Meridian Star

July 21, 2013

West Lauderdale’s Blake Anderson hard to miss

Tony Tsoukalas
The Meridian Star

—     Just like any other high school student, West Lauderdale catcher Blake Anderson spends a lot of his time on the phone. The only difference, instead of chatting with friends, Anderson is discussing his potential with college coaches and Major League scouts.

    “You get calls everyday with people asking you how you are doing,” Anderson said. “It's just weird getting to talk to all these Major League scouts.”

    Baseball season might have ended for the Knights in May, but for the All-State catcher the summer is in full swing. Anderson just finished trying out for the 2013 Under Armour All-American game on July 12-13 in Peach Tree City, Ga., where he went four-for-four with two doubles and picked off two runners behind the plate. He also pitched two scoreless innings, allowing only one baserunner. Anderson has made it to the final round of selections and is one of eight catchers competing for two remaining spots in the Aug. 24 game at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

    “It's definitely humbling,” Anderson said. “I've worked my whole life and it's finally paying off. It feels good not to do all that for nothing.

    “I feel pretty good about my tryout. I pitched good pitches and I caught very well.”

    The Under Armour tryout is just one of many trips Anderson has made this summer. The whirlwind began on June 8 when he and West Lauderdale teammate Will Stokes participated in the 2013 Junior Sunbelt Classic in McAllister, Okla. From there, Anderson traveled to Omaha, Neb., to compete in the Tournament of Stars. Next up for the busy catcher was a trip to Atlanta to compete in the 18 and Under World Wood-Bat tournament June 28 through July 4. Anderson would join up again with Stokes a week later, as the two competed in the 17 and under tournament on July 5-12. Teammate Mason Wooldridge also competed in the tournament, representing the Meridian Golden Spikes.

    It was in the 17 and under tournament where Anderson found even more good fortune, as he was noticed by a scout from the New York Yankees after throwing out two runners in a game.

    Shortly after, the Yankees selected him to represent their team in the 2013 Area Code games in Long Beach, Calif. –– Anderson responded with an emphatic yes.

    “I didn't expect it,” he said. “I don't ever expect to make anything. It does feel good though to go to these things that you practice for your whole life and actually get to do it.”

    The extra attention might come as a surprise to the humble Anderson, but when looking at his stats last season –– .430 batting average, five home runs, seven doubles and 26 runs batted in –– it isn't hard to see what the hype is all about. However, stats are not the only thing that have scouts buzzing.

    “Some of the things the scouts have said about Blake is that his flexibility and range of motion are second to none,” Anderson's father, Neil Anderson, said. “When they watch him catch, how low he gets, how he works the ball in the strike zone, his arm strength and his knowledge of the game — those are some of the things others have noticed.”

    Anderson committed to the University of Southern Mississippi in February prior to the 2013 high school season. He said he felt at home in Hattiesburg and also noted the early decision allowed him to focus on his junior year.

    “The coaches up there, I really like them, and that is where my family is from,” Anderson said. “They were probably the best fit for me. It just felt like that is where I needed to go.”

    The soon-to-be senior is already accustomed to some of the lifestyle associated with college baseball. Anderson spent last summer playing for the No. 1 rated travel team in the country, the East Cobb Astros, where he won three national tournaments. He said the nine weeks spent traveling with the Georgia-based team allowed him to acclimate himself with playing on the road. Another step Anderson is taking to get ready for next year is adding muscle to his lanky frame. The 6-4, 190-pound catcher will now look to work his way up to 210 pounds by the spring.

         “I already gained probably 10 pounds,” Anderson said. “I've got like 15 pounds to go, which probably won't be that hard since I am going to work out all fall.”

    While his dream remains to play at the next level, Anderson said his focus remains on getting better for next season and working with his teammates to help bring a state title home to Collinsville.

    Perhaps, no one is as excited about the young catcher's potential than West Lauderdale baseball coach Jerry Boatner who describes Anderson as a “game changer.”

    “It's a great feeling to know when he's catching no one is going to run on us,” Boatner. “When we are playing somebody, them stealing bases is the furthest thing from my mind.

    “He's as good as it gets. He's got a great attitude, and he's worked hard. Next year he is going to have to be a take-charge guy for us and he knows that. I have nothing bad to say about him.”

    After a heartbreaking loss to St. Stanislaus in the playoffs last season, Anderson said he is hungry to get back on the field in 2014. While West Lauderdale will enter the year as an early favorite to take home the 4A title, an experienced Anderson is already taking a leadership role –– making sure this year the Knights are ready to take the next step.

     “We already know we have to actually play,” Anderson said. “We have to show up and play as hard as we do in practice.”