August 16, 2023

After Culminating Stellar Career for Columbia Baseball Former Hun Standout Blake Playing in Angels System

STEPPING UP: Andy Blake makes a play in the infield this past spring for the Columbia University baseball team. Star shortstop Blake, a former Hun School standout, was named the 2023 Ivy League Player of the Year and recently signed a minor deal with the Los Angeles Angels signed as an undrafted free agent. He has started his pro career by playing for the Angels squad in the Arizona Complex League. (Photo by Mike McLaughlin / Columbia University Athletics)

By Justin Feil

Andy Blake has spent his baseball career proving himself, and now he is trying to make the most of his chance at the highest level. Upon graduating from Hopewell Valley High, he took a post-graduate year at the Hun School in 2018-19 that helped him to land at Columbia University. After getting named the Ivy League Player of the Year this past spring at Columbia in his final season with the Lions, Blake had his car packed to head to Duke for his final two years of college eligibility when the Los Angeles Angels signed him away to a minor league deal as an undrafted free agent.

“It’s a total dream come true,” said Blake from the Arizona Complex League, a rookie-level Minor League Baseball league that operates in and around Phoenix. “As a kid growing up, every young kid’s dream is to play pro ball for an MLB organization. So when the Angels gave me a call, I was head-over-heels happy, just so ready to get out here and get to work. It’s been a dream come true. I’m just ready to keep going and keep working hard. Hopefully everything goes well and I play well, and I’m excited to see what the future holds.”

It hasn’t taken Blake long to prove himself at the Angels’ rookie league level. After going 0 for 4 in his pro debut, he hit safely in the five games to raise his batting average to .318. His first home run and run batted in came in just his third game.

“As of now, it’s lived up to every expectation that I had,” said Blake. “It’s been a great time out here working and playing for the Angels.”

Blake’s hot start in Arizona got him promoted in early August to the Tri-City Dust Devils, who are based in Pasco, Wash., and play in the Northwest League, a High-A affiliate of the Angels. So far, he is hitting .200 with one RBI in three games for the Dust Devils.

Just over four years ago, Blake was finishing up his high school career at Hun. An extra year of seasoning under coaches Tom Monfiletto and Steve Garrison helped attract Columbia to Blake and propel his career.

“I think that was the greatest decision I made was to go to Hun for a fifth year,” said Blake. “Coach Mono and coach Garrison and the staff at Hun are amazing. They helped me so much to get where I’m at today. Without their help, I don’t think I’d be here. Getting that fifth year was huge for me.”

Blake got to play only two seasons at Columbia due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but his two years were impactful. Blake helped Columbia win the 2022 Ivy League championship, the Lions’ first since 2018. This year, star shortstop Blake was honored as the Ivy Player of the Year after a record-setting season. He set the Columbia program with 75 hits, one of seven offensive categories in which he led all Ivy players. He reached base in all 43 of Columbia’s games this season, and put together 20 multiple-hit games as he hit a team-high .366.

“What’s going to carry on is the legacy you leave at your school and the championships,” said the 6’4, 200-pound Blake.

“We won an Ivy League in one of the two years that I was there. Especially this year being Ivy Player of the Year was super cool. I was just happy I was able to help my team in every way that I could. I’m glad everyone recognized it. It’s a super cool honor and something no one can take away from me at the end of the day. Being Ivy Player of the Year was a really cool honor for me. I’m super excited to come out here and do what I did in the Ivy League basically and play my game, and play the best I can to help my team win and try to help my teammates grow as well as them help me grow.”

It was the 11th hour when Blake decided to start his professional career to cap a busy month. After graduating from Columbia in mid-May as a political science and statistics major, he stayed in the game by heading north to play in the prestigious Cape Cod League.

“Coach (Kelly) Nicholson gave me the opportunity in Orleans to go up there and play with the best players in country,” said Blake. “Cape Cod is a dream for every kid also along with playing pro ball, to go up there and play with the best and I got the opportunity to play there. I played when the season ended, I went up to the Cape. I played 15 or so games.”

Blake left to prepare for the draft that was held July 9-11. He also packed his car to be ready to head to Duke the day after the draft to start in Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. He was prepared to go to Durham when the Angels made him an offer, then upped the offer later in the day.

“It was the next morning I was going to get up and go,” said Blake. “It was interesting. After I signed, I unpacked the car, and I had a few days to get ready to fly out here to Arizona. It was close, which was so funny.”

Blake had had a number in mind to sign, and the Angels hit it. That was enough to persuade Blake that he should turn pro.

“I couldn’t really turn it down even though it was a tough decision,” said Blake. “I might only get this opportunity once in my life because you never know what could happen. The opportunity came and I had to jump on it, I had to accept. I was super excited to get down to Duke, but at the same time every kid’s dream is to play pro ball and I got the opportunity in front of me to sign and play pro ball.”

The signing put Blake in a familiar situation. He is preparing to prove that he can play at this level despite not being drafted, just as he wanted to prove how prepared he was for the college level by taking a post-graduate year, or prove that he was among the best players in Columbia history, or show that he could contribute in the Cape Cod League. His attitude through each challenge has been the same.

“I always have a chip on my shoulder,” said Blake. “I grew up with a chip on my shoulder. I always feel I have to go out there and prove myself and prove my worth. I think that’s a good thing for me. I like being the underdog to go out there and turn some people’s heads. I have a chip on my shoulder that I want to be the best. I’m going to go try to turn some heads and prove why I should have been drafted. At the end the day, that’s in the past. I wasn’t drafted but I’ll go out with a chip on my shoulder and show them they got the right guy and all I need is an opportunity.”

Despite a number of successful products, there seem to always be questions about the level of competition faced by players coming out of the Ivy League. Blake doesn’t put any stock in those doubts.

“It doesn’t matter where you came from,” said Blake. “It doesn’t matter if you came from high school, or a big SEC school. If you can play baseball, you can play baseball. There are good baseball players all over the place, and especially in the Ivy League. The Ivy League has had some great players come out of there and play well in pro ball. I’m just hoping to add to that list.”

Blake had to wait just over a week to get his first chance at the pro level. The Angels put their rookie league players up in apartments and spent a few days evaluating every player to see what they had. Days were long with the Angels picking their players up in the morning as early as 8 a.m. and holding workouts and meetings until 7 p.m.

“It’s been long days, but I love it,” said Blake. “I think it’s great. I love baseball, so being around it so much is just awesome for me. Hours wise, it’s pretty long, but I don’t dislike any of it because it’s what I love to do. The time flies while I’m here and at the field.”

Blake’s first chances to prove himself have not come at shortstop where he grew up playing and excelled at Columbia. He has been slotted at third base for his first game action, and that’s gotten his bat into the lineup. It’s early, but Blake feels good about his chance to play at this level.

“Everybody is talented,” said Blake. “I have confidence in myself that I could go out there and play with anybody. It doesn’t matter where someone was drafted, or since I was a non-drafted free agent signing, I feel like I could go out there and play with anybody. It’s a confidence thing. If I didn’t have the confidence, I don’t think I’d be in the right mindset. I think I can play with anybody. I can go out there and just compete. You might not have the most talent or whatever, but if you work hard, good things happen. I’m excited to go out there and show what I could do.”

Blake feels good about the skill set and attitude that he brings to the Angels. His top traits have served him well at every level, and he anticipates leaning on them again to impress Los Angeles.

“My baseball IQ is very high; I just go out there and think about what’s going to happen next and think about the game and how I can help win,” said Blake. “My hitting ability is really good. I’ve had good statistics at Columbia and I’ve faced great pitchers. I’m trying to carry that into the pro season and see the ball well and put a good swing on the ball. Hitting, you can’t really control where the ball goes, but if you hit the ball hard, good things happen. I just have to go out there and play good defense like I always have. It’s the same game at the end of the day. It’s a kids’ game. I’ve been playing it since I was 4 years old. It’s the game. Maybe it’s a little faster. I’m good at adjusting and I’ll adjust to it hopefully pretty quickly. I’ll try hard and play at 100 percent of my effort and play like every day could be my last day, so I’ll give everything I have.”

The Angels have assured all their rookies that it doesn’t matter where they were selected, everyone will get a chance and all have equal opportunity to prove themselves. The organization emphasized that it is looking for players that will help it win. Blake has been a contributor for winners at every level, and sees this chance no differently.

“I just have go out and play my game and play the best I can, and show that I can belong and I’m good and I can do what maybe other people can’t do,” said Blake. “I have to play my game and play good and be loose and relaxed and have fun. With the opportunity I got, the way I’m looking at it is I have nothing to lose. If I go out there and don’t play tense and play relaxed and have fun, that’s the best way I can play. If you play tense and stuff builds up on you, that’s not the way I look at it. Even if I was drafted first round, it’s just an opportunity. You still have to go out there and play.”

Blake feels ready for his opportunity with the Angels. He’s been dreaming of a professional chance for as long as he has been playing, and now that it is finally here he is ready to show he deserves it.

“I can’t control the results,” said Blake. “But I can control my attitude and how hard I play. Hopefully they’ll see that. I’m super excited to give everything I have.”