EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is the second in a series of 12 stories profiling the inductees for the 2016 Clarendon Athletic Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony will be held in late April.
James Eric Blackwell led Manning High School and the American Legion Post 68 baseball teams to soaring heights, and now he will be forever known as a “Hall of Famer.”
Blackwell started playing baseball as a toddler, after being encouraged by his friend, Allen Hammett III.
“Growing up, Allen was a legend, he was the quarterback on the football team and played basketball. He was good at whatever he put his mind to,” Blackwell said. “I was out in the yard playing baseball one day, and he said, “Man, come with me and try out for the baseball team.”’
In sixth grade, Blackwell was a key member of the Clarendon County Dizzy Dean All-Star team that won a State Championship. The team went on to play for a World Series title in Mississippi, but wasn’t able to bring the title back to Manning.
“We had a great time in Mississippi, with some great coaches and players,” Blackwell said. “That’s when you find out what you are made of as a ball player. We saw how good some of those other teams were, and it drove me to step my game up.”
In high school he excelled with a career batting average of more than .400, with the help of coach Ricky Coker.
“I was talented, but it takes fundamentals to become great, Blackwell said. “Talent can only take you so far, but coaches interest in us, and making us better, fundamental ball players made us all excel our games to the next level.”
He also led his team in homeruns and RBI three of his four high school years. He was first and second place in stolen bases respectively in his four years of high school baseball. While playing for the Monarchs Blackwell and company won three-straight Conference titles and Conference Championships.
“Because we had one coach it made our senior leadership step up,” Blackwell said. “We knew we had a job to do, and we knew coach Coker wanted the best out of us, so we always gave him our best.”
Blackwell also represented Manning High as an All-District player and All-Conference player. He was also the band captain and played basketball.
During the summer Blackwell played baseball for the American Legion Post 68 team. In his first year of Legion ball, he played first base for Coach Bernie Jones. The next three years, he played outfield for Coach Bill Brewer.
“Coach Brewer taught me it’s okay to be confident on the field,” he said. “So when I got up to the plate, I always knew I was going to hit the ball; it was just a matter of where it was going to go.”
After high school Blackwell continued to improve his game on the diamond while playing for Coach Ron Joyce at Spartanburg Methodist.
“Coming out of high school, I was All-Conference and All-State,” he said. “When you get there you realize all these other guys were All-Conference and All-State too, so you really have to step your game up.”
Blackwell was named a First Team All-American player his freshman and sophomore seasons after having a .429 batting average with 16 homeruns and 58 RBI his freshman year, and batting .389 with 23 homeruns and 64 RBI his sophomore season.
“It was great, because we won,” he said. “Reggie Sanders along with a lot of other great players were on that team.”
A Major League baseball team drafted eight out of the nine starters Blackwell played with during his sophomore season at Spartanburg Methodist.
Blackwell grew up a Dodgers fan, and was especially excited when he got the news that he was drafted by that organization.
“I came home for a break from Summer League ball, and I got the call from the Dodgers organization,” he said “It was so special because growing up my grandmother was a big Dodgers fan, and she just passed away the year before. I knew she was in Heaven looking down on me with a big smile.”
The Alcolu native was the first African-American baseball player from Clarendon County drafted by a Major League baseball team.
“Being drafted, and being black and drafted opened a lot of doors for me to be able to talk to young children today,” he said. “It reminds the children out there that the world is yours, it’s all about what you make of it.”
Blackwell didn’t get called up to the “Show,” but received several honors, and accumulated outstanding statistics while playing in the minor leagues. This included being named the TOPPS Player of the month twice while playing for the Bakersfield Dodgers in California.
Blackwell batted .360, with 10 homeruns and 54 RBI while playing for Bakersfield, .340 with 15 homeruns and 54 RBI while playing for San Antonio and was named to the All-Star team twice. He also played with and against Major League Hall of Fame players Pedro Martinez and Mike Piazza. His career ended a year after he suffered a broken ankle.
“If I could do it again, I would without a hesitation,” Blackwell said “I got to play with some Major League Hall of Fame guys, and travel the world. I did a lot of things I never thought I’d be able to do because of baseball. It was beautiful.”