Spokane is a long, long way from Mobile, Alabama. And the Northwest League – heck, pro baseball in general – is a long way from Division II Mississippi College.
Indians slugger Blaine Crim is doing everything he can to bridge the gap.
Crim, the 22-year-old first base prospect, was the Texas Rangers’ 19th-round pick in this year’s MLB draft, and all he’s done since he was assigned to Spokane on June 21 is hit.
Just like he did in college.
On Monday, a 6-5 win on the road over Boise, Crim went 2 for 5 to raise his average to .354, second in the league. He’s also in the top five in on-base and slugging percentage.
Crim’s success earned him a spot on the Northwest League all-star team. He went 3 for 4 with two RBIs and was named Top Star for the NWL squad in an 11-7 loss to the Pioneer League All-Stars on Aug. 6 in Boise.
Listed at 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, he’s not a prototypical slugger, but his stature doesn’t keep him from getting the job done.
“I think that speaks to the shortness and the quickness in the bat and that he’s strong in the lower body,” Indians manager Kenny Hook said. “So when he creates the leverage in the ground, he gets backspin.
“The pro game is continued ability to make adjustments, and he’s shown the ability to do that. That’s why the success he’s had has been sustainable.”
Crim said he appreciated the honor and really enjoyed the experience getting to better know some of the NWL stars and meeting the players from the Pioneer League – including reacquainting himself with a neighbor from Alabama.
“It is really cool to play with the best guys around the league and just kind of see what the talent was,” said Crim, “and of course play (against) some other teams and some new faces.”
The Pioneer League’s Top Star was Jeremiah Jackson of the Orem Owlz, the Los Angeles Angels’ No. 5 prospect according to MLB.com. The shortstop hit a grand slam in the game.
Crim was well aware of the 19-year-old’s talent. Jackson was a couple of years behind Crim in school, but Jackson would occasionally “play up” during travel ball.
“We keep in touch, especially of late since we’re both kind of around the same area. He’s a good kid, and a very talented player so it was cool to see him and catch up with him.”
Crim was invited to participate in the home run derby. It was another honor for him, but one he hopes he can avoid in the future.
“The guys that were at the top of the league (in home runs) got called up,” Crim joked. His four home runs ended up the most of any player on the Northwest League team.
“I’m not really a Home Run Derby guy,” he admitted. “But at least I could say I competed in one and won’t ever do it again. But it’s definitely not my swing.”
He didn’t win, but the competition ended up earning him a couple of extra at-bats in the game.
“I wasn’t supposed to play the whole game originally,” he said, “but the derby tired out the other DH.”
Crim took a simple approach to batting against the best pitchers in the Pioneer League.
“You knew the guys were going to throw you fastball at some point,” he said. “It was just about getting the barrel to it. It’s tough that we lost, but it was just a cool, cool experience.”
The only thing Crim regretted about it was missing out meeting one of the players that had been promoted – Kristian Robinson, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ No. 2 prospect, who had starred for Hillsboro.
“I definitely would have liked to pick his brain just to see what he’s like,” Crim said. “He’s tearing it up. But he deserved to be called up. Honestly, he could have been called up earlier the way he was playing.”
The Northwest League is full of high draft picks, though, so Crim got to meet a few of them while in Boise.
“Me, being a 19th rounder, it was cool just to interact with some of those guys,” he said “They don’t act any different. But you know, you’re interacting with millionaires and they’re just out here playing baseball.”
Most players say that once you put on the uniform it doesn’t matter what round they were drafted. But Crim admitted that’s not always the case.
“Yeah, it does. You know, you can have a chip on your shoulder. And then, of course, coming from Division II was an extra chip on your shoulder.
“But once you get here, it’s just about outworking everybody, and working your way up. And that’s why I was told before the draft that if I was to get the opportunity, it’s just about everybody’s equal once you get here, and you control your own destiny.”
Crim acknowledged that high-round draft picks sometimes get an extra look or two since their MLB teams have made that extra investment, but at some point it becomes a meritocracy.
“It’s tough not to think like, ‘OK, well, that guy was drafted in the first round, they of course like him more than me,’ ” he admitted. “But at the same time, if you put up the numbers then they don’t really care.
“So it’s just about working your way up through the system and just coming out every single day trying to be the hardest worker, and giving it all you’ve got. Then, if it doesn’t work out, and you gave it all you got, then it wasn’t meant to be.”
Crim has another thing meant to be: his fiancé, Katie Taylor, picked out her wedding dress last week.
“She’s a good Southern girl,” he said. “She’s a beast, a terrific athlete.”
Taylor, a soccer player, started her playing career at Division I Arkansas before injuries led her Mississippi College, where they met.
“I definitely look up to her when it comes to that kind of stuff, because she’s been through a lot,” Crim said. “So she keeps me in check, keeps me straight, doesn’t let me take anything for granted or take any days off.”
Crim said the idea of playing pro ball didn’t really hit him until Taylor came to visit a few weeks ago.
“The first few weeks of the season was tough not seeing her or my family,” he admitted.
“But then she came out here, and you know, there’s 7,000 people here for fireworks night and she’s like ‘Blaine, this is incredible. Do you realize what you’re doing?’
“That’s when it kind of sinks in. And then my buddies back home will send me a message like, ‘Hey man, just got finished filing paperwork for my job, live it up for us,’ and stuff like that.”
The couple have set a date for Nov. 28, 2020.
“It’s tough being away from her through this process, but she’s extremely supportive,” he said. “That’s why I don’t deserve her, so I asked her to marry me.”
Of course, late November in the south means college football rivalry week.
“That’s Iron Bowl. And Egg Bowl. So that’s big day in the southeast,” he said. “It’s almost like Christmas for some people. But we can make it fun. We can put the games on the big screen at the after party.”