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Cougars All-Stars live in the present

Published: Tuesday, June 17, 2014 10:30 p.m. CDT

COMSTOCK PARK, Mich. – Jordan Hankins has been blessed as a baseball player.

He played at the collegiate level at Austin Peay and was a member of the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team two years ago.

On Tuesday night at West Michigan’s Fifth Third Ballpark, Hankins was part of the Midwest League All-Star Game, representing Kane County on the Western Division team, which defeated the East Division, 7-0, in front of a crowd of 7,046.

Before taking batting practice earlier in the day, Hankins stood outside the team clubhouse and assessed his latest baseball opportunity.

“It’s humbling,” said Hankins, a reserve third baseman for the West. “It’s a great experience to be here and I am just thankful to be a part of it. It’s awesome.”

Hankins, a three-year starter at Austin Peay, was one of two Cougars at West Michigan on a warm summer night. Teammate Paul Blackburn, a pitcher for the West, was also at the game.

Hankins flew out and struck out in his two trips to the plate. Blackburn did not get into the game.

Like Hankins, Blackburn soaked up the experience.

“It’s definitely a big honor to represent my team and the league,” Blackburn said. “There is a lot of talent here, and I’m just glad I’m one of the guys who gets to be a part of it.”

Hankins was drafted in the 11th round by the Cubs in 2013 and this is his first go-round in the Midwest League. It’s been quite a season for him so far as he closed out the first half third in the league in batting with a .322 average. 

His effort helped the Cougars clinch the first-half title with a 45-25 record. 

“Baseball is a lot more fun when you win,” Hankins said. “Everyone on our team has worked well together. It’s cool to be one of the guys who has been able to help contribute to our success.”

Early on, it didn’t look like Hankins would be a key contributor for the Cougars, let alone an all-star selection.

“You just have to keep grinding, keep working, and the results will show up,” Hankins said. “I got a lot of help from a great coaching staff. Those guys never let you stop working. It made a big difference.”

Blackburn, who owns a 5-2 record and a 2.78 ERA through one half of the season, was a 2012 draft pick out of Heritage High School in California. He was the 56th pick overall.

He said he feels healthy and has much more stamina than he did a year ago, which he believes has played a vital role in his success.

He said he has focused on avoiding mistakes this year, and hopes that continued focus pays off in the second half of the season.

“I’m working a lot on just learning how to read guys, and just take it step by step to get better each day,” Blackburn said. “I know you can’t be perfect every night, but I just need to limit mistakes as best as I can. Hopefully, I can continue to improve and have a great second half.”

Naturally, both players would love to one day be in the Major League Baseball spotlight, but for now, they will enjoy this all-star moment and go from there.

“I just want to have fun with it and take advantage of the chance to be around great players,” Hankins said. “It’s all about enjoying the moment.”

Blackburn, one of the top young pitching prospects in the Cubs’ organization, has similar thoughts.

“I’ll pay a little bit of attention to the hitters, but mostly, it’s all about having fun here,” Blackburn said. “I’d love to make it to the top some day, but you have to live in the present, take it step by step and see what happens.”

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