It’s almost like something out of a movie.
Small town boy grows up playing baseball. Graduates high school and thinks his involvement with the sport is over. Heads to a major university to study.
Decides to try out for the baseball team as a walk-on, and lo and behold, he makes the team.
For Mariposa’s Blake Atkins, that’s exactly what has happened.
Atkins graduated from Mariposa County High School last summer and headed to the University of California, Berkeley, just a few hours from Mariposa .
He had an itching to continue to play the sport he loves, so sure enough, he tried out and claimed one of the final spots on the roster.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Atkins said in the understatement of the century. “It’s hard to believe. I’d always wanted to try playing at the college level, but I didn’t want it to influence my choice of education. So I put education first and then decided to see what would happen (regarding baseball).”
Atkins emailed the coaching staff at UC Berkeley during the summer and put together a highlight video for the staff. Perhaps to his surprise, the coaches responded and told Atkins to attend to the walk-on tryout, which was just a one day opportunity for Atkins to show his stuff.
Atkins tried out at the shortstop, second base and catcher’s positions. The coaches told him they were looking at a middle infielder who also had experience as a catcher —which is right up Atkins’ alley.
Atkins was a strong infielder, catcher and pitcher for MCHS. He was voted the Gazette’s Best All-Around Athlete for the 2017-18 school year and was an All-Southern League selection following the baseball season.
“I was getting nervous (at the tryout),” Atkins admitted. “Everyone was getting cut. I got an email following it to come meet them in the coaching office.”
“They offered me a spot,” Atkins said. “I think they liked my defensive play the most, honestly. I’ve always been solid on defense and I think they saw potential in my hitting also. I can also use some extra pointers in my hitting. But I think they saw solid defense, and I could play multiple positions.”
Atkins will, at a minimum, play with the Bears’ fall preseason team, in hopes of landing a spot on the spring regular season team.
But for now, he’s been issued training gear, practice jerseys and his own locker.
“They’re going to see how I do,” Atkins said. “If I perform well enough, I’ll be on the spring for sure. … They haven’t really explained the details of what’s happening, but I’m practicing with the guys right now,”
After a short time of being with the team, Atkins is already noticing major differences between the college level and the level of play he saw in the Southern League in high school.
“The speed is a lot faster. Everyone is at a high level,” Atkins said. “There’s not just a couple great players. They’re all great. You’re surrounded by a lot higher competition. It’s still shocking to me right now.”
There are a few players on the roster who have been drafted into professional baseball, in fact. One is Darren Baker, the son of Dusty Baker, who is one of the most recognizable personalities in Major League Baseball after a 19-year playing career and successful run as a MLB manager.
Whether he sticks around as a member of the spring team or not, it’s an opportunity and an experience Atkins will never forget.
For more on the UC Berkeley baseball program, visit calbears.com/index.aspx?path=baseball.