Dunn adjusts to collegiate level, new position
Making the adjustment from high school baseball to NCAA Division I baseball can be a daunting task under the best of conditions.
But trying to make that adjustment while coming off a serious injury and making a position change?
That was the reality facing 2017 Saugatuck High School graduate Blake Dunn as he prepared for his first season as a member of the Western Michigan University baseball team.
“It was definitely challenging at times,” Dunn said. “I just did my best to stay positive and keep on grinding each day, trying to get better.”
And get better he did, finishing the season with a .308 batting average (44-for-134) that placed him third among the Broncos.
But getting to that point wasn’t easy.
After tearing his ACL during track practice in late March 2017, Dunn had to undergo surgery followed by several months of grueling rehab. He was limited largely to the role of spectator during WMU’s fall practices in September and October.
Dunn was finally cleared to begin light baseball activities in November before being fully cleared a month later.
“It was tough to have to sit and watch everybody else practicing, but I worked as hard as I could to get back as soon as I could,” Dunn said. “Six months is pretty much the minimum you have to miss with the surgery I had, and that’s about how long I was out.
“When I was fully cleared, it just felt really good. I couldn’t wait to get back at it.”
Not only was Dunn trying to make up for the lost time due to his injury, but he was also trying to learn the ropes of a new position.
In addition to pitching, Dunn played mostly shortstop or catcher in high school. However, Broncos coach Billy Gernon had other ideas.
"We were pretty deep as far as infielders went, but we needed some help in the outfield,” Dunn said. “Coach approached me about playing the outfield and I was really excited. It would give me a chance to use my speed a little bit more than on the infield.”
There was only one problem: Dunn hadn’t played outfield since his youth days.
“It had definitely been a while since I played out there,” he said. “And it’s obviously so much different now. Back then if a ball was hit to you, it was pretty much a routine popup. Now, guys are hitting balls in the gaps and you have to read the spin of the ball. It was a challenge.
“But all the coaches had confidence in me right away and I was excited to give it a try.”
Dunn worked with one coach in particular as he honed his outfield skills.
“JP Maracani works with our outfielders and I spent a lot of time with him,” Dunn said. “He really helped me to learn all the little aspects of playing outfield.”
And while Dunn started somewhat slowly at the plate, he later found his groove. In addition to his .308 batting average, he drove in 18 runs, scored 25 times and collected nine doubles.
Dunn, who has been clocked as high as 94 miles per hour with his fastball, also saw some time on the mound.
“Pitching was a bit of a struggle,” he said. “My velocity was up, which is great. But it’s such a learning process. In high school you can just blow away a lot of guys with a fastball. You can’t do that at this level. You have to mix up your pitches and locate your pitches better.”
Dunn pitched in a total of five games, logging four innings. He allowed five runs on seven hits with five walks and three strikeouts.
“I talked to (Gernon) at the end of the season and he said they’re planning to have me pitch more next season,” Dunn said. “So I’m just going to keep working and try to improve.”
Dunn has begun that process of further refining his pitching as a member of the Muskegon Clippers in the Great Lakes Collegiate League. Through eight games as of Monday, June 18, he had pitching 5-2/3 innings in five appearances, allowing no runs on five hits with one walk and eight strikeouts. He led the team with three saves.
At the plate, he was hitting .367 (11-for-30) with a double, 10 runs and four RBI.
“Playing summer ball is fun,” Dunn said. “It’s a grind because you’re playing every day, but I want to do everything I can do to get better and help my team next spring.”