Saturday, May 12, 2012
Cal-Hi Sports State Athlete of the Week
By Harold Abend
Heritage of Brentwood pitcher Paul Blackburn is one of the best in Northern California.
Blackburn no-hits team in the state rankings and shows he’s ready to raise his profile as a top prospect before next month’s MLB draft.
The pitching abilities demonstrated by Paul Blackburn from Heritage of Brentwood earned him a spot last summer on the Oakland Athletics Area Code team that competed in Long Beach.
It wasn’t until last week, however, that he finally achieved a feat every pitcher dreams of accomplishing.
In front of the Cal-Hi Sports caravan, other assembled media, and several Major League scouts with radar guns in hand, Blackburn pitched his first no-hitter, striking out eight and walking two in a 6-0 win over Bay Valley League rival and state-ranked Deer Valley of Antioch. Two double plays allowed him to face the minimum 21 batters.
As a result of his performance last week, all season, and throughout a three-year varsity career, Blackburn’s nomination on the spot by Ben Enos of the Contra Costa Times has been made official, and the Arizona State-bound 3.4 GPA student-athlete is the latest ESPNHS Cal-Hi Sports State Athlete of the Week.
This week, with Heritage only a game behind Deer Valley for first-place in league, and with knowledge of the award, Blackburn went eight innings and threw 115 pitches to get a 3-2 win over Oakley Freedom. He scattered seven hits and struck out eight, and even had the game-winning RBI.
So far this season, on a 23-player squad that only has six seniors, Blackburn is 8-3 with a 1.01 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 69 innings pitched. He’s also hitting .375.
Paul’s Area Code experience
“It made me feel like everything was starting to come through when I heard I made it. My dream was to go to Area Code,” said Blackburn, who began baseball at age 4 in coach-pitched play.
“Playing against the best competition in the country with guys I play against, and then having them as teammates on the A’s was a great experience.”
Among nearly 100 pitchers at Area Code last summer, Blackburn made the final 35 evaluated by ESPNHS Baseball, finishing No. 33 overall, No. 14 in the state and No. 5 in Northern California.
All the hoopla
Being on the far eastern outskirts of the San Francisco Bay Area in the Delta area, Brentwood isn’t exactly a mecca for Major League scouts and college coaches looking for talent, so having a young team and a lot of fanfare can have its disadvantages.
“The team knows what’s going on, and sometimes they try a little too hard, but I’m really proud of them,” Blackburn told Cal-Hi Sports.
On the day of the no-hitter, Blackburn topped the radar gun at 92 miles per hour, the same top speed he had at Area Code.
“I’ve topped at 94 and I have three pitches, four if you count the four-seam and two-seam (fastball). I also have a curve and a change.”
“Paul’s best assets are he’s right around the plate all the time. He has great command of his pitches,” said Heritage coach Kevin Brannan, a custodian at adjacent Adams Middle School and the Patriots’ coach for seven years, four with freshman and the last three on the varsity.
“Having Paul has been a blessing for our program. What’s unique is I got to coach him his first year as a freshman and he was already better than all but the top starter on varsity.”
The 6-foot-2 Blackburn was a point guard in basketball until last season when he made varsity, but gave up hoops for this year.
Paul also takes a bowling class and has a 170 average with a 256 high game.
Although he has no nickname, our honoree is Paul Blackburn III. His father, Paul Blackburn Jr., played basketball at Humboldt State and is currently a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher. Jennifer Blackburn, his mother, played softball and is in banking.
Little sister Emily Blackburn is a freshman at Heritage and plays volleyball. “She’s about 5-9 and pretty good already,” said big brother proudly.
Player: “Matt Cain or Madison Bumgarner.”
Baseball movie: “Sandlot.”
Music: “Country and hip-hop and hip-hop before games.”
Vacation spot: “Hawaii, I’ve never been there.”
College versus pro and what he’s looking forward to in college
“I really don’t know. I want to play pro, and if the money is there (after the draft) and if it’s a good environment, and it’s good for me, then I’ll probably go and play.”
Having a chance to study business as Paul would like to do, and pitch for a top college program isn’t a bad fallback position.
“ASU has a good reputation of players that have gone through there, plus I love the campus and the coaches. Hopefully I can help them win a national championship.”
Advice for young kids
“Mainly focus on grades. Don’t let anyone get in your way of your way of achieving your goals. Go out and be the best you can be by working hard.”
You can send AOW nominations to Mark.Tennis@espn.com or tweet them to us @CalHiSports. Don't forget to follow Harold Abend on Twitter: @HaroldAbend