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Catching up with: Joe Blackwell

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

(Photo)
Joe Blackwell
Story by BRAD HURT | DAR Sports Writer

For three years, Joe Blackwell was part of one of the most famous organizations in all of professional sports.

The Doniphan native lived the childhood dream of countless boys when he was drafted as a shortstop by the New York Yankees fresh out of high school in 1987.

Upon graduating from high school, Blackwell intended to sign with a junior college in Florida. However, his plans changed when a Yankees scout, Dick Tidrow, came to one of his games and saw him play. Tidrow liked what he saw and offered Blackwell the chance to play professional baseball.

"I was overwhelmed," Blackwell said. "Baseball was probably the only reason I would have gone to college."

Blackwell, who had also been to camps with the Philadelphia Phillies, spent the next three years playing in the minor leagues within the Yankee organization before being released in 1990.

While he was there, he rubbed elbows with such future Yankees as Bernie Williams and Jim Leyritz, who both contributed to World Series championships with the team in the 1990s.

The magnitude of his environment hit him one day early in his career, he said, "I looked up and saw (former Yankee managers) Billy Martin and Lou Piniella walking across the field."

Blackwell has great respect for Brian Butterfield, his manager in the rookie Gulf Coast League.

"Brian really took me under his wing," he said. "He always used to tell us, 'Remember, you're getting paid to play a kids' game.'"

Blackwell still talks to Butterfield, as well as some of his former teammates, including Russ Davis, who played in the major leagues until 2001.

While with the GCL Yankees, Blackwell won a league championship in 1988. The team finished 45-18 that year.

The experience of playing professional baseball at such a young age, particularly in an organization such as the Yankees, helped Blackwell to mature at an advanced rate.

"It definitely grew me up, but it just happened too quick," he said. "It got me prepared for life and helped me develop my business."

He started Blackwell Motor Company in Doniphan in 1994, following in the footsteps of his family.

"I've been in the car business since I got done with ball," he said. "My family has had dealerships all my life."

While playing at Doniphan, Blackwell played on two district championship teams and during his senior year, the Dons advanced to the state quarterfinals where they lost to Farmington.

One of Blackwell's best memories of that season was spoiling a perfect game by Dexter's Earl Wheeler.

"I hit a home run off him and he ended up with a one-hitter," he said.

"Earl Wheeler didn't have an arm; he had a shotgun," said former Doniphan coach Bob Byrd. "Joey was an excellent hitter. He could do it all but run the scoreboard."

Blackwell hit .571 as a senior and set a school record for hits, mainly by using the alleys. He also impressed Byrd with his speed.

"In all the years I coached, I timed players running the bases. Joe ran the bases in 14.29 seconds. He was the fastest player I coached in my 26 years," Byrd said.

Under Byrd, Blackwell said he gained a lot more than just fundamental knowledge.

"He just helped me mentally more than anything," he said.

Growing up, Joe and his brother Jimbo played sports from an early age. Along with their uncles, Bob Adams and Rob Blackwell, the boys spent hours playing various sports.

"There was always a Wiffleball or basketball game going on," Jimbo said. "We spent countless hours outside playing."

Joe displayed such impressive athletic ability from a young age that he got a head start on Little League ball in Piggott, Ark., playing for a 10-year-old team at the age of 6.

"Just being around older guys helped me learn the game " he said

Under , the guidance . of good coaches such as Byrd and Roger Pattillo, Joe developed into a player with major-league potential at Doniphan.

"Maybe as a junior it hit me that he was pretty good," Jimbo said.

Joe said Pattillo deserves a lot of the credit for the player he became.

"Roger really taught me how to play the game," he said. "I went from being an average player to knowing how to play the game right."

Joe said he found most of his success on defense, especially once he got to the professional ranks

.

"My glove was really my strongest asset," he said. "I had trouble with the transition to wooden bats."

Upon his release from the Yankees, Blackwell went to Mineral Area College, where he took classes and was an assistant coach for Larry Morgan.

"Larry got my college paid for," he said. "He was at Clearwater and recruited me out of high school. He said he would pay for my college if I'd help coach."



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