Traralgon teen joins Seattle Mariners

Seventeen-year-old Traralgon baseballer Blake Townsend has signed with major league baseball team the Seattle Mariners. photographs kate withers
Seventeen-year-old Traralgon baseballer Blake Townsend has signed with major league baseball team the Seattle Mariners. photographs kate withers

Traralgon's Blake Townsend has become the first Gippsland teenager in history to sign a Major League Baseball contract.

The Traralgon Redsox pitcher put pen to paper in front of family, friends and Traralgon clubmates last night and will now call the Seattle Mariners home.

Just 17, Townsend rocketed onto the radar of Major League scouts earlier this year when he took out the golden arm award at January's Australian Youth Championships.

The wunderkind pitched at an earned run average of 0.00 and recorded 22 strikeouts to seal the approval of Mariners recruiters.

"It's been a wild ride over the past few months with a lot of emails and phone conversations back and forth, but it's been worth it to get this outcome," Townsend said.

Seattle Mariners scout Tim Ballard was on hand at the Traralgon Bowls Club for the landmark signing and said the decision to target Townsend was a "no-brainer".

"Blake first came onto my radar about three years ago when I was coaching at the Melbourne Aces winter academy," Ballard said.

"The obvious thing is that because he's left-handed, and a six-foot-four pitcher at 16 throwing mid to high 80's [miles per hour] ... is pretty much a slam dunk.

"As a coach you can always see who's doing the work when they're not around, and it was obvious that Blake was putting in a lot of work.

"Luckily my head boss came down for the national championships and it was the first time anyone from head office has been to Australia in five years, and it just so happened that Blake threw extremely well."

In addition to his physical prowess, Ballard said a major factor in sealing the deal for Townsend was how he conducted himself behind the scenes.

"I had a chance to work with Blake at the academy and the ability was noticeable right away for me, but also the ability to listen and take on board advice," Ballard said.

"Blake has done well every step of the way but one of the other big things we look at are character traits ... seeing how he interacts with his teammates, his family ... he's a fantastic person."

Ballard admitted the rigors and pressure of Major League Baseball often got the better of young recruits but was adamant Townsend had the mettle to make it all the way.

"What we envision for Blake is to play in the big league ... some players come over and give it away within 18 months because they underestimate the challenge and commitment," he said.

"I feel completely positive that Blake is going to handle it well ... I truly envision Blake at some stage, with complete work and effort, that he'll make the big leagues."

From humble beginnings as a bright-eyed 10-year-old in his debut season for the Traralgon Redsox, mum Nicki said she had no idea her son would reach such great heights.

"I think people have seen a lot more in Blake over the years than what we envisioned would happen," she said.

"It's still mind blowing ... we'll miss him like crazy but we're just so proud."

Townsend will fly to the United States on Sunday where he will undergo a week of mental and physical examinations in Phoenix, Arizona before heading back in July to compete in a series of rookie games.

With year 11 on the cards this year, he will complete a large portion of his year 12 studies next year via a long distance learning program while throwing himself into life as a Mariners' recruit.

"This means so much to me personally," Blake said.

"I know that everyone here will always be behind me no matter what and get me to where I'm really meant to be."

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