From Olathe High Schools to Major League Baseball
Surreal. The best and worst experience ever. Stressful. Indescribable.
All words that four recent Olathe high school graduates—three from Olathe Northwest, one from Olathe East–use to describe being drafted to a Major League Baseball team. Matt Blackham is now part of the New York Mets franchise, Austin Fisher is with the Cleveland Indians, Jon Perrin was picked by the Detroit Tigers, and Ryan Taylor is with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The four men agree that baseball is all they have ever wanted to do. They credit their coaches and parents for encouraging and supporting them to become better, more dedicated players. And they miss their families and Kansas City barbecue now that they’re far from home.
They also agree that pro ball is nothing like school ball, and they each mention the challenges that come with being on teams filled with players as good as, or better, than themselves.
Right-handed pitcher Blackham, who was picked in the 29th round, is a 2011 Olathe Northwest graduate. He also played at Johnson County Community College and was a top reliever at Middle Tennessee State University.
“I actually didn’t believe it at first,” Blackham says of being drafted. “I was following along all day and finally stopped watching. Five minutes later I checked my phone; my advisor called to say congratulations and I thought he was teasing me, but then I started to get a lot of other calls. I was alone in Texas playing summer ball, so I drove about 14 hours to Tennessee to celebrate with my fiancée.”
Blackham says the coaches at Olathe Northwest and JCCC helped him perfect a third pitch and helped improve his consistency, but he also says that what most prepared him for this stage of his career was failing.
“Doing wrong and learning how to fix it is what has helped me identify who I am and what matters to me,” he says. “I wouldn’t want things to be any other way, because now it’s my job. The hardest part is not seeing my family in the stands at all my games. I was spoiled to see them there all the time, so it’s an adjustment now.”
Austin Fisher, a 2011 Olathe Northwest grad, and Ryan Taylor, a 2010 Olathe Northwest grad, were high school teammates and were drafted back to back in the 13th round. Taylor was pitching at Arkansas Tech University; Fisher was playing shortstop at Kansas State University.
Baseball is in Fisher’s blood: his dad, David Fisher, played five seasons in the Philadelphia Phillies organization and a maternal uncle and grandfather also played in the minors. He says that draft day is different than what people see on television.
“You spend the majority of the day watching the computer and listening to guys call off names,” he says. “When I was picked on the third day, I was in Manhattan with friends and teammates watching the computer as my name rolled across the screen.”
Fisher says he’s still close to Jay Novacek, his coach at Olathe Northwest.
“I believe Coach Novacek was a big reason I got so many looks from colleges while I was in high school,” he says. “I love being able to call this my job; I get to play baseball and get paid for it. Not everyone can say that, and that’s a really cool thing. I know to not take a single day for granted. I’ve fulfilled a childhood dream, but I still have a long way to go.”
Taylor, the highest draft pick in Arkansas Tech University’s history, shared the experience of being drafted with his parents, his brother, and a few college friends. He says that in addition to preparing him to play college ball, playing at Olathe Northwest taught him perseverance.
“Everyone is as good as you are or better in pro ball,” he says. “You can’t make mistakes and get away with them. This is all I’ve ever wanted to do, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. I love that I’m always learning, and competing against such good players makes me better.”
Jon Perrin, a 2011 Olathe East graduate, was picked in the 33rd round. He says playing for Coach McDonald at Olathe East helped him understand the time commitment it takes to be successful. A starter during his senior year at Oklahoma State, Perrin says he’s proud of the progress he’s made in his career.
“I’ve improved so much in my four years of college,” he says. “I went from hardly playing at all my freshman year to being a first team all-conference player and draft pick in my junior year, and now I’ll have the chance to get into the pro game after college. Playing ball has also allowed me to earn a degree in history, which I completed in May.”
Their days look the same on paper: 12+ hours of practice, workouts, footwork drills and games. During the off-season they catch up on what they’ve missed most: time with family and friends, and barbecue.
“I miss family, friends, and definitely K.C. barbecue,” says Taylor. “I still think some of the best food in the world is in Kansas City, and you don’t realize how good it is until you leave.”
Perrin misses Kansas City, too.
“Kansas City will always be home to meand I miss it, especially my mother, my brother, and some of my close friends,” says Perrin.”But I’m excited to see where the game takes me in the next phase of my life.”
Blackham says that while he misses his KC coaches and spending time with his family, he’s grateful for the chance to be a role model for younger kids.
“I hope that I can make an impact on as many people’s lives as possible,” he says. “After a couple of elbow surgeries, a torn ligament in my foot, and being told I’m not big enough, I made it. I get a chance to start over and do everything in my power to play in New York, and I want others with big dreams to know that they can, too.”