Blackledge builds own career with Asheboro ZooKeepers

Owen Blackledge has brought energy to the Asheboro ZooKeepers for a second summer. (Courtesy of Asheboro ZooKeepers)

Son of former NFL quarterback makes good use of time in Asheboro

ASHEBORO – At about this time last year, Owen Blackledge had just left Omaha, Neb., where he was a member of a College World Series team.

While some goals and destinations have changed, Blackledge is now in the middle of his second season with the Asheboro ZooKeepers.

The rising senior outfielder knows how to make adjustments. He once played collegiately for national power Texas Christian University and now has one year of experience at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne.

“I don’t really look at it as a tough thing because I loved TCU for what they had to offer and I love L-R for what it has to offer,” Blackledge said.

He was a role player for Texas Christian, appearing in 14 total games across two seasons. He sought a more prominent role for the back half of his college days.

In between playing for teams in Fort Worth, Texas, and Hickory, he came to Asheboro to suit up for the collegiate summer team.

“He’s extremely humble,” ZooKeepers head coach Korey Dunbar said.

Last year was hectic, with Blackledge’s college season ending so late.

“I was kind of late getting the (transfer) portal at first, kind of behind the 8-ball,” Blackledge said. “I just really didn’t have much film, so I came to Asheboro to play.

Owen Blackledge (Courtesy of Asheboro ZooKeepers)

“I’m just trying to find a team to go play baseball. I’m just going to play as long as I can (last) summer and see what happens next. Lo and behold, L-R was the most attractive spot to me coming out of the portal.”

Having played for the Horned Frogs, who’ve made numerous CWS trips the past couple of decades, isn’t the only reason the outfielder might be considered a high-profile member of the ZooKeepers.

His father is former NFL quarterback Todd Blackledge, who has been a college football television analyst for 30 years. He was a national champion with Penn State.

The younger Blackledge said holds visions of such success in athletics, just in a different sport.

“It’s kind of the reason I picked baseball,” he said. “He’s my greatest role model. I get it, with my dad you look up to someone who has played at the highest level. Oh, he’s got his life kind of figured out. … I love having him in my corner. It’s about as good of a resource as you could ask for.”

As one of four of Todd Blackledge’s sons, he had decorated youth baseball experience coming out of North Canton, Ohio. Going to a big-time baseball school made sense.

“I want to make my own name,” he said. “I want to get into baseball and have people look at my dad and say, ‘Oh, you’re Owen Blackledge’s dad.’ … That has always been a driving force. Really respect and appreciate him as a role model, but let’s get out of his shadow.”

Part of that has been excelling in his second season the ZooKeepers. He entered this week as one of the leading hitters for the Coastal Plain League team.

“He brings a ton of energy,” Dunbar said. “Always locked in and wanting to get better every day.”

The change from TCU to Lenoir-Rhyne has seemed like the right fit, Blackledge said.

“When I broke it down with my parents, it was more important to me to play somewhere where I thought I could try to win a championship,” Blackledge said. “That’s switching the destination a little bit. L-R definitely has the chance to make it to Cary (home of the Division II World Series) and win a conference instead of some (Division I) mid-major and we’re fighting to try to make the tournament.”

There are differences, for sure, but he’s fine with that as he grinds away with the ZooKeepers.

“Sometimes it was just a little bit tough because of the lack of resources,” he said of going to a Division II program. “But at the end of the day I have a very strong relationship with God, so I don’t really try to look at it as being tough because I’m living out God’s journey. He clearly wants me to be in Hickory now playing baseball.”

Or, for the next few weeks, in Asheboro.

About the games …

The ZooKeepers finished the CPL’s first half with a 12-11 record, winning Saturday night at Holly Springs with a 5-4 decision in 10 innings. That put Asheboro fourth in the eight-team West Division.

The ZooKeepers opened the second half with Sunday night’s 7-6 home loss to the Macon Bacon.

Last Thursday at Thomasville, Hunter Atkins pounded his first CPL homer as the ZooKeepers hammered the High Point-Thomasville HiToms 13-2.

Atkins, a former Randleman player, scored three runs. Teammate Jacob Dilley hit a three-run homer among his four hits.

Asheboro was blanked 3-0 by the visiting Wilson Tobs on Friday night. Blackledge and Atkins had the only two hits for the ZooKeepers.

Atkins had four hits and drove in three runs in Asheboro’s 15-5 home whipping of Holly Springs last week. Zach Evans and Sam Seidel each had three hits.

By Bob Sutton