DAYTON — Jerry Blevins didn’t exactly look like someone with major-league potential after joining the University of Dayton as a nonscholarship player and regularly putting batters in danger because of his lack of control.
“He was a tall, gangly walk-on,” UD baseball coach Tony Vittorio said of the 6-foot-6, 181-pound Tennessean. “He couldn’t find the (strike) zone for two years in the program. It was frustrating for us and frustrating to him. But something clicked between his sophomore and junior years.”
Blevins came from a small-town high school — just 39 in his graduating class — and needed some time to get acclimated to college.
“I always had a good arm. I just never really had the competition level, so I could get by with throwing hard,” he said. “I never really had to refine myself into a pitcher, I was just a thrower. When I got to college, it was a reality check.”
With the help of pitching coach Todd Linklater, Blevins worked on his mechanics and mental approach. The lefty struck out 70 batters in 73 2/3 innings as a junior in 2004 and was taken in the 17th round of the major-league draft.
“I realized going into my junior year you just have to have fun with it and think positive,” he said.
Blevins has spent parts of the past three years with the Oakland A’s, recording a 4.84 ERA last season with 23 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings. His former UD teammate, Craig Stammen, made his debut with the Washington Nationals this year, going 4-7 with 5.11 ERA in 19 starts.
Though both are toiling now in the big leagues, they haven’t forgotten their roots. They’re regulars at the UD baseball team’s annual golf outing, and they gladly accepted an invitation from Vittorio to address the current squad before its season last spring.
“I just talked to them about team pride and wearing the UD (logo) and how much that meant to us — especially me, not being able to come back for my senior year. I definitely missed it,” Blevins said.
“I just told them to go out and win (the Atlantic 10). I told them if they won the tournament, I was going to buy them a flatscreen TV for the clubhouse. I was trying to give them a little incentive.”
The Flyers fell short in their quest to win the A-10 tourney and capture an automatic NCAA tournament bid, but they did claim their first regular-season league crown.
The players will receive their championship rings at the team’s golf outing today, Oct. 9, with Blevins and Stammen in attendance.
Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2125 or at dharris@DaytonDailyNews.com.