Blaine Hardy’s long journey rewarded

One of the best conversations in Blaine Hardy’s life began with some bad news.

A left-handed pitcher for the Toledo Mud Hens of the Class AAA International League, Hardy was called into the office of manager Larry Parrish after a game 10 days ago. Parrish, Hardy and some other players had a golf game scheduled for the following Tuesday.

Straight-faced, Parrish told Hardy, “I’m sorry to tell you that you’re not going to be golfing on Tuesday.”

A pause, a little grin and then Parrish added, “You’re going to Detroit.”

With those words, a dream that began for Hardy as a boy growing up in Edmonds came true.

“Really, I was speechless,” said the 27-year-old Hardy, a 2007 graduate of Edmonds-Woodway High School. “And I couldn’t stop smiling.”

The next afternoon he was in a Detroit Tigers uniform for his first major league game. Though he did not play — his first game appearance was the following day, when he pitched in relief — “it was definitely a memory I’ll always remember.”

Hardy’s journey to the major leagues has been long, difficult and at times disappointing. He was chosen in the 22nd round of the 2008 draft by Kansas City, and he spent the next five seasons working his way up through the Royals’ minor league system, only to be released during spring training of 2013. But Detroit officials called him a few days later, and he spent last season with the Tigers’ minor league teams in Toledo and Erie, Pa.

Being released by the Royals “definitely hurt,” Hardy admitted. “You obviously want to make it up (to the majors) with the team that gave an opportunity in the first place. But I knew I could still pitch, and it was also kind of nice to turn over a new leaf and start with a new team.”

This spring he was one of the last two players cut as Detroit got down to its 25-man roster for opening day. But he pitched well in Toledo — he was 3-2 in 20 games, including six starts, with 53 strikeouts in 47 innings pitched and a 2.68 ERA — and those statistics led to his recent promotion.

Though he did not pitch in his first game with the Tigers, the day was still very special. It was Father’s Day, and his dad Dave had traveled from Arizona, where he was staying, to Detroit in time for an afternoon game at Comerica Park.

Interviewed in the stands by a Fox Sports reporter, Dave Hardy called it “the ultimate Father’s Day present. … I’m very proud of Blaine. He’s worked very hard for a long, long time and he deserves it.”

Dave Hardy was there the next day, too, when his son worked two scoreless innings in an 11-8 victory over Kansas City.

“He’s stuck with me through thick and thin,” Blaine Hardy said of his father. “He loves his baseball. He used to always take me to Mariners games. … I’m not sure how he made it (to Detroit) as quick as he did, but the fact that he was able to make it out for my big league debut and my first appearance was an awesome experience.”

Hardy has since worked in three more games and has totaled five innings pitched with just one hit, two walks, four strikeouts and still no runs.

“Obviously making it to the big leagues (for the first time), you want to have success,” he said. “But I really wasn’t thinking, ‘Hey, I’ve got to do well, this might be my only shot.’ I was more thinking, ‘This is a hell of an opportunity, I’ve made it to the big leagues, congratulations, it’s going to be awesome.’ ”

As he pitched in his debut against the Royals — ironically, his previous organization — “I was just telling myself, ‘This is the same game, and if you make pitches you’re going to have success.’ … The key is throwing strikes and that’s always been my strong suit. If I keep throwing strikes, hopefully good things will keep happening.”

As a boy, Hardy remembers going with his father to watch the Mariners play, first at the Kingdome and later at Safeco Field. “And that was probably when I decided I’d like to see how far I could take a baseball career,” he said.

Unfortunately, the Tigers made their only Seattle visit of 2014 earlier this month, so Hardy will have to wait until next season to play in front of other family and friends.

“I can’t wait until that day comes when I can pitch in the same stadium where I used to watch Ken Griffey Jr. and some of those greats for the Mariners,” he said.

And in the meantime, he will savor the realization of his long-awaited baseball dream.

“It was always my No. 1 goal to make it to the big leagues,” Hardy said. “It’s such an awesome experience to be able to be in these stadiums and to play against the best of the best. It’s astounding how much fun the big leagues are.

“I had fun in the minor leagues, don’t get me wrong. But this experience is 10 times more amazing for me.”

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