We grew up in a small-town where 50 people in your graduating class was considered huge. Our extended family all lived nearby and we were a fairly tight-knit bunch. Even a little gregarious – OK, maybe a lot gregarious – which often made it a little overwhelming for those who married into the Curley family.
Christmases are always a little over-the-top and our family Fourth of July parties have more fireworks than most municipalities. One of my aunts used to arrange our group photos so that those matrimonially tied to us were always on the ends … in case she someday needed to cut them out of the family portraits. That always made me giggle.
Just as my Dad and his sisters were close, so were all of their kids. That’s actually where this story begins.
One of our cousins, her name is Gete – which is a long story for another time – used to babysit my brother and me. When she got older, married and had kids, there was that exact same closeness. Her sons are fantastic – Zach and Blake – exactly the sort of kids who grow up to be great men. And they are.
It just so happens that Blake also grew up to be a major league pitcher. And a dominant one at that.
As in he played in the 2018 All-Star Game in Washington, D.C., and ended his season as the closer for the Oakland A’s with an ERA of 0.78. That’s not a typo. It’s one of the most impressive seasons by a closer in the modern era.
The Milwaukee Brewers’ Christian Yelich – who has won two Silver Slugger awards and was named the National League’s MVP in 2018 – named Blake as one of the pitchers he hates to face the most.
“Treinen is one of those pitchers who guys talk about all the time as having some of the best stuff in the game,” Yelich wrote in a column for The Players’ Tribune. “When you go up there and face someone like that … let me tell you: He’s nasty.”
Nasty is a word often used to describe Blake’s pitching. In a vote of major league players in 2018, his sinker was named the second “nastiest pitch” in all of baseball. A 100-mph sinker that looks like it’s going to bean you is pretty nasty when you’re standing in a batter’s box.
Oakland Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley was also blown away by Blake.
“If I was playing nowadays, I’d probably be setting up for this guy,” Eckersley told NBC Sports California. “This is ridiculous what he does. I don’t know how you throw a sinker that hard. And I’ve met the kid. (He’s) a great kid. I wish him all the good luck in the world. He’s nasty, man.”
Whenever our family hears someone call Blake’s pitching “nasty,” we all crack up. Or maybe wince.
He’s the nicest, sweetest guy in the world. He’s a devout Christian. He’s soft-spoken, yet always engaged … even when he’s talking to the littlest fans at batting practice before games. Nasty is a word that was never once used to describe Blake until he made it to a major league mound and broadcasters couldn’t believe what they were seeing.
Blake’s story will someday be made into a Disney movie. I’m not just saying that because he’s blood; writers at the Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle have said the same thing.
The Cliff’s Notes version is that he quit playing baseball early in high school, started playing again, realizing he could throw kinda hard. He then had a heckuva time catching on at different colleges before eventually ending up at South Dakota State. He was dominant there, got drafted by the Marlins, who then rescinded their offer.
In his senior year as a Jackrabbit – which, by the way, is one of the great college mascots – Blake threw 97 mph. He was drafted by the A’s. And this is where our family story starts to intersect again as he would stay at our house in Las Vegas, when I worked at a newspaper there, as he drove from Kansas to Arizona for spring training.
He even gave my son his game glove on one of those trips through Vegas, which was just as prized of a possession to him when Blake was in the minors as it was once he eventually became one of baseball’s best closers. Family matters to us.
He then got traded to the Washington Nationals. He pitched his way through their farm system until he got asked to make an emergency spot start for the big-league team. In Los Angeles. Against Dodgers ace and gabillion-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw. Blake’s first at-bat in the majors also was against Kershaw.
When he first took the mound that day in Dodger Stadium, he walked to the back of the mound and scratched the letters “K” and “C” in the dirt, with a cross between the letters. It was in honor of his aunt, and his mother’s sister, Kim Cousin, who died just a few days earlier.
Now, you’re starting to understand the importance family plays in our lives.
When Blake was moved to the bullpen, our family basically set up a system on social media to alert us all when he was brought into a game. When he was an answer on “Jeopardy!” and Alex Trebek said his name, we all freaked out. Well, my mom freaked out the most.
He’ll now be playing a whole lot more in Los Angeles – someday after all of this coronavirus mess is behind us. Blake is now a Dodger. And the team feels like he might be the elite late-innings guy they need to help bring a World Series trophy back to L.A.
OK, that was a really long set-up for the reason behind this column.
I reached out to Blake in late March to ask for a favor – would he be willing to read a children’s book for The Spokesman-Review’s “Storytime from the Tower” video series that features notable folks from around the state of Washington reading books for kids who are stuck at home during this seemingly never-ending quarantine.
Of course, you know his answer. He totally did.
You can hear Blake read the very sweet “Goodnight Baseball” on the Spokesman’s website.
Northwest Passages Book Club / The Spokesman-Review
But how can a pitcher from the Dodgers who is from Kansas be classified as someone from the Pacific Northwest?
Blake and his wife, Kati, live in Walla Walla. They have two young children. Well, and their dog, Maxx – who is famous for making the drive to spring training with Blake each year.
Kati is an amazing athlete as well. She was the two-time Idaho Player of Year while playing basketball at Butte County High School, then she was a standout at Boise State University, including twice being the team’s leading scorer and breaking the BSU record for most 3-pointers made in a season.
She’s now an assistant coach for the women’s team at Walla Walla Community College, where she works with the Warriors’ guards, as well as runs the team’s strength and conditioning program. Can you guess who makes the drive to Spokane whenever Walla Walla is playing here?
Kati totally gets what growing up in a small-town is like and how important family and faith is. It’s also a decent bet that their kids might be pretty darn good at sports in a few years.
And when they do, the Curley extended family will be cheering the loudest. Because that’s what we do.
This is going to be a great movie when it finally gets made … and now you all know the real story.