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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Blackman family tradition

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

MINNEAPOLIS - The Blackman family from Altamonte, Fla., first got to know the Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based Perfect Game family back in 2005 when brothers Trey Blackman (class of 2007) and Ted Blackman (2008) showed up at the PG Sunshine East Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla.

Since that showcase appearance seven years ago, Blackman brothers Trey, Ted, Tanner and now Tate have combined to attend 36 PG events, and with Tate - the youngest of the four Blackman boys - looking at beginning his junior year at Lake Brantley High School in the fall, that number is going to grow.

Tate Blackman, a University of Mississippi commit who is ranked the nation's No. 1 middle-infield prospect in the class of 2014 (No. 31 overall national prospect ) spent Tuesday and Wednesday at the 2012 Perfect Game Junior National Showcase. It was young Tate's 11th PG event since 2010 as he looks to carry on what is already a well-established family tradition.

"It was a great experience, just playing with all this talent," Tate said Wednesday morning after his PG Gold team completed its second game of the showcase. "These are the best kids in the country and to come together and play against them, it's really interesting and really cool to be a part of it."

While Tate performed on the field, the patriarch of the clan, Huey Blackman, sat in a box seat and watched the action. He and his wife, Karen, are old hands at this; in fact, you could say this isn't Huey's first rodeo, since competitive rodeo is in his background.

"This is a great experience," Huey said. "(Perfect Game) puts on a real good program ... and the whole atmosphere and the whole experience is always a real good deal.

"If you didn't have something like this, I don't how they could keep track of all the kids across the country," he continued. "There are so many kids who play high school baseball, and programs like this definitely help divide up the kids as far as talent levels and all that."

The talent levels of Huey and Karen's three oldest boys rose to the forefront at events just like the one Tate has been at the last two days, and that talent was recognized. Trey Blackman enjoyed a fine career at NCAA Division I Stetson University; Ted Blackman is still playing at D-I Coastal Carolina; and Tanner Blackman just finished his freshman season at Stetson.

The older boys have made quite an impression on young Tate.

"My older brothers, they always pushed me and I always got to watch them," he said. "They showed me what they have and it's helped me trying to get to the next level."

This was Tate's first Perfect Game showcase; he has played in 10 PG WWBA or PG BCS Finals tournaments since 2010. His first taste of a showcase event left him thinking it won't be his last.

"It's different, but I enjoyed it a lot. It's very unique and interesting," he said. "With our travel ball team, we kind of do the same stuff - take ground balls, hit BP - so I kind of knew what to expect a little bit. Just being able to do it with all the best kids in the country was really fun.

"I felt great the whole time and I thought I did well and performed by best; hopefully, everybody liked it."

Having sat through many of these events, Huey feels he an understanding of what their purpose is.

"This kind of puts everything in perspective," he said. "You know how your kids matchup with the other kids in your local areas, but it's kind of neat when you get all the best kids from all over the country and put them on one field. Especially when they're young like this, it kind of lets them know what they need to work on for the next couple of years."

Tate Blackman will leave for Cary, N.C. next week to take part in the USA Baseball Tournament of Stars National 18u team trials and then will play with the highly regarded Orlando Scorpions 17u outfit in PG WWBA National Championship tournaments in Marietta, Ga., and the PG BCS Finals tournaments in Fort Myers, Fla. He has played with the Scorpions organization most of his Perfect Game career, including at the 2012 18u PG WWBA East Memorial Day Classic in Fort Myers.

"I love the coaches and I love my teammates - they're all great guys," Blackman said. "I'd recommend the program to anyone any day; it's awesome to be with the Scorpions. Just being able to play for them, everybody knows the team and the program and they come and they come and watch you. The coaches do a good job promoting us."

That promotion has helped lead to Tate's high ranking - "I like to see where I'm ranked (in relationship to) everybody else but I just try to do my own thing; just keep working on and off the field and see if something will happen with it," he said - and the exposure he's received at PG events and playing with the Orlando Scorpions likely led to him being offered a scholarship at Ole Miss.

The coaching staff at Ole Miss also did its due diligence.

"I went  out for my visit, and Coach (Cliff) Godwin, Coach (Carl) Lafferty, (head coach) Mike Bianco - they're all great coaches and I love them," Tate said. "The environment there - I just felt right at home. The stadium's beautiful and (the number of people) that come to the game is amazing. I want to be able to feel that adrenaline rush before every game."

And then there's the fact that Ole Miss plays in the powerhouse Southeastern Conference, the home of Florida, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and all the rest.

"The SEC and the ACC are the top-two baseball conferences in the country, and playing in the SEC has always been a dream for me," Blackman said.

So, yes, Tate Blackman will follow his older brothers into NCAA Division I baseball unless, of course, the 2014 MLB amateur draft comes calling first. Based on early scouting reports on Tate's abilities, that's a real possibility two years hence.

And when Tate's high school eligibility expires in the spring of 2014, Huey and Karen Blackman are going to have to find something else to do on long, hot summer days.

"This is our whole life," Huey said while looking around the Metrodome. "We do vacations, but this is kind of our vacation - we watch kids play baseball all the time and we really love it. The wife and I were just talking the other day and wondering after (Tate) is done, what are we going to do then? We really enjoy it; we really do."

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