Jake Blackwood understands the importance of making his own decision on when to walk away. A 2004 Platte County graduate, he recently announced his retirement from professional baseball after a winding 11-year career that included two stints with Major League Baseball franchises and finished close to his adopted hometown.
“Any time you get to walk away from something you’ve done most of your life and you get to walk away on your own free will, you were doing something pretty well because most people don’t get that opportunity,” Blackwood said. “Most people, an organization or a manager tells you, ‘Hey, you’re released’ and you never get picked up again and it’s on somebody else’s terms on when you’re done playing. I was able to make that decision for myself, which was awesome.”
Blackwood made the announcement late last month. He spent the past two seasons back in Independent baseball playing for the Kansas City T-Bones — a franchise based just across the state line from Platte City in Kansas City, Kan.
A three-time selection to the Missouri Baseball Coaches Association all-state team while in high school, Blackwood went on to play two years at Maple Woods Community College before twice being selected in MLB’s Amateur Draft. He made the National Junior College Athletics Association Division I All-American team after each of his two seasons.
The New York Mets spent a 40th round pick on the Pirates product in 2005, but Blackwood opted to return to school and up his draft stock. The Florida Marlins selected him in the 16th round of the 2006 draft, and he signed to start his career.
Blackwood is one of 12 players to be drafted out of Maple Woods — one of only two to be selected twice. The list also includes future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols.
“I didn’t get to reach the ultimate goal of the big leagues, but I definitely feel that I got to do something very few people get to say they did,” Blackwood said of playing professionally. “Not only did I get to do it, but I got to do it for a third of my life. I’m very happy with how it went and very thankful that I was able to do it for as long as I did.”
Blackwood spent parts of four seasons with the Florida Marlins organization but never made it past A ball despite an impressive first season and 10 home runs in his second season.
Signing as a free agent in Independent baseball in 2009, Blackwood finished the year with the T-Bones before a breakout in 2010 offered him a second chance in the Majors. He nearly captured the Northern League’s first Triple Crown since 2000, leading the league in home runs (31) and RBIs (86) and finishing third in batting (.331).
Blackwood also led the league in hits (141), runs (82), total bases (271) and slugging percentage (.636).
The San Diego Padres signed Blackwood in 2011, and he spent the next three seasons in their system. Released after 2013, Blackwood went back to independent baseball with the Winnipeg Goldeyes in 2014. He came back to the T-Bones in 2015, playing his final two years in Kansas City before opting to retire.
Blackwood played parts of seven seasons in MLB organizations, including two at AA San Antonio while with the Padres. He hit .248 in his minor league career with a .287 on-base percentage, collecting 123 doubles, 47 home runs and 10 triples.
While not having any regrets, Blackwood, who played every infield position and both corner outfield spots while in the minors, still believes he had the talent to play at a higher level, even if he never received the opportunity.
“If I said that I don’t feel like I deserved a chance, I’d be lying,” he said. “I definitely feel like I deserved a chance, but I’ve been around the game long enough and I understand not only do you have to be a good player but you have to have a little bit of luck with your timing as well.
“I was just never quite in the perfect situation to get my opportunity.”
The Kansas City T-Bones twice provided Blackwood with an opportunity to keep playing professionally while also staying close to home.
Blackwood, 31, retires near the top of the T-Bones’ franchise leaders in several categories including games played (second, 359), at-bats (second, 1,450), hits (second-tied, 430), doubles (third, 84), home runs (third-tied, 60), extra-base hits (second, 150), RBIs (fourth, 254) and runs scored (second, 706). He piled up all those stats in 3½ seasons.
“The T-Bones have been proud to be associated with Jake Blackwood over the years,” T-Bones vice-president and general manager Chris Browne said in a news release. “Jake was a team leader on the field and in the clubhouse. He represented the T-Bones well, played the game the right way and respected the game.
“Jake will be missed nightly by our fans, but he will always have a place at our park. He will remain a T-Bone at heart.”
During this offseason, Blackwood believed his chance to remain with the T-Bones was finished, and with his wife Chelsea, a three-year-old son and newborn daughter at home in Kansas City’s Northland, the timing seemed right to end his career.
“It was the right decision,” he said. “I was at a point where I’m not going any farther. It’s independent ball at this point. I’m not going to get picked up and make it to the big leagues. I’m 31 years old. It was just the right time, you know? And everything kind of fell in place that it made it an easier decision.”
Now that his dream of making it to the big leagues has ended, Blackwood shifts his attention to helping others reach the highest levels of baseball. He already spent time in recent years giving hitting lessons in the area and plans to continue coaching a 16-and-under competitive team in the area.
Blackwood wants to spend time with his family, work with his son as he grows up but maybe seek out a professional managerial or coaching position at some point.
“My whole life I’ve been in and around baseball,” Blackwood said. “I started playing when I was four years old, and I played until I was 31. I’ve been around baseball my entire life, and I’ll be around baseball my entire life.”
Born in South Carolina, Blackwood moved into the Platte County R-3 School District at an early age. His baseball dreams were born during a standout high school career.
Blackwood hit leadoff and played third base when Platte County rolled to a Class 3A state championship in 2002, a run that included a semifinal victory against Ozark and then a 19-1 drubbing of St. Mary’s (St. Louis) in the title game. He helped the Pirates back to the Class 3 playoffs in 2004 as a senior, a run that ended with a quarterfinal loss to Grain Valley.
During his high school career, Blackwood turned in some of the greatest seasons in Platte County history, and his name still appears in the Missouri State High School Activities Association records book in multiple categories.
“I like to think that I’m the best player Platte County’s ever had, but I don’t know,” Blackwood said. “There’s obviously been guys long before me that I don’t even know who they were. The numbers that I put up there and records I still hold I think still have value, but at the same time, I hope somebody comes along and takes my spot because that means the program’s still doing well and still producing good baseball players.”