BY: JEFF ROBERSON
Right now the Rebels of the diamond are going through that always-difficult Omaha Challenge. When it’s all over it’s basically the holiday season and semester exam time.
The program has received a lot of publicity this fall, with the class of newcomers that arrived this summer having been named the best group in the country by Baseball America and also D-1 Baseball. It is a talented group that has now been through its first fall ball session at Ole Miss.
Tate Blackman, along with Colby Bortles, was chosen as a captain by teammates recently. It’s not really surprising since they are basically the veteran faces of this year’s team.
Blackman is already looking toward a better 2017 and he said the fall went well.
“I worked on some things, made some minor adjustments,” said the veteran second baseman. “Overall I thought it was pretty good and a productive fall.”
Blackman said much of his focus wasn’t at the plate.
“It was more my defense and base-running,” he said. “I’ve been working on the base paths. I’ve kinda got a new setup when I’m at first and trying to steal a base. I worked on that. And definitely my defense. My hitting was there last fall and during the season. So I tweaked just little stuff with my swing. Mainly it was more focus for me on base-running and defense.”
Blackman and Bortles were coaches for the Pizza Bowl, the challenging, best two of three games wrapup of fall ball each year. The winning team eats pizza while the losing team runs.
Blackman’s team won. “That was fun. It was competitive,” he said.
But he admitted it was also tough for him making all the calls as a "coach."
“I was talking to Coach (Bianco) and Coach (Lafferty) during the games. I told them ‘I don’t know how you do this. This is very stressful.’ But it was fun."
Being a captain for Ole Miss baseball in 2017 is important to Blackman. There is plenty of youth on the team, almost 30 freshmen and sophomores. He is one of the veteran players those new ones look up to.
Blackman has been there and can offer a helping hand or some advice when needed.
“My first fall I didn’t know what to expect. The second fall I was trying to overcome something I was expected to do," he said of a not so stellar freshman spring season. "This (third) fall was maintain what I had and get better at things I’m not good at.
“And I’m just trying to be more of a leader now, talking to the young guys and showing them the right way to do things around here. Just trying to lead by example.”
Blackman is excited about the newcomers and he knows what they mean to the team this year.
“When you get the No. 1 recruiting class on campus, it’s fun for us older guys to see how good they really are,” Blackman said. “And for us to show them there’s more to learn and that they can improve and help us. They’ll be big contributors to our season this year.”
Blackman likes what he sees of the offense so far.
“Last year’s team could really hit. Colby and I think this year’s team can hit even better. The majority of the same pitching staff is back plus some new guys who are incredible. If we can control what we can control, it will be a very fun season for everybody.”
And for the first time since he’s been here to win some postseason NCAA Tournament games.
“It was hard to swallow for us to be as good as we were and not win,” Blackman said of the past two NCAA Tournaments. “For us to not win in our own Regional was heartbreaking. This year when we are in that situation we plan to come out on top.”