A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to talk with Los Angeles Angels start Joe Blanton over the phone. Blanton played for the Kentucky Wildcats baseball team from 2000-02, where he finished with a 13-12 record.
Daniel Solzman: Joe, thanks for joining Wildcat Blue Nation today. How are things treating you out in spring training?
Joe Blanton: They are good. Just another spring training.
Daniel Solzman: What was it like playing at Kentucky for Coach Keith Madison and what is the best piece of advice that he offered you that still sticks with you today?
Joe Blanton: A lot of good memories from playing in college. I had a great time going to Kentucky. I grew up a Kentucky fan and was fortunate enough to be able to play there so that was great playing for Coach Madison. He was familiar from when I was younger. My dad and him played together in high school. We’re from the same small town so we have that close relationship. Coach Madison is a great person. I think that’s the biggest thing you can say about him. He’s a very quality individual. He’s hard to beat. I think just the first time being away from home—coming out of high school and going college—just the values he enstilled and played is the biggest thing. Just being a quality person and doing things the right way.
Daniel Solzman: The Oakland Athletics drafted you in the first round of the 2002 draft as the 24th overall pick. As a first round pick, did you feel pressured to reach the big leagues faster?
Joe Blanton: Not necessarily. I guess I was fortunate enough in 2002 when I was drafted by the A’s that they had 6 other first rounders so I wasn’t the only one. As far as the Moneyball draft, we had a lot of first rounders. That was fantastic. I got to go through that with other first rounders. Also, I was fortunate enough to be in an organization. At the big league level, they trade guys. They move guys a lot. Guys that are successful in the minor leagues—they move. You don’t stay at the same level very long. I was fortunate to perform well and move quickly. And keep taking those steps year by year until I got there.
Daniel Solzman: Did you think Brad Pitt did Billy Beane justice in the movie?
Joe Blanton: He did. I actually thought he did a pretty good job of portraying him. I really did.
Daniel Solzman: In addition to playing for the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies for the second half of the 2008 season, how did it feel to have your first major league home run come during the World Series?
Joe Blanton: That was a special moment. That was an accident! Being a pitcher and especially spending all of time in the American League, not a lot of expectation hitting just basically get in there, get the bunt down, and get back to pitching. You know, somehow, all the stars aligned that day and I was fortunate enough to do that. At the time, I was focused on pitching that I tried not to pay attention to it. Definitely a special moment—not a lot of people get to do, definitely pitchers! It was something that, when I look back on it, is a very cool moment.
Daniel Solzman: What was it like to have been in the same rotation as Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee? How would you describe Halladay as a competitor?
Joe Blanton: It was a lot of fun being in a rotation as those guys. I was fortunate enough, three out of five days of pitching, to be able to watch those guys work, how good they are—it’s just different styles. All three of those guys bring something different to the table. They are all successful. All are great competitors. On the field to play with those guys and off the field, they are unbelievable guys as well. That made it even better.
Halladay, he’s a special pitcher. That’s for sure. A lot of success for a long time. He’ll work hard. There’s no doubt about that. He’s about as competitive as it gets when he gets out there. He’s a lot of fun to watch. He digs in and when that game gets tight, he (inaudible) even more. It was a pleasure to play with those guys for a couple years.
Daniel Solzman: What was the number 1 reason that influenced you to sign with the Angels as a free agent?
Joe Blanton: Going into the offseason, I was looking mainly to be on a contending team. The Angels were a team that was interested. I obviously looked at there team from the previous year. They had a good team and had some good players. I thought they had a very good chance of going to the playoffs and winning the World Series. I want to be a part of that. That was a big factor in my decision to go there. Even after I signed, they signed Josh Hamilton—which definitely increased our chance of winning. Having special players like Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton, and Albert Pujols definitely give you a good chance of that.
Daniel Solzman: Have you and Scott Downs reminisced about your time with Kentucky during spring training?
Joe Blanton: We have a little bit. Not a whole lot but we have talked about it a little bit especially with basketball season going. We’ll always bring that up, talk about what’s going on. Talk about maybe some players here and there that crossed both of our paths. I think he was going out as I was coming in. We throw out a few names here and there.
Daniel Solzman: Do you keep up with the Kentucky baseball team at all these days? If so, any thoughts as they embark on their 2013 campaign?
Joe Blanton: I do. I try to. I try and get on the website and look and usually see how they are doing every year just to pay a little bit of attention to the success they are having. It seems like Coach Henderson is doing a great job with those guys and having them ready to play every year.
Daniel Solzman: Sticking with Kentucky, does it feel strange to hear people talking Kentucky football in January, February, and March.
Joe Blanton: I haven’t heard any talks about it this year.
Daniel Solzman: Thanks again for joining us. Any final words for Big Blue Nation?
Joe Blanton: I grew up a Cats fan and was fortunate enough to be able to go there. I’ve always been a Cats fan and always will be.