A Place Where He Belongs

By: D. Scott Fritchen

After the game, and after Blake Adams held No. 7 Texas and the Big 12 Conference’s top offense to a season-low three hits – three hits – in seven solid innings during an 8-1 series-clinching victory over the Longhorns last Friday, Kansas State head coach Pete Hughes stood in front of the Wildcats’ team huddle near the third-base line at Tointon Family Stadium.

Adams, once cold, was on fire, and yes, it was a moment, and these moments must me treasured – “There are a lot of emotional swings in baseball,” Hughes would later say – because moments in baseball are fleeting, and they can suddenly slip away like a 13-inch crappie on a warm summer morning. So honestly, nobody could’ve felt better than Adams at that moment.

He fell hard at No. 4 Texas Tech, not once, but twice, in Lubbock, Texas. He was on the mound when Texas Tech scored on a go-ahead, three-run double in the bottom of the sixth inning, which led to a 6-3 loss. He was there two days later when Texas Tech rallied to score three runs in the bottom of the ninth, as the Wildcats suffered a heart-wrenching 7-6 defeat.

And now? Adams showed his stuff. He showed his moxie. He showed his poise. And he showed his resiliency. He valiantly fought off the mighty Longhorns – one, two, three. Adams, a junior transfer from Arkansas, allowed just one hit over his first six innings of work. He retired the first six Texas batters he faced. During one stretch, he sat down 10 of 11 batters. Only once did Texas cross home plate against him.

“The week kind of flew by,” Adams said. “I was just looking forward to starting again.”

And afterward, K-State players waited. They waited in the postgame huddle after the series-clinching win over Texas. They waited to hear what Hughes had to say. Hughes could’ve said anything at that moment. Heck, K-State had just captured its third series over a top-10 opponent in the Hughes era. K-State had just put eight runs on the board against the Longhorns for a second-straight game. Then Hughes, wearing a purple helmet and a lavender hoodie, finally opened his mouth.

“The way to get back in the saddle, Blake Adams! “he shouted. Then he tossed the game ball to Adams. Then Adams caught the ball. Then teammates instantly mobbed him and roared in celebration.

It is a moment that Adams will never forget.

“Really special moment,” Adams said. “Made me feel good. It was extra confidence for sure. Especially coming off the previous weekend. Being able to get out there and get some momentum back was huge.”

Adams earned Big 12 Co-Pitcher of the Week and Co-Newcomer of the Week honors for his efforts.

In the Moneyball, Billy Beane said: “It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.” And isn’t that the truth? Here was Adams, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound right-hander from Springdale, Arkansas, the 2019 Arkansas Gatorade Player of the Year, the 2019 Wendy’s Player of the Year, the No. 1 player in the state and 65th-rated player overall by Perfect Game, who was tossed aside in Fayetteville, then picked up and restored in Manhattan. Here was a guy whose family had Arkansas season tickets since he was 5, who dreamed all his life about starring at Baum-Walker Stadium, and who instead realized his dream while throwing strikes at Tointon Family Stadium.

“My dream was Arkansas,” he said. “Arkansas was it for me.”

Except, then, it wasn’t.

“I was on top of the world, especially earning a starting spot as a freshman that opening weekend,” he said. “I just had a couple rough innings and started falling into the numbers game. Arkansas had a lot of pitchers. There were a lot of next-guy-up situations, and I just couldn’t grab myself out of it. I thought I ‘d go to Arkansas and have a lot of success. “

In two seasons, Adams made eight appearances with two starts and posted a 1-0 record with a 10.80 ERA, 11 strikeouts and nine walks. He recorded two strikeouts in three innings during his first collegiate start against Eastern Illinois on February 16, 2020. He only lasted more than two innings in four of his eight career outings.

Sometimes dreams feature an unexpected twist – like a phone call between K-State pitching coach Buck Taylor and an acquaintance after last season. The acquaintance knew all about this Adams kid who had just entered the transfer portal. He told Taylor to take a look. He told Taylor that he believed Adams would be a good fit for K-State. Next thing Adams knew, he was headed on an official visit to K-State this past July.

“It just felt right,” Adams said. “I came here and talked to Coach Hughes and felt the family atmosphere and knew it would be a great place to compete for one or two years. I needed someone who was going to trust me and have confidence in me.”

He committed to K-State three days after returning home from his visit to the Little Apple.

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Adams has a 4-4 record and 3.73 ERA (21 earned runs in 50.2 innings pitched) and leads the team with 56 strikeouts while walking 20. Six games he’s gone at least six innings, and he’s given up a total of 10 earned runs in those contests. Texas marked the longest performance of his career against a Power 5 conference school. He has two distinct breaking balls and a fastball and a change-up. He’s the 43rd-rated Big 12 Prospect in the 2022 Major League Baseball Draft Class.

“Guys come here and they’re not looking over their shoulder because we don’t recruit 30-member recruiting classes,” Hughes said. “We allow them to fail, and we believe in our evaluations, and we continue to go back to those evaluations even when kids fail. There’s a lot to be said for how kids can compete when they know their coaching staff has their backs. I think this was the perfect fit for Blake. He told me it’s the best decision he’s made in his life. “

Hughes sat a statistical report upon a long, shiny oak table in his coaches meeting room at Tointon late Tuesday night. He removed his reading glasses and gestured with them as he spoke. K-State had just finished a 3-hour, 45-minute game in an 11-3 win over Omaha – a contest in which Adams did not touch a baseball. Hughes said he would save Adams to pitch when the Wildcats, 19-17, open their three-game series against UC Irvine, 21-13, on Friday at 6 pm at Tointon.

No, Adams didn’t pitch Tuesday.

But there’s always time for Hughes to talk about Adams.

Especially after Adams’ eventful past series against No. 4 Texas Tech and No. 7 Texas.

“The game is really cruel sometimes,” Hughes said. “Sometimes you have to have that short-term memory and the best thing to do is get back at it, get in that situation, get back to the high level of competition, and start feeling good again. It takes a lot of courage to Put yourself out there to fail, but also to come back and use that in your arsenal to make you a better competitor. That’s what he did in less than a week’s time.

“There are a lot of emotional swings. That’s why college baseball is the greatest sport in the world, in my opinion, because you’ve got to win every game. There are so many swings emotionally, if you’re invested in it, and it has its ups and downs you have to deal with. “

Adams dealt with it. He took it out on the Longhorns.

“The plan was to attack, attack, attack,” Adams said.

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As for what Adams learned about himself over the past two series?

“That’s a battler,” he said. “Being able to come back and have the outing I did was eye opening because it taught me that I’m a pretty tough kid coming back from that and being able to have a good outing against the No. 7 team in the country.”

And he has the game ball to show for it.

Along with the head coach who has his back.

“You go from wanting to go to your dream school your whole life – everything happens for a reason,” Hughes said. “There’s a reason Blake’s here. It’s because this is where he belongs.”

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