During the 2018 Major League Baseball offseason, former Jackrabbit, Blake Treinen was named the starting closer for the Oakland Athletics.
It wasn’t an easy road to the majors for Treinen.
His collegiate baseball experience prior to South Dakota State University was on the junior varsity NAIA squad for Baker University in Kansas. He then went to the University of Arkansas but never played a game in a Razorback uniform.
While at Arkansas, Treinen started to look elsewhere for a place to showcase his talents and had two requirements; a Division I baseball program and a landscape architecture major.
Treinen is a rare case of a baseball player making stops at three different colleges.
“I guess I didn’t think much about it in the moment, but looking back I guess talking to teammates and people they seemed amazed that I stuck out to pursue baseball,” Treinen said. “That’s all I ever knew I wanted to do was play baseball.”
It seemed like the stars aligned when SDSU had both the Division I program and a landsacape architecture major he was looking for.
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t even know South Dakota State existed. Through a friend they knew the head coach at the time, Ritchie Price,” he said. “It was kind of scary picking up and moving on for the second time in two years.”
Treinen decided to walk-on for the Jacks in the 2009 season, but was forced to sit out due to NCAA transfer rules. In the 2010 season, Treinen posted a 7-1 record with a 6.09 earned run average.
In the offseason, Treinen was selected in the 2010 MLB Draft by the Florida Marlins in the 23rd round.
“They voided my contract,” Treinen said. “The thing that prepared me the most was that Ritchie (Price) played pro baseball and ran the program like a professional program.”
The Marlins voided the contract because an MRI showed tissue issues with Treinen’s shoulder.
So, Treinen returned to Brookings for his senior year of collegiate baseball and the Jacks posted a 39-21 record and went 19-9 in Summit League play.
“When we started to win, it was fun because we were underdogs. When we were coming through, we were rocking Cottonelle T-shirts as warm ups with ironed on Jackrabbits with an Arial font printed on the front and we went out and beat Arkansas, who was sponsored,” Treinen said.
During his senior year, Treinen made some apparent strides in his level of play. He improved his earned run average to 3.00 and had a 7-1 record. Treinen made a habit of getting swings and misses, striking out 84 batters in as many innings.
During the offseason, Treinen was selected once again in the MLB Draft. In 2011, the Oakland Athletics took the senior right-handed thrower in the seventh round.
Treinen bounced around in the minors for two years until the Athletics traded the right-handed pitcher to the Washington Nationals.
It wasn’t until 2014, Treinen finally made it to his destination — the MLB.
Treinen made his debut May 6, 2014 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Clayton Kershaw, one of the best pitchers in the MLB took the mound against him.
“[My favorite memory is] probably debuting and my first start being against Clayton Kershaw and getting my first hit against Kershaw.”
In his MLB debut, Treinen pitched five innings, allowed seven hits, with two strikeouts and did not allow a run. After the game, Treinen was sent back down to the Nationals Triple-A affiliate, the Syracuse Chiefs.
In the 2014 season, Treinen appeared in 15 games, had seven starts and posted a 2.49 earned run average.
It wasn’t until the 2015 season that Treinen moved to the bullpen and became an everyday player in the majors. In Washington, Treinen made some valuable connections and friendships, including one of the best pitchers in the game — Stephen Strasburg.
“I learned a lot from (Strasburg), we were pretty good friends I would say. He’s an unbelievable talent; he would throw me some ideas and it would work,” Treinen said. “Same goes for Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark, nobody really knows that name [Roark] but he’s been huge for me. A lot of successful individuals in the bullpen helped me.”
Treinen struggled in the first half of the season in 2017 with the Washington Nationals uniform. He had a 5.37 earned run average in 37 appearances.
In the midst of his struggles, Treinen was traded back to the team that drafted him, the Oakland Athletics.
“It was bittersweet, it was kind of a nice thing to come back to a team that drafted me, but it really felt like a divorce for a lack of a better term. I came up with a team that was already successful, to be a part of it was amazing,” Treinen said of the trade. “I secretly pull for them on the side, but I am an A’s fan now. … I am excited for a new chapter, thankful for the past opportunities.”
A change of scenery could’ve been the reason Treinen flourished in his closer role the second half with the Athletics and posted a 2.13 earned run average and had 13 saves.
This season, Treinen seems poised to pick up where he left off, but the question remains to be how many opportunities he will get on an Athletics squad that doesn’t appear poised to contend for the postseason.
“We all have high expectations, we are hopeful to have a good year. You never know what’s going to happen. We are going to try to put our best foot forward, things got to fall your way too,” Treinen said.