RailCats infielder Eric Blakeley, who retired Monday after six seasons as a professional, will no doubt be missed on the field next season, when the RailCats will need to find someone else to ably fill in around the infield and deliver clutch late-inning hits.
But something tells me Blakeley’s departure will be felt more off the field, where the 29-year-old was not only a model citizen but was every bit of his staff-anointed title as the “Nicest Guy in the Northern League.”
Easy-going and always available, Blakeley endured his fair share of tough times after finishing a stellar college career at Indiana, battling injuries and struggling to find playing time for four years in the Seattle system despite hitting well when given the opportunity. Like other low-round (21st) draft choices, Blakeley was released by the Mariners in 2005 when he was stuck behind and in front of more highly-touted prospects.
After a year away from baseball in 2006 – during which time he founded his burgeoning baseball business, Diamond Kings – Blakeley came back to the RailCats in 2007 to, in his own words, play the way he played when he was 12 years old. And the RailCats did not disappoint, reaffirming Blakeley’s love of the game by pairing the veteran with players and coaches who shared his appetite for winning, a departure from the sometimes cutthroat, climb-the-ladder world of affiliated baseball. Blakeley won his championship in 2007 and actually had the best offensive year of his career in 2008, saying he had felt as good at the plate during last season as he had in any of his pro seasons.
So here’s to the “Nicest Guy in the Northern League.” The RailCats’ loss is Diamond Kings’ gain, but here’s one ballplayer whose bat and glove are the least of what we’ll be missing.