Shawn Blackwell fully expected to spin what scouts call a promising curveball as a Kansas Jayhawk after graduating high school just outside of Houston in 2009.
Instead, the Texas Rangers threw the 6-foot-5 Spokane Indians right-hander a twist of their own, and he was forced to make a play – which as fans saw on Monday night at Avista Stadium, he’s perfectly capable of doing.
In his third appearance on the mound for Spokane (3-8) this season, Blackwell struck out three, scattered two hits and didn’t allow any runs to help the Indians put together their first winning streak of the Northwest League season with a 4-1 victory over the Boise Hawks (4-7) in front of 3,295 fans.
Blackwell (1-0), who relieved starter Eric Brooks at the start of the fourth, pounded the strike zone for four solid innings, and also made a nice play to Spokane first baseman Ryan Rua in the fifth, reacting quickly to a bunt from Boise’s Eduardo Gonzalez.
“He’s been our long guy,” Indians manager Tim Hulett said. “He came in and just did a fantastic job … got some good outs, and actually that play he made was really nice. He jumped right on it and made it look pretty easy.”
Foregoing his NCAA eligibility and the Kansas baseball program, however, wasn’t so easy.
The Rangers selected Blackwell in the 24th round of the MLB draft, but didn’t offer a contract initially. Instead, they sent scouts to watch Blackwell with his summer league team.
“They followed all summer long, and the deadline ended up coming up a lot faster than I though it would,” Blackwell said. “I knew it was the last time I was going to play with my high school buddies and I didn’t have a problem with going to Kansas, so I just let it play out.”
Up against the deadline, the Rangers made Blackwell an offer of $300,000 – a high number for a late-round pick. He couldn’t refuse.
“It was tough to pass up Kansas, I was born there, my mom’s family is from there, and I love it there,” he said. “But I just really prayed on it and it just felt right. It felt like the right move.”
After spending two years in the Arizona league, Blackwell began the 2012 season with the Rangers’ Class A Hickory Crawdads before being sent to Spokane, where he wasn’t the only one to have an impact on Monday night.
Spokane took a 1-0 lead in the first thanks to an RBI-groundout from Preston Beck, who leads Spokane with nine RBIs this season, but Boise knotted the score in the third.
With two on in the sixth, Rua blasted a two-run single to center and the Indians took a 3-1 lead, which they added to in the fourth when Christopher Garia scored on a wild pitch.
Clearing the bases
Brooks allowed two hits and one run in three innings and Josh McElwee earned Spokane’s first save of the season, striking out Shawon Dunston Jr. with runners on first and second in the top of the ninth to close the game. … Leadoff hitter Chris Garia batted 2 for 3 and scored three runs. … Former Indian and current Boise hitting coach Bill Buckner was honored during the game’s second inning. Buckner was part of the 1970 Spokane squad that is widely considered one of the the best minor league baseball teams of all-time.