Blake Townsend has been with the Seattle Mariners organisation since June 2018.
While he hasn’t made his way into the higher ranks of Minor League baseball, the left-handed pitcher continues to compete in the Arizona League for the AZL Mariners.
“Professional baseball is something that I’ve always wanted to participate in since I was younger,” Townsend told The Inner Sanctum.
“So it was very exciting [to sign a contract], very overwhelming as well.”
Hailing from Traralgon, a town two hours east of Melbourne, it was always a hard slog for Townsend to attend baseball training and games, which makes his path to playing in the USA all the more sweeter.
The Traralgon Redsox pitcher became the first Gippsland teenager in history to sign a Major League Baseball contract and had plenty of people in the room for the historic moment, including his most influential supporters; his parents.
“My parents, they helped me get to where I am now,” Townsend said.
“I live a few hours out of Melbourne and a lot of the trainings growing up were in Melbourne so they sacrificed a lot of time, a lot of money to get me to baseball, getting me to games, getting me to training.
“So I think they’re definitely the most influential and they definitely helped the most. As well, I’ve had plenty of coaches over the few years that I’ve been playing that have really helped open pathways and open windows for me.”
Townsend says his recovery from an injury throughout last year that required Tommy John surgery has only increased his desire to get back onto the diamond and prove he’s stronger for it.
“It was super tough,” he explained.
“I was in a different situation to a lot of people [last year], I was actually halfway through my rehab. I had surgery in August 2019 so being halfway through my recovery and having to come home was pretty tough.
“Being [in the US], it’s great with all the facilities we have and being able to use a lot of equipment we just don’t have back home or that wasn’t available to me so it was pretty tough. And it was a really tough 12 months being home.
“Obviously great to be home but really tough trying to complete my rehab but I was lucky I had a really good group around me and some really helpful outlets I could go to.”
The Arizona League Opening Day has been announced to begin on June 28. Townsend is now on the mend and ready for to get some game time after completing a full 2021 Minor League Baseball Spring Training.
He says his body is is feeling good as he looks to get back into competitive baseball, being able to participate in some games for the Mariners at Spring Training helping his cause.
“I’m feeling great at the moment… my body is cooperating with me which is great,” Townsend said.
“I was actually talking a to a few coaches earlier on and they were saying that they are yet to see me throw, so I’m super excited to get out there now that I’m healthy and be able to show what I’ve got.
“I’m feeling strong and ready to go. [I’m] pretty happy with my results and I am looking forward to continuing to keep pitching.”
The impacts of COVID-19 weren’t too detrimental to Townsend, as he was happy in getting to play baseball everyday still and was well looked after.
One of the impacts he felt was the Seattle Mariners ending their affiliation with their Low-A side, the West Virginia Power.
“We got rid of them (the West Virginia Power) this year and it’s gonna make for some interesting changes I think,” Townsend said.
“It’s gonna change the way we manage our team a little bit as well.”
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Townsend is pleased with the level of coaching he’s been receiving from the Seattle Mariners staff, but also describes that personal accountability is important towards an individual’s success.
“Over here, everybody knows that this is their career and it’s really up to them to put in the work,” he said.
“You’ll find that coaches are more relaxed but it’s not because they’re not putting in any effort or anything, it’s just because they know if you want to succeed, you’ll put in the effort.
“But they’re just wealth’s of knowledge. They know everything. They’re great resources to learn off of so it’s been really good being able to work with some great coaches.”
Before signing with the Mariners, Townsend spent many years toiling away in the Victorian state team and began playing for the Melbourne Aces in the Australian Baseball League as a 16-year-old.
At the 2018 and 2019 Under 18 Australian Youth Championships, where Victoria finished third and first respectively, Townsend was the best pitcher and was awarded the Golden Arm at each tournament.
“I mean, it was really awesome,” he reflected.
“There was a bunch of great kids at those tournaments and it was pretty cool to go head-to-head with them and come away with a trophy.”
Townsend believes that after receiving the Golden Arm award in 2018, it forced him to back it up the following year and try and prove to the Mariners that they had made the right choice.
“I think it definitely helped, almost put a chip on my shoulder, especially for the next year,” he said.
“It’s sort of wanting to prove that I was good enough to be where I was and good enough to get the accolades and eventually sign a contract. I think it was definitely nothing but beneficial and probably humbling as well.”
Townsend has also gone on to represent his country at various World Cups – the 2016 Under 15 World Cup in Japan and the 2019 Under 18 World Cup in South Korea.
Being taught by former players that had made it to the highest level at these prestigious tournaments was a dream for Townsend, and something he still holds dear to his baseball career.
“It was really awesome being put in touch with guys like Graeme Lloyd who is one of the Australian greats in baseball and getting to work with him,” Townsend said.
“Even now, still being able to talk to him, it’s an awesome experience being able to be taught by guys like him.
“If anything, making those teams has just made me hungrier to make Australian men’s teams in the future and continuing to compete on the national level.”
Townsend was able to see and tour the Seattle Mariners facilities a few months before signing when he was invited to travel to Arizona in April 2018 with the Under 18 Australian team.
There, he and his teammates were able to learn from those already in the system as well as play against extended MLB Spring Training sides.
“I was lucky enough to get to experience, get to see the Mariners complex and see what the Mariners had to offer when I got to come over for that trip,” Townsend said.
“We were lucky, we got to play a few games against a few of the extended Spring Training teams and we put up pretty good fights.”
He believes that by the touring side putting up good showings against teams in the Major League system, it confirms that Australians can perform well and have a place on the big stage.
“If anything I think it really helped show that Aussie guys can compete with some of the professional baseball players over here,” Townsend said.
“So I think it was pretty cool to be able to see we can go toe-to-toe with baseball’s next generation.”
Townsend has big dreams to make it to the Majors, but at this point in time, recovering and coming back from his injury is important, not wanting any further setbacks in the near future.
“Long-term is obviously try to make the Big Leagues,” he said.
“Like, I’d love to be able to pitch, whether it’s in Seattle or wherever it is, I just want to make the Big Leagues and make the family proud.
“Short-term goals, I’d love to stay healthy.
“I’ve put a fairly big focus on staying healthy this year and it’s sorta my first full year, if I can stay healthy. As long as I can stay healthy and can pitch somewhere, I’ll be more than happy.”
The left-hander credits Lewis Thorpe from the Minnesota Twins and Liam Hendriks from the Chicago White Sox as part of his motivation at the moment.
Seeing Australians, namely pitchers like himself, currently dominating at the top level is a feat he believes more Aussies can achieve as the years go by to add to the already 35 Aussie natives to have made MLB debuts.
“It’s really encouraging to me,” Townsend explained.
“In Australia, we sort of know that it’s possible but it’s hard to really see it being attainable…not everyone gets the chance.
“So it is almost a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel, knowing it is possible for an Aussie kid to make the Big Leagues and succeed… [it’s] super encouraging to see them.
“Australian baseball, it’s such a close community and it would be really nice, not only for me, but for the Australian baseball community to get more Aussies in the Big Leagues.”
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