If it’s possible to be bleary voiced, Tyler Blum was just that this week when contacted on his cell phone.
His San Angelo Colts baseball team played a game Tuesday night in Harlingen, Texas, then hit the road for Amarillo. For those not versed on Texas geography, let Blum explain the significance of that drive.
“Harlingen is as far south as Miami,” Blum said. “Amarillo is about as far north as you can get in Texas. We left at 11 last night and we’re still driving. We’ve got a game tonight at 7. But that’s the life I chose.”
University of Iowa football-aholics remember Blum as part of a nationally recognized recruiting class in 2005. The Walnut native was one of seven Iowa signees who played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl that year.
But he had back surgery as a freshman and his career never panned out. He played a little tight end, a little offensive line and some special teams but never established himself as anything close to a starter.
“I have never, ever regretted it,” Blum said. “When I made that decision, I told myself I never would look back at it. When I was a little kid, it was my dream to play college football. No matter where it was. And I was able to accomplish that. My experiences with Coach (Kirk) Ferentz and at Iowa were tremendous.”
Blum had a fifth season of eligibility remaining last season but had a degree in communications studies and chose not to play. Well, at least football.
A 6-foot-6 left-hander who was an all-state baseball player as a junior at Walnut, Blum decided to give pitching a try. He started working out in the spring of 2009, sending letters to major league organizations and any independent league team he could find.
“I was just trying to catch on somewhere,” he said.
He threw for a San Diego Padres scout who got him an invitation to spring training this season with San Angelo. The Colts are part of the six-team United Baseball League.
His first spring training game was the first time he had thrown off a dirt mound and faced live hitters since his junior year of high school. He didn’t make the Colts — mostly because of inexperience — but hooked on with the Las Cruces Vaqueros of the even less prestigious, four-team Continental Baseball League.
“That was not glamorous baseball at all,” Blum said. “Some players got paid, some didn’t. We played our games in a city park in front of about 200 people.”
Glamorous or no, Las Cruces provided him with much needed experience and innings. San Angelo liked what it saw enough to sign him Aug. 1.
Blum said his arm strength has gradually gotten better and the velocity on his fastball has increased to the 94 mile-per-hour range at the top end. His manager with the Colts is Doc Edwards, who once managed the Cleveland Indians.
San Angelo’s season ends Aug. 30. After that, who knows?
“I’m enjoying it every day,” Blum said. “I get to play a game every day. Everyone here, we have a passion to play baseball.“I knew coming into this that I’d have to start out at the bottom. I just wanted to get my foot in the door. If it’s meant to be, I know the right people will see me pitch and things will work out.”