12/07/2015 10:39 AM -
Whiting, Ind. – December 7, 2015 – During the team’s five-year history, there is a select group of college baseball players who have been announced as a member of the Northwest Indiana Oilmen but, for one reason or another, never put on an Oilmen uniform.
Injuries are the most common cause of the player not following through on the plans to play for Northwest Indiana’s Midwest Collegiate League club, instead leaving the player’s name to fall into Oilmen obscurity.
Central Michigan (Division I) catcher Blake Cleveland, however, joins an elite class of one. After being introduced as a new Oilman for the 2015 season, Cleveland was unable to play due to a torn labrum that occurred while diving headfirst into second base. He redshirted a year ago and spent the summer at Central Michigan returning to 100 percent health.
The now-healthy Cleveland has again been added to the Oilmen roster, this time for the 2016 campaign.
“A lot of my teammates have played with the Oilmen in the past,” Cleveland said. “I talked to one of my past teammates, and he said it was a great experience with good guys and great coaches. I look forward to being there and learning.”
According to Central Michigan coach Steve Jaksa, Cleveland’s progress from a health standpoint has been steady. He played without limitation during the fall season.
“He’s put himself in the mix; he’s done a really nice job,” Jaksa said. “He has good leadership qualities, and he’s starting to figure out how to utilize them. It was good to see him perform as a Division I athlete during the fall. We basically hadn’t seen him before because of the injury.”
Cleveland lists his defensive ability as his strongest attribute on the baseball diamond. He’s confident in his abilities behind the dish.
“Receiving, throwing and blocking are probably the best parts of my game,” he said. “I need to continue to work on my hitting, which like anything else, comes and goes. You have your ups and downs. At times, I have to step back and realize baseball is a game of failure. I have to just have fun and work at it.”
While a season-costing injury is never ideal for a competitive athlete, Cleveland reaped the benefits of watching from the dugout during his rookie campaign. He made the most of the opportunity to learn the college ropes without being immediately thrust into the fire for the Chippewas.
“It’s not good to have an injury, but it was a great learning experience,” Cleveland said. “I was able to sit back and watch my teammates through the process throughout the year. I learned from the bench, which was a great opportunity. I’m better for it now.”
The Northwood High School graduate and Nappanee, Indiana native looked on as his team finished 35-22, 20-7 in the MAC. During his return to game action this fall, he drove in a run to help the Maroon team to a 3-0 victory over the White team in the seventh and final game of Central’s Michigan’s Fall World Series.
Now, with four years of eligibility still remaining, Cleveland hopes this spring marks the start of a college career cluttered with individual and team success.
As with many members of the Oilmen, the game of baseball has deep family roots. Cleveland and his brother Tanner both played at Northwood High School, where their father is an assistant coach.
“My dad coached me from T-ball on,” Cleveland said. “Luckily enough, I got to deal with him in high school also. I know he’s in my corner and he’s my biggest fan. He’s going to push me the most to get better.”