Treinen graduated from a small Kansas high school in Osage, Kansas, population 2,770. He attended two different colleges and was out of baseball for a year before finding a home as a walk-on at South Dakota State, a Division I school.
Before that, he played on the junior varsity team at NAIA Baker College in Kansas, because nobody else recruited him.
Then Blake transferred to Arkansas, primarily to pursue a degree in landscape architecture and also walk on the baseball team. But he soon discovered that the Razorbacks don't have tryouts or walk-ons.
So, after a year off in 2009 due to transfer rules, he walked on at South Dakota State.
In 2010, the Marlins drafted Blake in the 23rd round. But he declined to sign him after an MRI on his throwing shoulder showed inflammation that he'd never seen or felt.
But in 2011, Treinen signed with the A's after they chose him in the 7th round, out of South Dakota State.
In 2012, Baseball America rated Treinen as the 19th-best prospect in the A's organization. And he was at #23 in the spring of 2014.
Blake Treinen walked into the baseball office at the University of Arkansas and asked to speak with Coach Dave Van Horn. He’s not in today, the secretary told Treinen. Out recruiting. Treinen had come this far, from a map-dot town in eastern Kansas, and he only wanted a chance. He replied he could wait for an assistant instead. Minutes after Treinen took a seat, Van Horn walked past the waiting room and into his office.
“Wasn’t that him?” Treinen asked. “No,” the secretary said. “That wasn’t him.”
Treinen knew it was. Still, he stayed. Another few minutes passed, and an assistant emerged. He knew Treinen’s history, how he had thrown 79-mph fastballs for his small-town Kansas high school, how he pitched on the junior varsity at an NAIA college, how he now wanted to try out as a walk-on at a Southeastern Conference power.
“If we let you try out,” the assistant told Treinen, “we’d have to let the whole state of Arkansas try out.”
Years have passed since Treinen walked out of the office in 2008. In May 2014, he sat in the visitors dugout at PNC Park and laughed at what has happened since. Treinen took a winding path to the Major Leagues from Osage City, Kansas, through three colleges and countless roadblocks, aided by a blend of small-town connections, genetic fortune, relentless work, unwavering determination, and unshakable belief.
“It’s an amazing story,” his college coach said. “I think Disney could make a movie on it in 10 years.”
Treinen’s improbable career began in Osage City, where he graduated high school in a class of 48. Treinen stood out as a pitcher in Little League, but unhealthy habits stunted him. He watched sports on television rather than playing outside, and he would guzzle a two-liter of Dr. Pepper over the course of a couple days. As he reached high school, Treinen developed a precursor to Type II diabetes. As a sophomore, Treinen stood 5 feet 7 and stopped playing baseball.
Treinen’s mother said, “He’s faced some shut doors, but he’s found a way to open the next one. That’s his story.”
Said Treinen himself: “It blows my mind. That’s straight God."
“You got to get this in check,” his mother, Gete Treinen, remembers telling him. “You’re getting close to where you’re going to be a diabetic. You got to make changes in yourself.”
Treinen quit drinking soda and began eating vegetables and taking long runs. Joint aches dissipated. He grew taller, and started playing baseball again as a junior. By his senior year, he was 6-1.
Still, no scouts noticed the late bloomer with a 79-mph fastball. Gete Treinen worked with a radiologist whose husband was a pitching coach who knew someone at Baker University in Baldwin City, Kansas. Treinen made the junior varsity.
Treinen liked the people at Baker, but the team had no pitching coach and no weight room, and he believed he could go further. Searching for something more, Treinen transferred to Arkansas. The school had landscape architecture, the degree he wanted. He thought he could show coaches enough to let him try out. When they did not, Treinen lifted weights more intensely than he could have if he had been pitching. He built strength, and his fastball crept into the mid-80s.
Treinen went home for Christmas break and heard about a pitching clinic being held by a former Kansas University pitcher. He had nothing better to do, and it cost only about $20. Don Czyz pitched in the minor leagues for the Marlins and needed a way to make extra money in the winter, so he traveled across Kansas to give pitching lessons. He hooked on with the Osage City recreation department and offered a one-day camp.
Treinen could not throw 90 mph with regularity, but Czyz saw potential. Treinen had a fluid motion, an ideal pitcher’s frame and, Czyz could sense, an intangible desire. Czyz called Ritchie Price, his old college shortstop. Price had become the head coach at South Dakota State.
“I’ve got a kid here,” Czyz told Price. “You won’t believe it, but he’s throwing 90 and wants to play college baseball.”
As Treinen mulled his next move, he established strict criteria: He would leave Arkansas only for a Division I school that offered a degree in landscape architecture. Once Czyz told him South Dakota State would offer him a walk-on spot, Treinen researched the school. South Dakota State had moved up from Division II the previous year, and the school had just added a landscape architecture program.
“I was like, ‘You know what? That’s just a God thing,’” Treinen said. “You can’t explain that.”
NCAA rules forced Treinen to sit out for a year. “The best thing that could have happened,” Price said.
Without the pressure of pitching in games, Treinen could hone his mechanics and build muscle with the team’s strength coach. His average velocity ticked up from 84-86 mph to 87-88. That summer, Treinen found a personal coach in Laramie, Wyo., who had played minor league baseball. Blake had gained strength and ironed out his delivery. In Laramie, he learned how to unleash his arm. He played long toss and “burnout.” The player and the coach stood 60 feet from one another and threw the ball as hard as they could.
“He really transformed himself in that year and a half,” Price said. During the regular season, Treinen’s fastball touched 96 once and hit 94 most games. Once the season ended, the Marlins drafted him in the 23rd round. He was going to play professional baseball.
“He probably would have signed for 100 bucks,” Czyz said.
But the Marlins shocked Treinen when they informed him an MRI exam revealed inflammation in his shoulder and pulled his contract.
“It was two steps forward, one step back,” Gete Treinen said.
After wrangling with the NCAA over eligibility, Treinen returned to South Dakota State for a fifth year. They put him on scholarship, he earned his degree, his fastball ticked up to 97, he became a more refined pitcher, and his stock rose. The Oakland A’s selected him in the seventh round in 2011, and this time he really was going to pro ball.
Before the 2013 season, the Nationals traded Michael Morse to the Mariners in a three-way deal. The A’s sent Treinen to the Nationals, a secondary piece to the trade behind prospect A.J. Cole.
Treinen reported to Class AA Harrisburg. Manager Matt LeCroy, now the Nationals’ bullpen coach, watched him throw a 97-mph sinker in Treinen threw a pitch 101 mph. He wowed Nationals coaches in spring training. When injuries struck their pitching staff, the Nationals summoned him. Gene Treinen flew to Atlanta for his debut. She thought she should be bawling with nerves. When she settled into her seat, she felt calm. Her son belonged.
“The doors keep opening,” Treinen said. “It’s a slap in the face if you don’t take the most out of your opportunities. You just got to trust His plan and give it all you got.”
Now a coach at Kansas, Ritchie Price will never turn down a walk-on who wants to try out. In Osage City, people wear Nationals jerseys and attend “Blake Parties” on days he pitches. Czyz works for an engineering firm in Kansas City—“a real job,” he said. But through Treinen, a part of him remains in baseball.
And before every time he pitches, Treinen finds the same text message sent from his father, Tim. It reads, “Keep living your dream.” (Adam Kilgore - June 2, 2014)
On Super Bowl Sunday on February 7, 2016, Treinen hopped in his pickup truck, a 2012 Dodger Ram 2500, with his English bulldog Maxx. The two embarked on a corner-to-corner, cross-country cruise from Washington state to the Nationals' Spring Training site in Viera, Florida. That's a 3,200-mile journey.
He and Maxx made it to Viera on February 12 at 9:30 p.m., having spent 46 hours of drive time in the 6 days, averaging just over 9 hours per day. They made six stops: Pocatello, Idaho; Laramie, Wyoming; Osage City, Kansas; Rogers, Arkansas; Jackson, Tennessee; and Savannah, Georgia.
"Maxx was in the cab with me, but I kept him in the kennel because I didn’t want his hair everywhere," Treinen said. "Don’t worry, we stopped every few hours so I could let him run around.”
A dangerous curve: “If you’ve ever driven between Rawlins, Wyoming, and Laramie, they have huge wind farms out there. It’s just open and windy, like 50 mph gusts all the time. Right before we got to Laramie, we came around this corner and all of a sudden there’s this massive snow drift. My truck hits it, the wind hits me at the same time, my tail end slides, and I’m sideways. By the grace of God, nothing happened. But I was like, 'I’m going 40 miles per hour the rest of the way.'" Treinen said.
"Once [Maxx] hits the snooze button, that dog doesn’t wake up for anything. You can roll him, you can flick his legs a little bit, bounce him up— he doesn’t budge. He’s a rock, so I doubt he even knew it was happening. He was locked in on sleep."
Blake said that Maxx gets scrappy at times. "(Maxx is) so attached to my wife, Katie, that when we’re on the road, it’s really hard to get him to eat. He drinks a little bit at night. This year was a lot better. Last year, he didn’t really eat for three or four days on the road. Once we get to where we’re going, he feels more comfortable. I think he just gets a little on edge, a little stressed out. But on the road, if I’m eating something and I have some scraps, I’m more than willing to give it to him because he doesn’t really eat much. I’m sure it’s pretty stressful for him. Whatever lightens the load for him.
"He’s not really allowed to do it when he’s just at our house in Washington. But once we get on the road and we’re at other people’s houses, if they throw little scraps here and there, Maxx will start begging. When he’s allowed to get close to you, he’ll start drooling a little bit. He’s good at blowing bubbles out of the corner of his mouth. I swear, he goes from looking like an average bulldog to looking like the best-looking bulldog. He knows how to put on a face to win some food over. He’ll whine a little bit. If anybody knows bulldogs, they don’t bark. They wobble. It’s kind of an interesting noise. It catches you off-guard.
"I really like driving through the Midwest because you go through Kansas, which is where I grew up. The rolling hills bring back a lot of memories. My folks still live in Osage City, so I spent two nights there. Best meal of the trip was fish that my dad had caught in Oklahoma and grilled up for us. "I like the open road. It gives me time to think, time to pray.” (Eddie Matz - ESPN - 2/24/2016)
Imagine Blake's reaction when he learned that he had been part of "Jeopardy." The answer was: "The Nationals' Blake Treinen has hit 100 mph with this type of pitch that gets its name from its downward motion." The correct question: "What is the sinker?"
Treinen didn't know his name was going to be mentioned on the game show. Suddenly, he received calls from teammates such as Tanner Roark and Matt den Dekker. He even heard from college buddies from South Dakota State University—people who he hadn't spoken to in years.
"All the other [athletes] they mention [on 'Jeopardy!'] are Hall of Famers. That's weird," Treinen said. "No, I don't watch 'Jeopardy!' that much. It's weird, it's funny, it's kind of cool. I don't know what to think of it." (Ladson - MLB.com - 2/25/16)
Blake was just learning how to walk when he almost lost his right thumb. When he was about 2 years old, Treinen cut that thumb on glass, and his uncle held it together on the way to the hospital before he underwent extensive surgery. Treinen saved his thumb, but it had limited range of motion after the procedure. However, that injury turned into a blessing when he started playing baseball.
Blake practiced throwing two-seam fastballs with Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez training baseballs, which featured fingerprints to signal where the user should place his fingers. But he noticed he wasn't throwing it quite like his idols.
Treinen's thumb was a little higher on the side since he couldn't fully place it on the ball, making a sinking motion on his pitches. That sinker became one of his best pitches as a youngster, and it still is to this day. Led by his sinker, Blake has become a reliable Major League reliever after not receiving any Division I scholarship offers out of high school. He's been inconsistent in the 2017 season, but he'll likely rely on his sinker to return to form after the Nationals traded him to the Athletics, the team with which he started his Major League career.
"I think a change of scenery always feels like a fresh start," Treinen said after joining the A's. "It can definitely change an outlook on a season. There were some struggles over in D.C. performance-wise, but stuff-wise, I feel I'm still there."
Treinen didn't develop a strong sinking motion on his pitches until joining the Minor Leagues despite the natural sink on his two-seam fastball. As a starter at South Dakota State University, Treinen relied on his fastball and slider.But Treinen practiced the pitch more when the Athletics coaches and teammates noticed his sinking motion was better than most rookies—let alone some Major League relievers. While most pitchers throw their two-seam with two fingers in the middle of the ball, Treinen tilts his fingers, which develops the movement.
"I became who I was with it," Treinen said of his thumb. "It was a God-given ability."
In 2014, Treinen exhibited his sinker when he made it to the Major Leagues with the Nationals. And even Ritchie Price, Treinen's college coach, was astonished. Price compared the motion of Treinen's sinker to Mariano Rivera's cutter, arguably one of the most remarkable pitches of all time.
Before 2017 Spring Training, Treinen visited the University of Kansas, where Price now coaches, and Treinen put the college players in awe while showcasing his sinker. The catcher of that bullpen session left with a swollen thumb. "If anybody can learn to throw a ball that moves that much," Price said, "everybody would do it."
Blake's upper-90-mph sinker, which at its best moves right when the ball crosses the plate. "He's got great stuff, probably the best stuff on the team," Nationals pitcher Joe Ross said last month. "So to even see him get hit sometimes, I'm pretty surprised."
The Nationals wanted more dependable and experienced relievers to become stronger playoff contenders, so they traded Treinen and two prospects to the Athletics for Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson. Now, Treinen will have a chance to resurrect his season and prove himself as a steady setup man in the same place he polished his dangerous sinker. "I'm excited to be back here," Treinen said. "This is where it started." (Melnick - mlb.com - 7/21/17)
Not know as a great hitter, for a pitcher, Blake managed to get his first MLB hit against Clayton Kershaw.
July 2018: Treinen was selected to play in the MLB All-Star game. And he finished the season with an 0.78 ERA.
His wife Kati, coach for the Walla Walla Community College women's basketball team, enjoyed their run as the Northwest athletic Conference champions.
The couple welcomed son Krue on Sept. 18, 2018.
At age 2, Treinen severely cut his right thumb. It took surgery to correct it. As a result his thumb is at a distorted angle. He gets asked if that might be the reason for the great movement he had on his pitches. His answer is, "Maybe, but I'm not sure."
June 2011: Treinen signed with the A's, via scout Kevin Mello, after they chose him in the 7th round, out of South Dakota State. He received a $52,500 bonus.
January 16, 2013: The Mariners acquired OF Michael Morse from the Nationals in a three-way deal that sent catcher John Jaso to the A's. Oakland traded righthanded pitching prospects A.J. Cole and Treinen, as well as a player to be named later, to Washington to complete the deal.
July 16, 2017: The Athletics traded RHP Ryan Madson and LHP Sean Doolittle to the Nationals for Treinen, LHP Jesus Luzardo, and 3B Sheldon Neuse.
Jan 12, 2018: Blake and the A's avoided arbitration, agreeing on a one-year deal worth $2.1 million.
Feb 2, 2019: A's closer Blake Treinen won his arbitration case and will make $6.4 million in 2019. The A's had filed at $5.6 million. The increase is a record for a reliever going from his first to his second year of arbitration eligibility.
The A's did not offer Treinen a contract for 2020, making him a free agent.
Dec 11, 2019: The Dodgers and Blake agreed to a one-year deal worth $10 million.
Oct 28, 2020: Blake elected free agency.
Jan 5, 2021: The Dodgers signed Treinen to a 2-year deal that it is worth a guaranteed $17.5 million and includes an $8 million club option or $1.5 million buyout for the 2023 season.
- May 22, 2022: the Dodgers announced they have agreed to a one-year extension with Treinen that will keep him with the club through at least 2023.