PASCO -- While many of his Tri-City Dust Devils teammates got their first look at the Dave Lemak Clubhouse at Gesa Stadium on Thursday, Charlie Blackmon took some time to remember his first year in professional baseball four seasons ago.
It was in Pasco that Blackmon, a 6-foot-3 outfielder out of Georgia Tech, set a new standard for hitting, setting the Colorado Rockies’ short-season record with 98 hits in 2008.
Three seasons later, he was living his dream in the major leagues after getting an early-season call-up from Triple-A Colorado Springs.
“I didn’t know what to do with myself,” said Blackmon of his first stint with the Rockies in 2011. “They called me in after batting practice. It was way too late in the day (to join the team), so they told me there was still a game to play and to keep it to myself. That lasted about five minutes.”
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Blackmon is back in the Tri-Cities, but he shouldn’t be for long.
He’ll open the season on the disabled list while he recovers from sesamoiditis, an inflammation of the bones in the ball of the foot.
The Rockies are hoping he can play his way back into the lineup after making an exciting debut last year.
Blackmon hit .410 in his first 10 games with Colorado and stole five bases in 27 games before ending his season with a fractured left foot.
Until he returns to the big club, Blackmon plans to make the most of the time he’s here.
“When I left, I never thought I’d be coming back,” he said. “I’m a little excited to be back. I’ve got a lot of good memories of this place.”
-- After 10 weeks of extended spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz., the Dust Devils began filtering into their new home Thursday, getting fitted for uniforms, moving into their lockers and playing some light toss in the outfield.
The team will hold its first Gesa Stadium workout at 1 p.m. today in preparation for its NWL opener at 7:15 p.m. Friday against Everett at Gesa Stadium.
“I get revived when we get here. In extended (spring training), we have to get up at 5:30 in the morning for a 9 a.m. game. The heat just wears you out,” said Tri-City manager Fred Ocasio, who returns for his seventh season as Dust Devils manager, the longest tenure in the Northwest League. “I can’t wait to start playing under the lights.”
Ocasio led Tri-City to its third East Division title in six seasons last year and earned his second NWL Manager of the Year honor.
He said it’s difficult to form expectations based on what he has seen in spring training.
One of his biggest challenges is to find playing time for everybody once the draft picks start rolling in over the next week or so.
“I don’t let extended determine what kind of year someone is going to have,” Ocasio said. “You face the same pitching over and over. You use five or six pitchers a game. I’ve seen guys hit .600 in extended and then come here and struggle.”
-- The Dust Devils have had several college quarterbacks come through the ranks, including former Auburn signal-caller Josh Sullivan, former University of Mississippi QB Seth Smith and now Seattle Seahawk Russell Wilson.
The latest is Brook Hart, a 6-5 left-handed pitcher who played both football and baseball at Yale.
He spent 2007 with the junior varsity gridders before joining the varsity in 2008.
He played in eight games, starting five of them, and set a school record with a 62.1 percent (87-for-140) completion percentage.
But football wasn’t his chosen calling.
“I kind of always wanted to play baseball,” said Hart, who went 4-1 with a 3.86 ERA in 392⁄3 innings with the Casper Ghosts after being selected in the 23rd round of the MLB draft.
Hart relies mostly on his fastball, but will supplement that with a sinker, a slider and a split-change. He showed some versatility last season in 17 games, mixing in a start along with 16 relief appearances, making one save.