ENID, Okla. —
Blake McMullen lived a dream this summer with the Oakland Athletics Arizona Rookie League team.
The former Plainsman got to pitch at many of the spring training stadiums he got to see his senior season at Enid.
“That was the craziest thing,’’ said the righthanded pitcher. “To have watched games on those fields and then get to play on those fields, I thought that was unreal.’’
McMullen was 0-2 with a 5.11 ERA. He allowed 31 hits in 242⁄3 innings, while striking out 20 and walking 14. He allowed only one home run. At that level, stats aren’t that important, McMullen said.
“It’s definitely a learning experience,’’ he said. “It’s about you getting better and gaining experience. I thought my season went pretty well. I had a great time’’
The Athletics emphasize location, movement and change of speed over pure velocity, McMullen said. He said he was learning how to manage his pitches. Former Cy Young winner Bob Welch was one of his pitching coaches.
“He taught me so much,’’ McMullen said. “He didn’t teach that much mechanical stuff ... the stuff he taught us was between the ears and how to stay mentally tough.’’
Essentially, he received his masters degree in pitching.
“It’s mostly mental at that level,’’ he said. “They taught us to throw the right pitch at the right time. We did a lot about swing analysis. You base your next pitch on what the batter did in his swing, whether it was late or early.’’
The talent level “was completely different’’ from what he faced last spring at University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, an NAIA school, but he was far from intimidated.
“They were OK,’’ he said. “I thought the hitters would be better than what they were.’’
McMullen did get to face three members of the Arizona Diamondbacks — Willie Bloomquist, Eric Chavez and Miguel Montero — on rehab assignments. All went 0-for-4 the day they faced the A’s rookies.
“It was crazy facing them and then seeing them on TV,’’ McMullen said. “I can always say I faced some major league hitters.’’
He also found baseball was a job. He and his teammates would go to the ballpark at 1:30 p.m. and usually not get home until midnight.
“You have your ups and downs, but it was fun,’’ McMullen said. “I didn’t have anything better to do, so I loved it. It was awesome to get paid to do what I love. It was weird receiving that first paycheck.’’
The Athletics rookies played at the team’s spring training complex, but not the actual stadium. Still, the facilities were a lot better than the low minors.
“They were amazing,’’ he said. “It was hot every day ... it was good pitching weather because you didn’t have a lot of wind. The ball did slide real well there.’’
McMullen developed some friendships. The chemistry was better than he expected coming from an NAIA school.
“I don’t know how to explain it,’’ he said. “I thought the Division I guys would look down on me, but they didn’t. I made a lot of friends ... hopefully a lot of long-term friends. All the guys were awesome.
“It was like I hoped it would be. I was a little nervous going in, but I once I settled in, it was fun. I felt I belonged there.’’
He is bidding to make Class A Beloit, Wis,. at spring training.
“It’s a whole different game, it’s changed a lot since I was in Enid,’’ McMullen said. “In Enid, it was all about having fun with guys that I grew up with. Here, I have to do the best I can. If I don’t, I’ll get cut. Hopefully, I can pitch well enough this spring where I don’t have to go to extended spring training.’’
McMullen returned to Chickasha — the home of USAO — after the season. He is working for a farmer and his girl friend is helping coach the Chickasha softball team.
“We’re not supposed to do anything until the end of October,’’ McMullen said. “They have sent us an online log we’re suppose to follow. At the end of October, I can start playing catch and do all the stuff they want me to do.’’
Campbell is a News & Eagle sports writer.