RAGAN BLAKE INTERVIEW
How did you become interested in softball? I know your dad owns the Texas Thunder, a member of the National Pro Fastpitch League. Was he the reason you became interested?
"I started out playing T-ball with the boys because my mom didn't want me to pick flowers. So, basically, my mom was the one who got me started playing softball. My dad had no interest in it. Since I started playing, he has gotten addicted to it. Now, everything we talk about is softball (related). Our life is now softball. It is now my dad's work with the Texas Thunder."
How did Mississippi State get involved in your recruitment?
"I traveled a lot (with the Missouri City Magic Gold) during the summer and (Mississippi State) Coach (Jay) Miller was at a lot of our games and a lot of the tournaments that we were in. I fell in love with Coach Miller and everything about the (Mississippi State) campus."
Did you know much about Coach Miller prior to him recruiting you?
"My dad is friends with the University of Arizona coach Mike Candrea. Mike Candrea is the Olympic coach and Coach Miller is the National coach and my dad is one of the coaches on the team."
What other schools recruited you?
"I received letters from a lot of schools and a lot of schools talked to me, but this was the first time that anyone from my family had gone through (recruiting) so I really didn't have a clue what to do.
"There were a couple of campuses that I (officially) visited (other than Mississippi State), including Texas State and Villanova. I was supposed to go to LSU, but I cancelled that visit (after visiting MSU)."
We've talked about your recruitment. Obviously teams saw some things that they really liked about you. The first thing that comes to mind is what kind of pitches you throw and how well you throw them. What would you say is your best pitch?
"My main pitch is the riseball."
What makes it so effective?
"It comes in straight, then, right before it reaches the plate, it breaks straight up."
Numbers are always a big deal to sports fans. Velocity is one of those numbers fans are fascinated with. Do you know what the velocity of your riseball is?
"I really have no idea. The last time I was gunned was when I was 12 and I was gunned at 60 (mph). A lot of the girls that bat against me now have told me that I throw 65, but that's too high. My pitching coach, Javier Vella, who I have been with for nine years, has taught me that baseball is about velocity but that softball is about spin and location." [According to at least one conversion chart, a mid-60's in softball is equivalent to a low 90's fastball in baseball. Elite pitchers are in the mid-60s while Olympic pitchers can touch 70.-Gene]
What other pitches do you throw?
"I have a drop change and a changeup."
Other than how well you throw your pitches, what would you say are some of your other strengths on the mound?
"I have always been told that I can handle people trying to rattle me. It pumps me up when the other team is cheering or when a crowd gets going trying to rattle me. They don't know that it (actually) pumps me up."
RABBIT BLAKE INTERVIEW (RAGAN's DAD)
Ragan said you have gotten to know Mississippi State softball coach Jay Miller pretty well. What are your thoughts about him as a coach?
"I own the Texas Thunder. My number one pitcher, Christa Williams, won (Olympic) Gold Medals in 1996 and 2000. She and (Texas junior pitcher) Cat Osterman are the two best pitchers to ever come out of Houston, Texas. Christa had a chance to work with Jay Miller on the number 2 Olympic team. She told me that he is one of the top two coaches that she has ever played for in her entire life. She thinks the world of him.
"I was lucky enough to go to a coaches clinic a year ago November in Florida and he was there and spoke. He is a pitching coach who really knows his stuff. Not only that, but I love his demeanor. I think his demeanor will go a long way to get Ragan over the top."
Speaking of Ragan, what would you say is her strength on the mound?
"Her strength is she never gets rattled."
Back to Coach Miller, how did he first find out about Ragan?
"After the coaches clinic where I met him, we had a tournament. He saw her there and has been after her ever since."
Has Coach Miller told you what he likes about Ragan?
"He likes her spins on the ball."
Talk a little more about the spin she has on his riseball.
"It takes 4 years to learn the riseball. You will hear a lot of girls who say they throw the riseball, but when you look at it, it doesn't have the spin, so it doesn't have the movement. Ragan is one of the very few people who can throw the riseball and throw it effectively. She can throw a low riseball that looks like a ball, then break up to the knees into the strikezone. Or she can throw one that looks like it is coming right down the middle like a big watermelon and when they take a swipe at it, it breaks on them. When she is really on, her riseball is really popping. Plus, she has a good changeup that keeps them off-balance."
Obviously, with you owning the Texas Thunder you have seen some really great softball pitchers. How does she compare to them?
"She is not a Christa Williams or a Cat Osterman. Most of the people in their category are freaks of nature. (Right now) she is probably a step behind them. Could she be (that good)? I think she could, but she is still young."
Ragan mentioned a few things about her recruitment. You probably kept up with it better than her since you are her dad and want to be comfortable with the place and people she will be with the next four years. Talk a little about her recruitment and the schools she narrowed it down to.
"It really boiled down to LSU, Texas State, Villanova and Mississippi State. When we were at Mississippi State, she told my wife Diane that that was where she wanted to go. She told her mom that she was in love.
"I have some friends in Mississippi and also friends in New Orleans that are LSU alumnus. Everybody told me that Mississippi State has great fans."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher/owner of Gene's Page, the source for Mississippi State sports on TheInsiders.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.