MLB Insider: Blackburn ready for new career as high school coach

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 19, 2014 - 11:12 PM

Injuries forced the former Twins pitcher into an early retirement at age 32.

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Nick Blackburn.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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Nick Blackburn remembers telling his wife that if he had to have another operation, he probably wouldn’t pitch anymore.

That was two surgeries ago.

Which explains why the righthanded Oklahoman, just 32 years old and walking on a knee with no remaining cartilage, is looking forward to spring training not in Florida or Arizona, but at Washington High School in Oklahoma, about 10 miles south of Norman. This fall, the former Twins pitcher takes over as the baseball head coach for the Warriors, hoping to pass along secrets of his sinker and changeup to a new generation of athletes.

He also serves as a good example of what a lifetime spent trying to get big-league hitters out can do. “At some point, your body just starts breaking down,” said Blackburn, who has undergone multiple surgeries on his knee, elbow and wrist — nine in all, including the latest one in May. “My right knee is bone-on-bone, no cartilage left. It was just beat to death.”

Even so, just 12 months ago, Blackburn believed he still had a future in the major leagues. After all, he won 43 games over his six-year career with the Twins despite a fastball that rarely hit 90 miles per hour, and he earned more than $16 million doing it. From 2008 to ’10, he pitched 560 innings; no other Twin has had as many over a three-year span since.

His wrist began bothering him in 2011, however, especially when he threw a changeup. But he kept pitching. “I pitched a season and a half with a damaged ligament in my wrist. I was in pain pretty much the whole 2012 season, but the worst part was how I was overcompensating for it,” Blackburn said. “When you only throw 89 miles per hour, you need Kevlar out there if the ball’s not moving. So I was doing everything I could to get the ball to break a little, to drop a little, and I was putting all kinds of stress on my elbow and legs.”

He finally had surgery last spring and spent much of the summer rehabbing his wrist in Fort Myers, Fla. When the wrist healed, he was able to throw a cutter and a changeup again, and both were moving better than they had in years. “I was getting excited. I knew I wouldn’t be back with the Twins, but I thought I was in good shape for a tryout with a new team” in 2014, he said.

But when he got back on the mound in July, the throbbing returned to his knees. He made a couple of starts at Class AA New Britain, then was sent to Rochester. In the fifth inning on July 23, his only Class AAA start, he covered first base on a ground ball — and his career abruptly ended. “When I hit the bag, it felt like someone hit me with a sledgehammer. Just shooting pain,” Blackburn said. “I took some injections, but it was pretty obvious the knee needed to be cleaned out. And when they did it, [doctors] said it needed a lot more work done, just so I can walk without pain again.”

He went back to Oklahoma, where he heard a nearby high school needed a baseball coach. He called, just to inquire. It didn’t take long before he had the job, and a new direction in life.

He will always have great memories of his years with the Twins — holding the Yankees to one run over six innings in the 2009 Division Series in Yankee Stadium is the best one. “The excitement of that game, there’s nothing like that,” Blackburn said. “Games like that are what we play for.” He also gave up only four hits in the one-game playoff with the White Sox in 2008, though one hit was Jim Thome’s solo home run, the game’s only run.

Now he hopes to make new memories. “It’s a challenge, but I enjoy helping kids improve, seeing them learn something and using it in the game,” said Blackburn, who has dreams of opening a baseball academy, too. “It’s going to be fun.”

For now, it’s his only connection to baseball, too. It’s too soon to watch a Twins game on TV, because he still misses the competition too much. Oh, one other reason, too, said the father of four kids, all 4 and under. “It’s hard to watch many games,” Blackburn said, “when your TV is always on Disney Junior.”

Central Intelligence

Some surprises, some usual suspects in the AL Central’s first-half success stories. Here are each team’s MVPs in the first half of 2014:

Indians: Michael Brantley

Not only is he hitting a career-high .322 with 15 home runs, five more than ever before, but the outfielder is also playing Gold Glove-worthy defense.

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  • Former Twins pitcher Nick Blackburn is going to coach high school baseball in his native Oklahoma.

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Top 9th123456789RHE
Cleveland00203200 7130
Minnesota01001000 272
Preview | Matchup | Lineup | Log | Wrap | Box
HR: CLE- None MIN- None

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Toronto - LP: D. Hutchison 2 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: M. Tanaka 5
Washington - WP: S. Strasburg 2 FINAL
Miami - LP: N. Eovaldi 1
NY Mets - WP: J. deGrom 10 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: E. Santana 2
Boston - WP: J. Kelly 3 FINAL
Baltimore - LP: M. Gonzalez 2
Milwaukee - LP: W. Peralta 0 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: V. Worley 1
Chicago WSox 10 Bottom 9th Inning
Tampa Bay 3
Cleveland 7 Bottom 8th Inning
Minnesota 2
Detroit 2 Bottom 7th Inning
Kansas City 4
Seattle 3 Bottom 7th Inning
Houston 4
Los Angeles 6 Top 7th Inning
Chicago Cubs 4
Texas 0 Top 5th Inning
LA Angels 0
Philadelphia 1 Top 3rd Inning
Oakland 3
San Francisco 0 Bottom 3rd Inning
San Diego 0
Arizona 0 Bottom 3rd Inning
Colorado 1
Cincinnati - A. Simon 7:05 PM
St. Louis - L. Lynn
San Diego 22 FINAL
Buffalo 10
Dallas 34 FINAL
St. Louis 31
Washington 34 FINAL
Philadelphia 37
Houston 17 FINAL
NY Giants 30
Minnesota 9 FINAL
New Orleans 20
Tennessee 7 FINAL
Cincinnati 33
Baltimore 23 FINAL
Cleveland 21
Green Bay 7 FINAL
Detroit 19
Indianapolis 44 FINAL
Jacksonville 17
Oakland 9 FINAL
New England 16
San Francisco 7 2nd Qtr 10:00
Arizona 6
Denver 3 1st Qtr 2:53
Seattle 3
Kansas City 0 1st Qtr 3:35
Miami 0
Pittsburgh 7:30 PM
Carolina
Chicago 9/22/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Columbus 4 FINAL
Carolina 3
Buffalo 4:00 PM
Washington
St. Louis 5:30 PM
Columbus
Calgary 7:00 PM
Edmonton
Edmonton 7:00 PM
Calgary
Old Dominion 45 FINAL
Rice 42
Troy 0 FINAL
(12) Georgia 66
Georgia Tech 27 FINAL
Virginia Tech 24
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
(9) Michigan State 73
Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
Syracuse 20
Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 FINAL
Colorado 21
Marshall 48 FINAL
Akron 17
North Carolina 41 FINAL
(23) East Carolina 70
Army 21 FINAL
Wake Forest 24
Virginia 33 FINAL
(20) BYU 41
(6) Texas A&M 58 FINAL
SMU 6
Rutgers 31 FINAL
Navy 24
Central Mich 10 FINAL
Kansas 24
Utah 26 FINAL
Michigan 10
Florida 21 FINAL
(3) Alabama 42
Louisville 34 FINAL
FIU 3
Fla Atlantic 19 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Indiana 31 FINAL
Missouri 27
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Minnesota 24
Texas State 35 FINAL
Illinois 42
Massachusetts 7 FINAL
Penn State 48
Georgia State 14 FINAL
Washington 45
Appalachian St 20 FINAL
Southern Miss 21
(14) Miss State 34 FINAL
(17) LSU 29
Northern Ill 14 FINAL
Arkansas 52
Middle Tennessee 17 FINAL
Memphis 36
Utah State 14 FINAL
Arkansas State 21
Miami-Ohio 24 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Idaho 24 FINAL
Ohio U 36
Ball State 23 FINAL
Toledo 34
(13) So Carolina 48 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
(4) Oklahoma 45 FINAL
West Virginia 33
Ga Southern 28 FINAL
South Alabama 6
UNLV 14 FINAL
Houston 47
Miami-Florida 31 FINAL
(21) Nebraska 41
New Mexico 38 FINAL
New Mexico St 35
Clemson 17 FINAL
(1) Florida State 23
California 45 FINAL
Arizona 49
San Diego St 7 FINAL
Oregon State 28
(2) Oregon 38 FINAL
Washington St 31
Louisiana 9 FINAL
Boise State 34
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(24) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(11) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(25) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(12) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(9) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
NC State
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Kansas
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(22) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(13) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
North Carolina 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Clemson
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(17) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Duke 9/27/14 6:30 PM
Miami-Florida
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(8) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(21) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(18) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Chivas USA 0 2nd Half 5:00
Toronto FC 3
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 23 FINAL
Hamilton 25
Calgary 15 FINAL
Montreal 31
Ottawa 8 9:44
Saskatchewan 3
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