Professional baseball is played around the world in countries such as the United States, Mexico, Australia, and South Korea. Travis Blackley is now able to say that he has had the privilege of playing in each of those countries. Blackley is currently pitching for the KIA Tigers and is enjoying his first season in the KBO.
MyKBO.net had the honor of interviewing Travis Blackley via e-mail and would like to personally thank him for taking the time out of his schedule to answer the questions below.
MyKBO: Before signing with KIA, what did you know about the KBO and Korean baseball? Does anything surprise or stand out to you about how the game is played in Korea, rules, fans, stadium atmosphere etc?
TB: I didn't know all that much about it, except what I had heard from friends that had been playing in the league over the years (Adrian Burnside, Brad Thomas Chris Oxspring, Doug Clark and Jacob Cruz). I knew it was a great league and it would be a step up from AAA. It hasn't disappointed! Surprises have been the rules, I don't agree with any of them, i.e.: the balk rules and the 12 second rule. The 3-5 warm-ups per inning. It has been hard to adjust to that! I have played in a few countries and the atmosphere in most is pretty much the same old thing, but here it is pretty amazing! Similar to Mexico but on a much bigger scale! I love a giant crowd whether I'm home or on the road!
MyKBO: In recent years, there have been a few Australian pitchers in the KBO (Brad Thomas, Chris Oxspring, Adrian Burnside), did you have a chance to talk to them about their experience in the KBO? If so, did they give you any advice or tips about living and playing baseball in Korea?
TB: I mentioned those guys in the last answer. I had a chance to speak with them and they all agreed that I would do well here if I just pitched my game with my style. They said not to get caught up in all the video of the hitters and just stick to my strengths. I have been doing that so far and it seems to be working out well. I mainly use the video on myself to eradicate anything I might be doing to tip pitches or help me stop the running game. They also let me know that I should show respect to manager and coaches as well as the older veteran players on the team.
MyKBO: How has it been fitting in with your new team and teammates? Have you had any problems with communication, translations etc?
TB: I have been fitting in well I think. I am getting along with everyone and have made some good friends. I think my relaxed and clownlike personality has helped. I am serious when it's time to work but I think I loosen the team up a bit in a stress filled environment that is the dugout during a game! I have always been a positive person, and have heard from the coaches and players that they like that quality in me. There is a bit of a difficulty with communication but the boys and pitching coach have been trying their best with the English. We have a translator, so he helps out a lot.
MyKBO: Fastball, slider, curveball, change-up, and cutter...anything else you like to throw? Are you currently working on any new pitches?
TB: I throw whatever gets outs for me on a particular day. I throw fastball, sinker, change, cutter and curve. I also throw drop down sinker and slider to lefties and occasionally on righties to give a different look. I just try to mix my pitches, speeds and locations to get as many grounders as possible. If I get a few punchies then I'm happy but I’m more inclined to induce contact rather than strike out the side.
MyKBO: What should KIA fans expect from you each time you take the mound this season?
TB: KIA fans are gonna get one no doubt consistent fact every time I take the mound, I will give 110 percent. Always have. I hate to lose. I think the reason I have been able to get a job year after year is because of my desire to win. I care about my outings and numbers go out the window as long as the team wins. I am here to help win a championship, not to compile stats. If I do my job and produce quality outings then the stats take care of themselves.
MyKBO: What made you decide to continue your career in Korea and the KBO?
TB: The main reason I decided to make the move to Korea: I was tired of playing the same cities against the same people. Nobody wants to spend their career in AAA making no money with a 1% chance of a callup regardless of how well they pitch. It’s so political in the States and being out of options didn't help me any. Having to impress a new organization every year became draining, and I wasn't seeing a future with anyone. The A's gave me a little better feeling but with their strong rotation in the big leagues, I thought it better to make the move now. I have been keen on the idea of playing in Asia and when this opportunity came along I jumped at it.
MyKBO: The KBO season only began the other week, but how would you compare the competition level in the KBO compare to that of the Mexican and Australian leagues? Minor leagues in the US?
TB: We aren't even a month into the season and already I have noticed the change in standard of play here. The Mexican league is quite strong in the winter but not this good. The Australian league is just 1 year old and many of the players there are either unsigned or in A ball or lower with a few AA and AAA players. I think only 3 or 4 players had anytime in the MLB. I think in time, the Australian league will be quite strong, but we lack the depth in hitting. We have many great arms there so the hitting will get better over time.
AAA is close to the level here some of the time, but as it is a 142 game grind with little time off, winning every game doesn't seem to be the priority. I know that sounds weird but I think most organizations are more about developing their young talent than trying to win ball games. So, some games are really bad while others show great displays of pitching and hitting. So far the KBO has shown me that winning comes first and if you aren't doing your job then they will find someone who will. I like that as I find it hard to watch bad games with no intensity.
MyKBO: Having participated in the 2009 WBC, what is your opinion about the WBC? Would you like to see it continue in its present form?
TB: The WBC was an amazing experience. I think it is great for baseball. I know that anytime you get to represent your country in the sport you love it is a special experience. For me, Australia isn't thought of as a powerful team, but teams that play us know, they are in for a battle. I was able to speak to Cuban catch Ariel Pestano while in Mexico after our devastating 5-4 loss (which we were leading 4-3 with 2 outs in the 8th). He said that the team they most hate to play is us. We haven't been beaten by them by more than 1 run in over 10 games and have won 3 of them. I was proud to be a member of the Aussie team when I heard a player from a powerhouse team say that.
Also, being a player for a country that doesn't even know baseball in terms of the public, it was a great chance to give Australian baseball exposure. When we 10-run rules Mexico in the opening game, it was all over the news and the country stood up and noticed. We are a sporting country as we display in the Olympics, just a shade over 22 million people, yet we win plenty of medals. We also love an underdog so when the people of Australia heard about our boys playing against the likes of Mexico and Cuba and possibly the US, Japan and Korea, they took to us and I think they felt our pain losing that game. That experience is one I will never forget and hope I get to do it again. I think it will continue because the ratings go through the roof worldwide.
MyKBO: Growing up, what made you choose to play baseball over other sports?
TB: Growing up I was into swimming and athletics. I came across baseball when my little brother started playing tee ball. I started at 11 years old and wasn't great at it. I never made a state team or Australian team until I was 17. I was drawn to it from day one and decided right then I wanted to play in the MLB despite what everyone thought. I had great support from family and worked hard to get a chance in the US. Once over there, I moved up fast making my debut for Seattle in my 4th season at 21 years of age. I just loved how challenging it is to be good day in and out. I’m always up for a challenge, and this was my calling, I couldn't imagine doing anything else.
MyKBO: If you weren't a baseball player, what would you be doing?
TB: I never really thought about what I would do if I wasn't playing baseball. I would probably want to have been in a metal band as music is another one of my passions. That would have been highly unlikely so I probably would have tried to do something in sports, maybe physio or development of baseball in Australia.
MyKBO: Will your son be coming over to see you play in Korea? Does he like baseball as well?
TB: As of now he is going to make it out in his summer break. He loves baseball. He just started playing back in Phoenix and is pretty good! He has my baseball cards and photos of me playing by his bed. It's awesome to have a number 1 fan who looks up to everything you do. He has been my biggest blessing and I miss him so much! I speak to him as often as I can on Skype but with the time difference it is hard to catch him every day. He definitely helps me through the hard times with his smile and warms me with his claim that I’m the best baseball player in the whole world.
MyKBO: AAA in the USA or the KBO? How is the KBO better/worse (travel, hotels, etc) than being in the minors?
TB: Better in every way. The travel is easy here, the hotels are nicer. Ask anyone who played in the PCL and they will say there is no worse league for travel. Not to mention every ballpark in the league is a launching pad. The money in AAA is so bad I would have to work a regular job in the offseason or play winterball in Mexico. Nothing I love to do more than pitch nonstop all year round for 3 seasons. I compiled over 620 innings in 3 years between AAA and Mexico. My arm finally had enough and I needed a minor surgery during last season. This is definitely a step up for me
MyKBO: Have you found a favorite Korean food yet? If not, what's your favorite western restaurant to frequent?
TB: Korean food is a little different, but I have always liked Asian style food. I like spicy food too, as I eat plenty in Mexico. I would have to say though bulgogi is my favorite Korean dish. As for the American style food, Outback, TGI Fridays and Dominos have kept me sane when rice is doing my head in.
MyKBO: How many tattoos do you have? What's your favorite/most significant one and why?
TB: As for the number of tattoos, that's hard to count. I go by hours. I've spent roughly 140 hours in the chair and ready for more. A lot of them connect into one another. So 11 if you count untouched skin between them. I love all of them but my most recent unfinished left arm sleeve/chest plate piece is my pride and joy. I also love my Australian flag with PRIDE on my right forearm. The stories behind them are personal, but describe experiences good and bad in my life. Some people like to get a rush by jumping out of planes, I like to get mine from a tattoo gun. There aren't many feelings that compare to how it feels just after a 6 hour session. Maybe completing a marathon would compare. A sense of accomplishment and exhaustion. Maybe striking out the last hitter of the game for me would be just as good of a feeling.
MyKBO: PS3 or Xbox?
TB: Xbox man for sure. I'm a huge Call Of Duty fan as well as Halo and Guitar Hero. I hold my own in the shooter games but I am quite impressive on the guitar hero.
MyKBO: Vegemite or Tim Tams or neither?
TB: Vegemite for sure. Don't get me wrong, I love a Tim Tam, but I can't go a week without Vegemite toast. I haven't since I was a baby. It is an acquired taste, but once you like it, you love it.
MyKBO: What do you like to do in your free-time?
TB: I mainly spend my free time relaxing. Whether I’m surfing the net, chatting with mates back home or playing video games. I normally do all three with my time away from baseball. I also love golf but find it hard to get that much time off to get a round in.
MyKBO: You recently used your Twitter account to give away one of your jerseys, have you always been involved with your fans via social networking?
TB: Not really. I had a Facebook with fans from the US and Mexico, and opened a Twitter back in December 2010. I didn't get into it until the fans of the KIA Tigers started following me. I went from just over 45 followers to the 1500+ I have now since January. I like to show my appreciation to my fans, so I felt what better way than to give away a jersey and some tickets to a game. I actually presented the jersey today in Seoul to the winner. It felt good to get so many responses for my jersey. I've never had such a following. I will probably do something similar again soon, maybe at 2500 followers.
MyKBO: What's the reason you go by your first name "Travis/트레비스" in the KBO rather than your last name "Blackley/블렉클리"?
TB: That wasn't up to me. It was like that when i arrived. I kind of like it though. I feel like a Ronaldo or Kobe. I wasn't too sure about the number 99 either, but if it's good enough for Rick Vaughan than it's good enough for me, haha. I may never wear another number. I like it that much now.
MyKBO: Is there anything that you’d like to say to your fans?
TB: I'd like to thank everyone for the support they have given me and the team. I have been made to feel at home here and appreciate everyone for that. I hope we can win you all another championship and see it as a possibility with fans like ours! They have so much belief in us, even when we aren't feeling the same way after a tough loss. I am proud to be apart of such a great team and organization. The Lord has really blessed me with this opportunity and I plan to do whatever it takes to help bring home a championship, Thank you to all the fans from not only me, but the rest of the KIA Tigers