It starts as a child. When the eyes of a young dreamer view the baseball diamond for the first time a small seed is planted into the heart. Once rooted, that seed grows into a passion and desire to play professional baseball.
For Adam Bleday, a 2013 graduate of Titusville High School, the dream of playing professional baseball became his reality this summer.
Bleday always had the desire in his heart to play baseball, but it wasn’t until he found success in college that his eyes were opened to the possibility of a pro career. The southpaw made one appearance as a freshman at the University of Virginia. He transferred to Gulf Coast Community College in 2015, and then moved to the University of Pennsylvania for his junior and senior seasons. It was at Penn when Bleday realized that something special may become of his abilities.
“Back when I first started playing in college, I thought, ‘Maybe if I keep doing well, I might get a shot,’” Bleday said. “I would say more recently, when I went to Penn, and started to get decent exposure I knew that it could happen. I’ve always had it in the back of my mind to get drafted. I was a lefty, and threw fairly hard for college. This year, it just happened to work out perfectly.”
Bleday was selected by the Houston Astros in the 27th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft on June 12. On that day, Bleday was keeping tabs on the draft tracker on the golf course, in Florida. Then, he got the call he’d been waiting for his whole life.
“In the middle of the afternoon, my agent, Carmine Giardina, called me and told me, ‘Congratulations, you’re an Astro,’” Bleday recalled. “It was definitely exciting but also a relief.”
Following a three-day period in West Palm Beach, Fla., where Bleday signed his professional contract among other formalities at the spring training home of the Houston Astros, he headed for the first stop of his career: Greeneville, Tenn.
Located 50 miles southwest of Johnson City, Greeneville has a population of about 15,000, according to a 2016 census poll, was the home of the 17th U.S. president, Andrew Johnson, and is the current home of the Houston Astros’ Appalachian League affiliate — the Greeneville Astros.
“I had never heard of Greeneville, Tenn., or the Appalachian League,” Bleday said. “It was a very small town, and it honestly reminded me a lot of Titusville.”
During the first two weeks of the season, Bleday faced some adversity, both on and off the field. On the mound, Bleday surrendered 10 runs in his first four appearances, while adjusting to less than ideal living conditions, new teammates, and a town he had never been in before.
“Our living conditions weren’t great as they put us up in a hotel,” Bleday said. “You learn to manage and cope. If you can learn to play under those circumstances, you can develop into a good player. It was definitely eye-opening, because I hadn’t pitched for about a month. I was trying to get my mechanics back, and trying to get my timing back with my delivery. It was tough having to deal with getting hit around a lot. The beauty of baseball is that there are plenty of opportunities. I just had to hang in there, and believe in my ability.”
After experiencing those initial struggles, Bleday started to overcome the adversity, and picked up his first professional win on July 4. A few weeks later, he began a five-game stretch from July 15 to Aug. 8 in which the southpaw did not allow an earned run, while striking out 30 hitters in 22 1/3 innings.
It is safe to say that Bleday had settled into his new job.
“It felt good to get my first win, even though I didn’t know I even got it,” Bleday said. “That’s when I started to carry momentum over into my next start or relief appearance.”
Following his stretch of five-straight scoreless appearance, Bleday earned his first promotion of his career. On Aug. 9, the Titusville alumnus was moved up to the Tri-City ValleyCats, of the New York-Penn League.
“Getting my first promotion was pretty sweet,” Bleday said. “I had a feeling I was getting called up. [Manager Danny Ortega] called me into his office and told me. It was definitely reassuring for me.”
Based in Troy, N.Y., the ValleyCats play in a suburb of the state capital, Albany. Bleday and his teammates saw much larger crowds than those of Greeneville; about 4,000-4,500 per game. Bleday finished out his first season with the ValleyCats, going 1-1 with 15 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings pitched.
“Pitching in front of the crowds of Tri-City was awesome,” Bleday said. “Before the games, my teammates and I had a ping-pong table set up in the locker room that we played on. Our clubhouse manager had rankings of us made, for fun, and it was fun being around the guys and getting to know them.”
Across both levels, he compiled a 2-2 record, with a 3.40 ERA and 50 punch outs in 45 innings pitched. Bleday credits his success to his pitching coaches at both levels: Erick Abreu in Greeneville and Bill Murphy in Tri-City.
“I really liked both of my pitching coaches this summer,” Bleday said. “Those guys really helped me with my pitches. They are down-to-Earth guys, and I could talk to them as my friends. It was comforting to know they had my back, and were here to help me get better.”
Abreu and Murphy helped Bleday work on his mechanics throughout the season and to gain confidence in his off-speed pitches.
“They mainly changed the repeatability of my delivery,” Bleday said. “It helped me pitch to the strike zone and attack it. My approach has always been to be aggressive, and attack the hitters. Changing mechanics made it easier. I also developed a decent changeup this summer which was a huge pitch for me, and I threw my curveball a lot more.”
Not every professional athlete has the ability to be coachable and correctly apply the suggested changes to their craft. Bleday was well aware that heeding the advice of his coaches would help him on the mound, and be good for his status in the organization.
“Being coachable is very important because if you’re not going to listen and do what they ask of you, there’s no telling how your career may go,” Bleday said. “You’re going to be a successful baseball player if you are teachable, and the club will value you more as a prospect if you go along with the organization’s philosophy.”
The 2017 season was undoubtedly a successful one for Bleday. Getting drafted, notching his first professional win, and earning his first promotion are all achievements accomplished by the southpaw in his first season. Looking ahead to 2018, Bleday is focused on continuing to move up the ladder toward the Major Leagues.
“My goal is to put on some weight and get back into shape during the offseason,” he said. “I want to gain some velocity on my fastball, and to keep developing my changeup and curveball.”
Borland can be reached by email, at email@example.com.