There was much frustration at first because it took way longer than he’d hoped for Kent Blackstone to get into the starting lineup for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs.
About the first of June, the Marshall High School graduate eventually cracked the starting nine for the high-level professional independent baseball team and has made the most of his opportunity.
Entering the league’s all-star break, the 6-foot, 190-pound, 25-year-old second baseman was batting leadoff for the Blue Crabs and had helped the team improve to a 16-14 record in its last 30 games. Blackstone, who bats left and throws right, was hitting .248. He had five doubles, two home runs, 15 RBI, had scored 20 runs, had 17 walks, five stolen bases and a sacrifice fly.
Blackstone has played in 45 games, getting just seven at-bats in his first 30 contests. Now his hitting well higher than .400 in games played in July.
“I was frustrated and not getting the opportunity I wanted,” said Blackstone, who made the Blue Crabs’ roster during spring training. “I had to prove myself and I have to keep proving myself. They gave me an opportunity and there is a lot of opportunity left.”
The Atlantic League where the Blue Crabs play is regarded as an organization with high-level talent, equivalent to the AA and AAA minor-league levels for Major League teams. There are a number of former Major Leaguers playing in the Atlantic League, and Blackstone tries to pick their brains for information.
“I learn from everyone and everything,” he said.
The competition is a huge jump from the independent Pecos League and the Pacific Association where Blackstone played last summer.
“For me there has been a big learning curve, and that has been the biggest thing,” Blackstone said. “You have to focus every day. There are no easy at-bats in this league. The pitchers and catchers are good and smart. I want to apply all of that, take that momentum into the second half of the season, get on base and create havoc on the bases.”
Blackstone’s goal is to be signed by a Major League team, which all regularly monitor the Atlantic League for talent, on the AA or AAA level or be given a winter-ball opportunity.
Last summer, Blackstone combined for a .336 batting average playing for two lower-level independent teams with more than 40 stolen bases. He drove in 51 runs with one team and belted five homers with 12 doubles for the other.
At Marshall, Blackstone was a standout all-region player. In college, he played two seasons at New Mexico State University before transferring to George Mason University for his final two campaigns. He was among NCAA leaders in triples in his junior and senior seasons at George Mason.
• Oakton High School graduate Alfredo Rodriguez plays for the Somerset Patriots in Bridgewater Township, N.J. of the Atlantic League.
The infielder was batting .264 with 18 RBI, 10 doubles, a homer and nine stolen bases entering the all-star game. He has played in the league for three seasons and in the minors for eight.
Rodriguez, 29, batted .303 for Somerset last season with 55 RBI.