Blackburn describes ‘unreal’ ASG experience

July 21st, 2022

This story was excerpted from Martín Gallegos' A's Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

LOS ANGELES -- The nerves had already kicked in for Paul Blackburn when he jogged out of the American League bullpen to pitch the fourth inning of Tuesday night’s All-Star Game. Once he saw a legend step into the box, that feeling was amplified.

After a Trea Turner popout was followed by Willson Contreras reaching base on an error, Blackburn took a quick moment to pause and regroup. While that was going on, legendary Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols was announced as a pinch-hitter.

Playing in what was his 11th and final Midsummer Classic, the future Hall of Famer soaked in the adoration from the raucous Dodger Stadium crowd on his way to the plate. Once he settled in, Pujols was ready to battle.

Blackburn was up for the challenge. The A’s righty threw him nothing but sinkers, and on the sixth one, Pujols struck it well at 99 mph off the bat. For a split second, fans roared in anticipation of one last All-Star homer for the 42-year-old. The ball carried well but died out in deep left field for a flyout near the warning track.

For Blackburn, getting to face Pujols highlighted a strong All-Star debut that saw him toss a scoreless inning on 22 pitches, capped by a swinging strikeout of Giants slugger Joc Pederson.

“It was cool,” Blackburn said. “I just fed him heaters. Just so much respect for him around the game, the things he’s done. They call him 'The Machine' for a reason.”

Pujols wasn’t the only legend Blackburn was eager to see.

Growing up in Oakley, Calif., Blackburn was a huge San Francisco Giants fan. Some of his earliest memories of watching baseball come from the early 2000s Giants clubs that were managed by Dusty Baker.

Not only was Blackburn managed by Baker in the All-Star Game, he also got a chance to fly to Los Angeles for the All-Star festivities on the same flight as his AL skipper.

With the A’s closing out a series in Houston just before the All-Star break, Blackburn already had arrangements to fly into Los Angeles as Oakland’s lone All-Star representative. In a kind gesture from the Astros organization, Blackburn was offered a spot on the team charter to fly in with Baker and the rest of Houston’s All-Star players and coaches.

“They asked if I wanted to fly with them and I said yeah. If Dusty would allow that, of course,” Blackburn said. “It’s awesome. It just kind of shows that baseball is a brotherhood. Everyone here respects each other and tries to help each other out. I’m greatly appreciative for them letting me kind of tag along over here.”

How much did Blackburn actually talk to Baker on the 3 1/2-hour flight?

“I went up to introduce myself on the plane and he was sleeping,” Blackburn said with a laugh. “I went up to him in the [hotel] lobby [Sunday]. I had to make sure that I thanked him and introduced myself. Being from the Bay Area, I have a lot of memories from him and just wanted to thank him for that and everything he’s done for this game.”

From showing off a snazzy green fit on the All-Star Red Carpet to mingling with the game’s elite players over two days, ending with a strong contribution to a victory for the AL in front of a large group of about 20 friends and family members, it doesn’t get much better than Blackburn’s All-Star introduction.

“Just an unreal experience,” Blackburn said. “They put on a real good show and treated us really well. Just unbelievable.”