The Simpsonian

Joe Blake Sr. – A 65-year complete game: Reflections from a Simpson baseball player

by Brock Borgeson, Sports Editor

I simply do not know how to write what I am about to write. I know that whatever I say will be insufficient for what I want to convey about him.

For me, it seems more appropriate to just sit down in front of everyone who is reading and spew all the memories, stories and compliments I have of Joe Blake, Sr.

While I’m speechless in his passing, I’m brimming with things to say and doing so would be therapeutic, but more importantly, commemorative of the greatest coach I have ever had.

I remember my first impression of Joe. I can recall the start of my freshman year at Simpson. At that time I had only met Ben Blake, Joe’s son and head coach of the Simpson baseball team.

Players would speak of Joe with almost a mythological reverence. Before I even knew him as a friend, I could see the friendship my elder teammates had with him already.

It didn’t take long for me to gain that same friendship.

I came to Simpson College as a somewhat shy freshman looking to play baseball. I knew I was there for ball, but I struggled initially finding my identity in Iowa coming from suburban Chicago.

After my freshman year I left for home unsure if I would return, and both Joe and Ben knew this. I pitched some my freshman year but in no way was I an integral part of the team.

Normally a coach would brush a player like me off and focus on new recruits, not the indecisive incoming sophomore that might chip in for a few innings here or there in relief.

Joe didn’t, however.

I distinctly remember walking my neighbors’ dog during a mid-June night in 2013 when I got a call from a 515 area code number. I didn’t answer and instead waited until I got back to my house to call.

It was Joe. He left his usual understated voicemail message: “It’s Joe … just checking in on you … you can call back if you want.”

He expressed his confidence in me as a pitcher, but more importantly he spoke on where he saw me fitting in on the team and on campus.

It made sense that he was an insurance salesman because he had me sold on returning.

Throughout the summer I remember thinking, “I just want to do it for Joe.” I felt accountable to come back — not for myself, but for Joe. He is much of the reason I’m at Simpson. I’ll never forget that, and I can’t express how thankful I am for this. I got to enjoy Joe for two more years.

In this time, he taught me more than baseball. He taught me life and perspectives on baseball that shined a light on how the joys and challenges of baseball are a microcosm of how we respond to things in life:

“People always say baseball is not a matter of life and death … but it is. In a way it is. How you respond to things on the baseball field in a way reflects how you respond to things in life” he told me.

When I pitched on the mound I wanted to show him that I heeded this and responded to the game in this way. I wanted to impress him. I wanted to prove him right as I stood there in the bullpen with him before I went into pitch, that he made the right decision.

It was the type of validation that a son seeks for from his dad. That’s what I felt about Joe.

But the nice thing about Joe is that he was a father that paid attention to his kid. You couldn’t get anything past him, and he would never forget about you. We are all his kids, the players that have been fraternized by his coaching or the years.

I had a start against Loras College in March this past year. It was the first start of my career. I went 2.2 innings and allowed five earned runs. I failed Joe’s experiment.

Roughly one month-later I was finally able to please him. I pitched an impromptu 7.0 rain-spattered innings, the longest of my career.

He called me that night, even after our two and a half our road trip back to Indianola. He said he had always believed in me. My joy was his joy, and I couldn’t ask for anything more in a coach than to be in line with my heartbeat as a player.

I’m going to miss these conversations with Joe. When I talked to him life just became clearer. It was simpler; it was more vibrant.

I can still see how he spoke with his hands out in front of him, at about waist high as he said, “I believe we can be something this year, but it’s not up to me,” addressing us after practices.

I can still see him reading his latest novel as he sat on the couch in the Yard while we took swings in the middle of winter.

I can still see him running along the streets of Indianola in his Skele-Toes shoes, rain or shine, cold or warm.

I can still see him strolling into the weight room with his strapback cap and long sleeve shirt and black new balance shoes. I’m pretty sure he could still bench press more than me even at age 65.

I can still remember the time he beaned first baseman and pitcher Gage Reis two times in a row (intentionally) when we were in Tucson on our spring trip.

I can still see him roll up to the field with either Black or Reggie in the passenger window of his truck.

These memories are emblazoned in my mind. I’ll always have them. But I’m always going to miss them just like I’ll miss his stories about his games against Dave Parker and Jim Rice as he played through the Minor Leagues.

I’ll miss his stories about his sons and their baseball careers, and one in particular when we were on the tennis courts of our Tucson hotel about his son Casey’s journey at Wichita State and his mental approach to the game.

I’ll miss convening with Joe and my parents after a game as they established a friendship over the years.

I’ll definitely miss his compliments on my mom’s sandwiches she’d bring for in-between doubleheaders– he states I would only pitch when my mom brought the sandwiches.

I’ll miss the times he’d test my trivia knowledge. I remember one day when we were pulling the tarp my freshman year and we were talking. Neither of us were able to recall the name of the CBS broadcaster announcing the Masters.

The next day he came up to me and said, “Nick Faldo.”

I’ll miss his zany comments and harmless trash talk he’d give us during practice.

I’ll miss catching his baseball passes during pitcher’s conditioning or our three-man weave on the basketball court.

I’ll miss the 30-minute conversations we’d strike up in the weight room over the team or the random Lamar vs. Iowa State basketball game that was on the night before.

What I would do to relive these memories one more time.

It’s like they always seemed they’d be there when I was in the moment. For me, Joe seemed like one of those guys that would just stay the same forever. It seemed like me and all of my teammates would be gone from this earth and Joe would still be trucking along. 

He was a legend to us, to Simpson, to Iowa and to many beyond that for what he did on the field, off the field and daily interactions with people.

Our time comes, though, and sometimes, too soon.

That last hug and handshake we shared on May 1, 2015 after our 11-inning game against Dubuque will forever be etched in my memory. It was the best game of my career, and my baseball idol was there to see it. But it wasn’t about me. It was about getting his affirmation. It was about the memory. It was about seeing how Joe always knew a little bit more than we did about our abilities.

He had more than enough to be confident about himself. He could probably strike us out if he really put his mind to it still. But while I’m sure he’d thrown more near perfect games than I know, the most perfect game he threw was a 65-year contest.

So rest easy, Joe. You wasted no time. You never gave up a chance to impact others. You never turned down an opportunity to shape those you were around. You, Joe Franklin Blake, threw a complete game. 

*A Celebration of Life will be held 10:30 a.m., Saturday, May 30 in the Blake Field House at the Indianola Middle School, 403 South 15th Street in Indianola.

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