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Blackwood's Balancing Act

May 22, 2006

by Simit Shah

ATLANTA–Steven Blackwood knows a little something about delivering in clutch situations.

Over six at-bat stretch on consecutive nights in mid-April, the senior outfielder hit three home runs, two of which tied Georgia and Duke in the late innings. And that’s not even the most pressure-packed challenge he’s faced in recent weeks.

That distinction goes to a Microbial Physiology exam during finals week.

“That was the toughest final of my college career so far,” the biology major explained. “It was ten questions for four hours, and the professor gave us a stack of paper at least 20 pages thick. The questions themselves took about 30 minutes to read. It was pretty much applying all the course’s concepts.”

His coach Danny Hall has a degree in biology from Miami of Ohio, but he admits that he’s not in the same academic league as Blackwood.

“It’s way above my head,” he laughed. “I was a biology major, so I can relate somewhat, but I never took microbial physiology. He’s done it in the classroom from day one. He’s the most studious guy that we have.

“If we have practice at 3:15, most of the guys might be here at 2 maybe playing cards, watching TV or hitting a little extra. Blackwood is usually buried in a book. He’s the consummate student-athlete and deserves all the honors he’s gotten.”

Those honors include being named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District III team three years in a row, as well as the ACC Academic Honor Roll. He’s also been awarded the ACC postgraduate scholarship, which he plans to apply towards medical school.

Blackwood is hoping to follow in the footsteps of his older brother Wes, who played baseball at the University of Georgia and then went on to medical school. Wes is now a pediatric cardiologist, while Steven is leaning towards sports medicine.

On the field this season, he got off to a slow start, but the all-ACC outfielder has been key to the eighth-ranked Jackets’ late-season surge. He’s also plugged the huge hole left by centerfielder Danny Payne’s shoulder injury. Blackwood has shifted over to center and the leadoff role, filling in admirably for the team’s leading hitter.

“I don’t know what’s gotten into me,” he said of his recent power surge. “I guess I’m just trying to pick up where Danny Payne left off. Those are pretty big shoes to fill. I’m just tried to calm down my swing a little bit. I’m not even thinking about power, because I’ve never really had that throughout my career. I’ve just put some good swings together when I’ve seen good pitches.”

Blackwood finished the regular season hitting .278 with six homers and 43 RBI, and he was a critical factor in the team’s late-season flourish, as the Jackets won nine of their last 11 games. He and his teammates are now headed to the ACC Tournament in Jacksonville, where they face Miami Wednesday afternoon.

Drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 25th round last summer, Blackwood had the option to play professionally rather than return for his senior season. He weighed the pros and cons for about two weeks before deciding to return to Georgia Tech.

“I realized that this was the best opportunity I’d ever have to play baseball and go to school at the same time,” he said. “For the opportunities I’ve had to come back and be a senior leader, hopefully I can have an impact on some of the younger guys. At the same time, I hope I can develop my game a little more before pursuing a pro career.”

So far that decision has paid big dividends. Blackwood started nearly ever game this year and has played some of his best baseball late in the regular season. He’s also surpassed the 200 RBI and 200 runs scored plateaus during his collegiate career, joining Jason Varitek as the only Yellow Jacket to reach those levels.

“I didn’t even know that,” he admitted. “That’s a huge honor to be in the same category with him, a player of that caliber. I know that the was here for four years and has had a great career in the majors. Just being mentioned with him in anything is an honor.”

“It’s select company,” Hall added. “Anytime do both of those things and end up in the company of a guy like Jason Varitek, it tells you that you’ve had a great career.”

For now his focus is on the postseason. “There’s more pressure as you get to this part of the season, but I think we’re ready to step up and meet that challenge.”

Just like Blackwood did in microbial physiology. How did he fare on that final exam?

“I don’t know what I got on the exam, but I got an A in the class,” he said. “I was very happy about that. You want to prove yourself on the baseball field and in the classroom. The biggest accomplishment for me this year is a 4.0 GPA in the fall and the spring. This is the first year I’ve done that. That made the decision to come back worth it. I know I’ve made the most of it. I feel I can handle anything thrown my way.”

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