Jake Blackwood Becomes Kansas City T-Bones Resident Philosopher
The Greeks have such prominent philosophers as Socrates and Plato, the French have Rene Descartes, Buddhism has one of the greatest philosophers in Confucius, and baseball has its own as well in Kansas City T-Bones first baseman Jake Blackwood. That may seem like pure hyperbole, but the truth is that Jake has established himself not only as an outstanding player on the diamond, but has grown into one of the wisest and most philosophical persons that one will meet in all of sports.
Being a great philosopher may not seem like a skill that is translates to being a great player on the field, but the reality is that it has helped Jake Blackwood to excel at virtually every level he has played. His ability to put aside the things that would tear the guts out of most players has enabled him to battle through and overcome a wide range of challenges, and has empowered him to excel in a game that he has loved for as long as he can remember.
A Chip off the Old Block
Jake grew up loving baseball from an early age, because it was his father’s favorite sport as well. The two spent a lot of time watching baseball together and the elder Blackwood would point out the important elements that made a good player into a great one. The two also found a great bond in doing baseball activities together and this only helped to enhance his love of the game.
“Doing baseball stuff with my dad, going to the field, hitting off the tee, playing catch, we were just doing it all the time, and I found that I was pretty good at it. So getting to spend time with my dad and having success with it made it easy to fall in love with and easy to understand.”
From an early age, Jake was sure that baseball was going to be his vocation. It was not an arrogance that made him believe that he had already proven that he belonged in professional baseball, but simply a recognition on how he was performing on the field and how this was garnering him attention from college and pro scouts. It was in his sophomore season that he really started to believe that baseball was going to be more than just a game to him.
“I always had it in my head that I wanted to play professional baseball, but it was my sophomore year in high school, playing third base and leading off, we won the state championship and I led the team in every offensive category. It was then that I realized that I was really good at this game. It was then that I really wanted to drive to get drafted, to get into professional baseball, because that is what I wanted to do with my life.”
As he progressed through high school and college, his dream of playing professionally seemed more realistic with each passing year. It began to astound Jake that all the hard work and dedication were going to lead to a career in the game he loved. After all, it is one thing to talk about playing for a Major League organization one day; it is a whole different thing to actually be close to making that dream a reality.
“The thought that I had a chance to be a Big League guy, the thought that I can do something that I love and get paid to do it. It’s just unexplainable.”
In 2005, his dream ultimately became a reality when he was selected out of Maple Woods Community College by the New York Mets. He opted not to sign and that paid off immensely when, in 2006, Jake was taken in the 14th round by the then Florida Marlins. While excited about being selected fairly early in the draft, it was also a moment when he reflected on all the effort he had put in to reach a pinnacle moment in his life.
“You revert back and think of all those outings where I spent time out in the heat with my dad or in tournaments or in practices or whatever and I think about all the time I put in and it is nice to see the reward come from putting in all the work. Where you get something out of it. That was probably the second best moment in my life, the day I got drafted.”
Proving His Talents at the Professional Level
Jake had hit over .400 through both college and high school and so now it was time to prove that he could be as talented at the professional level. His first season in pro ball he was sent by the Marlins to Short-Season Jamestown, where he hit .300 in 69 games with 2-homeruns and 32-RBI. His average led the team, but Blackwood found it bittersweet.
“I was hitting .300 which was great, but my whole life I never hit less than .400. That was something that I was simply not used to and so I had to adjust my thinking. It wasn’t that I thought I should hit .400 in the pros. It was simply that I wasn’t used to not doing so.”
The impressive performance led to a promotion the next year to Mid-A Greensboro. There, Jake hit .245 with 10-homeruns and 78-RBI in 122-games. It was an impressive year, especially in the power numbers, which led to another promotion the following year.
For the next two seasons, Jake played at High-A Jupiter. In 2008, he hit just .208 in 92-games. It was a performance that he recognized was not up to his standards s0, in 2009, he was sent back there again. He hit .174 in limited playing time and found himself released.
It was a tough pill to swallow to be cut like that when he was just starting to get his career underway. However, it also gave him a chance to start building a philosophy that has enabled him to stay in the game for eight more seasons.
“Understanding how to fail. That is what it taught me. Baseball is so hard, especially as a hitter. You can absolutely do everything right and get nothing out of it. You can do everything right and hit a pop up to the catcher. Learning how to accept failure and understand that just because I didn’t get it done doesn’t mean I didn’t do it right. That is what a lot of young players that I see now struggle with.”
The Book of Blackwood Is Born
Like all great philosophers, there becomes a moment in each of their lives that changes them as a person forever. They, then, alter their way of thinking to match the circumstances and come out on the other side not only with a better perception of how life can work, but also how they can use that perception to better themselves.
For Jake Blackwood, it was focusing on his approach at the plate. He recognized that doing things the right way does not always equate to success in the numbers department but, also, he realized that he could not let what those numbers looked like affect what he was doing in the batter’s box.
“You have to force yourself to stick with your plan. You have to have a really solid approach and, if that approach isn’t consistent, it’s hard to be a consistent hitter. I can’t go up looking for the ball away one time and then go looking for it up in the next at-bat. You need to have a set strategy that works for you and stick with it during the game. If you’re not matching your approach with your abilities, it’s going to be really hard and you are going to struggle.”
After being released from Jupiter, Jake got a chance to test out his new philosophy. He joined the Kansas City T-Bones for the remained of the 2009 season, and saw his philosophy bear good fruit. In 63-games he hit .288 with 4-homes and 38-RBI.
In 2010, he returned to Kansas City and had a monster year for the T-Bones. His success on the field helped lead the team to the Northern League title series, where they lost to Fargo-Moorhead. Those numbers were so impressive that he earned another chance in affiliate ball, joining the San Diego Padres organization.
In 2011 he split time between Mid-A Fort Wayne and High-A Lake Elsinore. Between the two he hit .269 with 17-homers and 76-RBI in 131-games. Clearly, Jake Blackwood had proven that he belonged and the next season he was moved to AA-San Antonio. He would spend two seasons there, struggling in 2012, but rebounding in 2013 to hit .259 with 7-homers and 61-RBI. While the numbers were solid, he found himself being released once again.
Not wanting to leave the game, Jake came back to the American Association, what was formerly known as the Northern League. He signed with the Winnipeg Goldeyes and hit very well in 2014, posting a .321 batting average with 10-HR and 49-RBI in 83-games. He also showed a great propensity to make contact, striking out just 45-times in 357-at-bats.
The next season he returned to the T-Bones where he continued to deliver big numbers. The T-Bones star hit .302 with 11-homeruns and 64-RBI in 98-games. The T-Bones started out slowly that season, losing 10 of their first 11 games, but Jake caught fire and, as he did, so did the team. He was a catalyst in helping the team to win 16-straight series following the losing streak, and the team had a shot at the wild card spot before fading in the final few weeks of the season.
Demonstrating Life Lessons from Philosophical Insights
Jake Blackwood has demonstrated that he is one of the best pure hitters that one will find in the game of baseball, but a lot of that comes from his ability to be philosophical about the game. The ups and downs of the game has helped him to develop a series of codicils that he has used as the key philosophies in his game. The first of these is to not always let the numbers dictate your feelings about what success truly is.
“The hardest thing about when you’re doing things right, you’re seeing the ball well, you’re having good at-bats, but you’re not getting results, the hardest part for me, in my experience, is to not change. We, as hitters, get so wrapped up in results, I need the results, I need to get a hit, which is true to some extent, but part of it is understanding that I am doing it right. Just because I’m not getting hits doesn’t mean I need to change my approach or change my swing. If you’re doing something wrong then you need to make some changes, but when I am hitting the ball well, I am doing well in my approach, I got to stay with it. It’s difficult, but I know I am going to have success.”
He has also learned to not let the things that cannot directly help his career affect him in such a way that it disturbs how he is playing on field. This is one of the hardest things to do, he admits, but is the only way that one can truly succeed on the field.
“Early in my career I let the things that don’t matter get to me. The fans aren’t in control of my career. They aren’t in control of me performing or not, unless I let them. If you let a heckler or someone who is harping on you effect you, now that struggle is going to get to you. You have to develop a form of tunnel vision. When you are really locked in it is just like batting practice. You don’t hear any sounds, you don’t see anything else other than the pitcher and the ball coming out of his hand. That is kind of the approach you have to take. Once your figure that out you won’t be in slumps for long.”
The years of experience on the diamond have also led him to some ideas on how to be a more efficient player on the field. What is so profound about the wisdom is that it seems so contrary to what most would think, but shows that Blackwoodism teaches nuggets that seem in contrast to our logical minds.
“When I first started in my career I ran a thousand miles an hour to everything, thinking that is how you have to do it, but the more I watched the game the more I realized that you need to make purposeful movements. Baseball is one of those weird sports where the harder you try the more it messes you up. Baseball is a very difficult sport to stay relaxed and smooth with your movements. Once you figure that out, then your defense will be much better.”
Living Out the Life Lessons
This season Jake Blackwood has been able to truly live out the lessons of what his philosophies have taught him. He began the season hitting just .143 after the first week. recording just 5-hits in his first 28 at-bats to the year. However, since that point he has nearly doubled his average, raising it to .272, while posting 7-homeruns and 36-RBI in 39-games. His RBI total easily leads his team, and ranks him third in the American Association. That has included a .421 average over his last 10-games. It is an amazing turnaround that shows the master can thrive from his own lessons.
Those lessons have come through a lot of hard work, but they have also materialized because of the instruction of two very important people to Jake Blackwood. The Senseis of his life.
“No. 1 is my dad. He’s my best friend. We’ve had a great relationship our entire life. I think the thing that he always instilled in me was work hard, work hard, work hard. If you don’t have the talent you don’t have the talent, but don’t let not having talent keep you from working hard. You may be against a guy who has talent but does not work hard, but you can pass him by how you play the game.”
He also gives a lot of credit to his college coach at Maple Wood Community College, Marty Kilgore.
“The kind of guy that would give the shirt off of his back for one of his players. He has been a big influence in terms of continuing to give me opportunities to be better. Not everyone is that way, because if you aren’t a student there you can’t use the facilities, but he is not that way at all. Always open to helping me still. He’s been a really good person to me and my family.”
The Master Every Hitter Can Benefit from His Teachings
Jake Blackwood has proven that his philosophies on the game are ones that have great wisdom. He has used them for himself to establish a productive 11-year professional career so far, and he shows no signs of slowing down.
Whether he will make it back to affiliate ball is debatable. He clearly has the skills but most organizations, sadly, are not apt to give a guy who is 30 a chance to return. That is sad to say the least, but you can be sure that Jake will still be having an impact on the game. There are many younger players who are greatly benefitting from the philosophies and wisdom of the veteran, and who are learning to be a much more professional hitter as well as a better person. We may not be calling Jake Blackwood a Major Leaguer one day, but he has earned himself a new title – Guru. Maybe Blackwoodism won’t catch on as it should, but Guru Jake will still be learning and developing philosophies. Hopefully, the baseball Guru will write that book after all.
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA