It’s probably no accident that recent La Grande High School graduate G.T. Blackman is a baseball player.
He had a baseball in his hands at a young age. When he was little, he wore baseball gear given to him by his great-grandmother. His dad, Greg, won three National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics baseball championships with Lewis-Clark State College.
“My parents got me a lot of baseball stuff,” Blackman said.
Although he was influenced at an early age, Blackman said he didn’t feel too much pressure from his family.
“They were pretty free with me, and I could do what I wanted (in sports. There was one time, though,) I wanted to play soccer, and Dad was like, ‘You should stick with baseball.’”
His father’s advice was probably for the better, since Blackman said he had more fun and played better in baseball than other sports.
That’s not to say Blackman was a slouch at the other two sports he played at LHS, football and basketball. He was named the Greater Oregon League player of the year in basketball as a senior and was a first-team all-GOL wide receiver on the football team two times.
But baseball was and is his sport, and being a pitcher — like his dad was — came just as naturally as the game itself.
“My dad helped me a lot, and it was good having that influence at home as a pitcher,” he said. “He could give me advice after games about pitching. I would say it was more of a natural transition (to) being a pitcher.”
He developed into one of the better pitchers to come through La Grande in recent memory and has the stats to back it up. In his final two seasons, he went a perfect 14-0 on the mound with a scant ERA of 1.01, striking out 150 batters and giving up just 48 hits in 97-2/3 innings.
The move to dominance on the mound, though, didn’t really begin until his junior year.
“From Day 1 freshman year, Coach (Parker) McKinley preached to all of us if we want to go play college baseball, it’s our doing. He’ll give us the fundamentals and skills to do it. I don’t know if that really resonated with me my freshman year,” he said. “Going into sophomore year, I really wanted to be one of those players on varsity who was a standout. I started getting into it, talking to Coach McKinley about baseball. I
really took a passion for it. Then junior year it became real. That was my bust-out year.”
He said growing into his body, team workouts, developing more of a passion for the game and being more motivated were all part of what allowed him to take off. He also spent time with other players on the team — Aaron Goss and Jon Gonzalez — who shared his love for the game.
In his breakout junior year, he went 6-0 with an ERA of 1.52 and helped La Grande to its first state title in 10 years. He followed with an 8-0 record and a 0.54 ERA as a senior as the Tigers reached the title game again and took second.
A big component to his growth was his improved strength, which helped increase the velocity on his fastball. As a sophomore, he said, it topped out in the low 80s. Now, he can touch 90 miles per hour, and he threw at 91 when he visited LCSC, where he’ll follow in his father’s footsteps and play next season.
Most LHS fans who have watched him over his career, though, know he possesses more than just the fastball. Blackman also throws a changeup and a slider, both of which he further developed as his career went on. He would even mix in a knuckleball on occasion, though he never threw that pitch as a senior.
“I can still throw it, but it’s not good because you don’t know where it’s going,” he said.
Blackman said he’ll likely have to develop a fourth pitch — maybe a curveball — at the college level if he wants to reach his ultimate goal of being drafted to a Major League Baseball program.
“I think I’m (also) going to have to have an influence like I had on the high school team, and I’d like to have an influence right off the bat freshman year,” he said of what may make him a good draft prospect down the road. “I don’t know how realistic that is, but that’s my goal. I’d like to push myself and be one of those guys who can throw for them.”
He’s joining a program in LCSC that has a history of sending players to the next level. According to a press release from the school, pitcher Gage Burland, who was taken by the Toronto Blue Jays in June’s draft, was the 139th player from LCSC to be selected by an MLB squad. It’s also the 42nd year in a row a LCSC player has been drafted.
“The biggest thing was they have a great program and are good at creating synergy,” Blackman said of joining the Warriors, who have won 19 NAIA championships. “It’s a small school but has a great atmosphere. That’s what I really like, and that’s probably what my dad liked.”