Blake Tekotte, sophomore outfielder for the Miami Hurricanes, had a summer of contrasts in 2006. On June 20th, Oregon State, the eventual NCAA champions, eliminated the Hurricanes in the College World Series in Omaha, 8-1, in front of 26,000 fans. Tekotte took a couple days off to rest, but then found himself, on June 29th, batting second and patrolling center field for the Woodstock River Bandits, playing in Staunton, Virginia, in front of 820 fans. The Bandits were 3-15 at the time. Talk about culture shock.
So how did Tekotte find his way to Miami from his hometown of Columbia, Missouri? First, he was invited to a Chicago White Sox Area Code Games tryout camp in the summer after his junior year. He was one of 300 outfielders there, from Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri. Blake was one of only 4 outfielders chosen to participate, and he soon found himself in California playing in the Area Code Games. He performed well; he stole a few bases and hit with authority. After the first game he saw someone wearing a green and orange hat approach his father in the stands. His dad told him later that it was Gino DiMare, Miami's recruiting coordinator. Blake says it was all he needed: "From that point it was a no-brainer to come to Miami." To join such a high-profile program was an opportunity too great to pass up.
In high school, Tekotte played both football and baseball. He was a punter for the football team until he tore his ACL in the first game of his senior year. That was it for football; but amazingly, he missed no time on the baseball field after an intense rehabilitation over the winter. His rehab was so successful that Tekotte was named an All-American by Collegiate Baseball after his senior year on the diamond. The football days seem to be over: when asked if he has any desire to try out for the Miami football team, Tekotte answered, "Not whenever I see how big they are. That turns me away from it, because I'm not too big." He left the door a tiny bit ajar when he added, "Probably not, but I kind of miss it a little bit."
The jump from high school to the ACC is a tough one. "All the pitchers are real tough; they know how to pitch. The coaches know exactly how to pitch to you. Even defensive-wise and the whole mental game- it's not different than high school, but it's more in depth. A lot more time and a lot more practice goes into it," Tekotte said. In fact, on practice days, it's not unusual for the team to start early work in the batting cages around 1:30 and not finish practice until 6 PM.
On March 1st of his freshman year, Tekotte had a chance to play against the Florida Marlins in the major league club's first exhibition game of the spring. Blake had a chance to interact with major leaguers for a couple hours around the batting cage. His day improved even more during the game when he turned on a 1-2 inside fastball from Taylor Tankersley and hit it over the right field fence for a home run. Blake said about the day: "It was fun to interact with them. It was a great experience; it allows you to know what it takes to play every day at that level."
Overall, Tekotte turned in a solid freshman year, hitting .286/.367/.417 in 61 games. Most importantly, Miami advanced to the College World Series, where Blake hit .286. He was instrumental in helping Miami to the Series: he hit .444 (4-9) in regional play, and .500 (4-8) in the super-regional games.
After the season, Blake headed to Virginia to join the Woodstock River Bandits. He connected with the Valley League through Coach DiMare, who tries to place as many players as possible with summer leagues. He enjoyed his time in the league. "I had a great time. The guys loved the game and wanted to be there to relax and have fun. The coaches were cool; they were nice and caring guys. My host family (Kevin and Cara Lear) was awesome; I had a blast there." He still keeps in touch with the Lears.
Tekotte acquitted himself well over the summer at the plate. He finished with a line of .354/.460/.549, and showed enough potential to have Baseball America name him the #2 prospect in the league. "It was good [to make the list]," he said. "It reassured me that I can play with the best." BA was impressed with his ability, and his writeup shows it: "Tekotte...owns an intriguing all-around package of speed, power potential and defense. He makes consistant, hard contact with gap power and enough bat speed to hit occasional home runs. Tekotte plays a shallow center field but has no trouble tracking down balls over his head thanks to his plus speed and excellent instincts. He also has an above-average arm and is an intelligent baserunner."
Blake says that his favorite place to play during the summer was at Harrisonburg, because he was good friends with the Turks' shortstop, Bobby Spain (they knew each other from playing high school summer ball together). His least favorite? Covington, but only because of the long drive from Woodstock. Two of the pitchers that he found tough in the league were Enrique Garcia from Winchester (a teammate with the Hurricanes this year) and Josh Dew from Harrisonburg.
This spring, Miami has been struggling a bit, but part of that is due to the fact that the team is very young. The team has 4 freshmen, 4 sophomores, and a senior starting; the learning curve is steep for such a young team. "We're pretty young," Blake said, "But we're really talented. We had a great recruiting class; it's just tough to go out there and right off the bat learn how to play with each other. We're coming through it, though, and we'd like to make it to Omaha again." Tekotte is doing his part: at the time of this writing, he is hitting .324/.430/.380.
Tekotte's immediate goal is to make it back to Omaha. Personal goals include having a good at-bat every time up, and eventually to play in the major leagues. Blake will not continue his development in the Valley League next summer; he has a new gig with the Brewster Whitecaps in the Cape Cod League.
It's a strange road from Columbia, Missouri, to Miami, Florida, to Woodstock, Virginia, but Tekotte has proven that he can succeed wherever he might play.