the way you've always done it for that amount of time and then they go over your weaknesses in a more constructive manner," Blaise said.
Blaise is expected to pitch today against the Gulf Coast League Orioles team, where the only people in the stands are scouts and family that are visiting the current players. No distractions while going to work is exactly how Blaise wants it to be.
"There's no crowds and just scouts that you don't know watching you pitch," Blaise said. "I've never thrown in front of big crowds anyway so I'll worry about that later."
No matter how long the dream lasts, after being an underappreciated talent throughout his entire baseball career, Blaise is now trying to balance the dream with the reality of delaying the real-world workforce.
"Make no mistake about it, the goal is to make it to the big leagues but that seems so far away from where I am right now," Blaise said. "I need to continue this journey and keep it going as long as I can."