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B-A grad ‘something special’

Ron Blazier

Blazier dies at age 50

By John Hartsock

jhartsock@altoonamirror.com

After helping to pitch Bellwood-Antis High School into the PIAA Class 2A state baseball championship game in 1989, Ron Blazier went on to make his mark on the Major League Baseball world in the late 1990s, bucking the odds to earn a spot as a reliever on the Philadelphia Phillies’ roster after signing with the team as an undrafted player.

Blazier, who pitched two seasons with the Phillies before an elbow injury eventually ended his career, unexpectedly passed away Saturday at his Bellwood home. He was only 50.

Blazier made 63 appearances out of the bullpen in late-inning relief for the Phillies over the 1996 and 1997 seasons, carding a combined 4-2 record with a 5.38 earned run average while striking out 67 batters and walking 31 in 91.3 innings pitched.

Friends and associates who remembered Blazier with fondness recalled that the fireballing 6-foot-6, 240-pound right-hander was blessed with eye-opening athletic ability and could throw the ball effortlessly.

“He was something special,” Randy Geis, an outstanding left-handed pitcher who, along with Blazier, gave Bellwood’s 1989 team a potent combination on the pitching mound. “He was something special. I always had to practice. He never needed to practice.

“He just went out and threw the ball 90 miles an hour, which at that time, back in 1989, was really something special for a high school pitcher,” added Geis, who now lives near Philadelphia. “He was something to see. It was an amazing accomplishment for him to go undrafted and work his way up to play two years with the Phillies.”

Former longtime Altoona baseball coach Jay Perry was a central Pennsylvania scout for the Phillies who saw Blazier pitch in high school and tipped off Phillies regional scouting supervisor Ken Hultzapple about Blazier’s ability.

Based on the evaluations of Hultzapple and Perry, the Phillies would eventually sign Blazier – who was inducted into the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame in 2008 — after his senior year of high school.

Current Bellwood-Antis High School athletic director Charlie Burch was in the same Bellwood graduating class with Blazier in 1989.

Burch participated in football, wrestling and track as a high school athlete, while Blazier excelled in baseball and basketball. Despite not playing on any varsity teams together, the two were friends.

“We didn’t cross any paths during our sports days, but Ronnie was a phenomenal athlete all around,” Burch said of Blazier. “Even as an adult, local softball teams wanted him on their rosters. He was good at every sport.

“The Bellwood community, as well as the Blair County sports community, is deeply saddened by the loss of Ronnie Blazier.”

Todd Guyer, Bellwood’s head baseball coach back in 1989, expounded on Blazier’s extraordinary talent in Blazier’s Blair County Sports Hall of Fame profile. Blazier’s presenter at his Blair Hall induction ceremony was long-time major league manager Terry Francona.

“Ron had a lot of natural ability, and he was a great kid who got along well with everybody,” said Guyer, who now lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C. “It was exciting for me, and exciting for our whole area, to see a local kid go from not being drafted to getting into the big leagues.”

Former long-time Bellwood High School athletic director and football coach John Hayes, who himself is due for induction into the Blair Sports Hall of Fame in 2022, remembered Blazier as one of the best athletes to compete at the high school.

“He was a really good athlete,” Hayes said. “Baseball was obviously his primary sport, but he was also an outstanding basketball player. We’ve had a number of good athletes come through our school, but he was obviously one of the better ones.

“He and Randy Geis gave us a really good 1-2 pitching combination as seniors on the 1989 team (that lost to Oley Valley, 1-0 in 10 innings in the state championship game at Altoona’s Vets Field). And (Blazier) obviously went on to achieve a lot of excellence at the major-league level.”

Blazier climbed the ladder through the Phillies’ minor-league system – helping the organization’s Class AA Reading affiliate win an Eastern League championship in 1995 while earning the Paul Owens Award as the organization’s Pitcher of the Year – after switching from being a starting pitcher to working out of the bullpen as a reliever.

“I told them I’d do whatever would get me to (the big leagues) quicker, and it seemed like it clicked right away,” Blazier was quoted in his Blair Hall profile about his move to the bullpen.

Indeed, reaching 98 miles per hour on the radar gun after being called up to the Phils in 1996, Blazier carded an impressive 1.80 earned run average in his first 10 major league appearances.

After two major league seasons, however, things turned sour for Blazier in 1998. He made the Phillies’ roster out of spring training that year, but began to experience elbow problems, and missed most of the season. Then he tore a ligament in his elbow during winter ball in Venezuela – an injury that required Tommy John surgery and an extended rehab.

Blazier was released by the Phils in spring training 2000. He signed with the Baltimore Orioles and was on the roster of their Class 2A Bowie (Md.) affiliate, but was released following the 2000 season, never to return to organized baseball.

“I was home for my mother’s 80th birthday this past weekend when I got the news that he had passed,” Geis said. “It hit me hard, and it’s a reality check, since we are the same age. It’s tragic, and it’s sad.”

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