Blake Gailen picks up independent baseball honor

After receiving a phone call in January from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim organization informing him he had been released, Blake Gailen immediately picked up the phone and began exploring other options to keep his career afloat.

The former Glendale Community College standout found a receptive organization a short time later in the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League. Gailen didn’t fathom that he would enjoy the best season of his professional career.

Gailen batted .338 with a career-best 22 home runs and 25 stolen bases and was tabbed the Independent Leagues Player of the Year by Baseball America. It’s led to him recently signing a double-A contract with the Colorado Rockies organization.

“It’s an incredible honor and something you wouldn’t expect to happen,” said Gailen, an outfielder and a former All-Western State Conference honoree at Glendale college. “After I hung up the phone talking to the Angels, I wanted to see what my alternatives were and Lancaster seemed to be the right fit.”

Gailen, who played at Glendale from 2005-05 before graduating from UNLV in 2007, played about 30 games with the Arkansas Travelers, the double-A affiliate of the Angels, in 2011.

At Lancaster, under the direction of manager Butch Hobson, Gailen began to ascend. He started in left field in the All-Star Game in July and proved he could be a consistent force during both halves of the season.

“It’s such a long season and it didn’t start off well,” said Gailen, who pitched at Glendale. “I started to pick things up about a month into the season and then everything took off.

“I was never named player of the month, but I stayed consistent and it’s the best team I’ve ever played on. My swing just felt good for most of the year.”

Gailen collected 169 hits in 500 at-bats, to go along with 89 runs batted in and 94 runs. He had a .415 on-base percentage and finished with a .534 slugging percentage.

It had been a long process for Gailen, 27, prior to joining Lancaster. He joined the South Coast League in 2007 before playing for the Wichita Wingnuts of the American Assn. in 2008. Gailen was traded to the Yuma Scorpions of the Golden Baseball League in 2009, but found himself temporarily unemployed after the Colombian Baseball Federation purchased the league and stockpiled players from its native country.

Gailen then resurfaced in the Golden League with the Chico Outlaws for the remainder of the 2009 season and 2010 before playing for the Lincoln Salt Dogs of the American Assn. The Angels then signed him in July, 2011, as a free agent after a try out.

Gailen refused to let the numerous career stops become obstacles while trying to improve his overall game.

“You have to have a good attitude,” Gailen said. “It’s a tough game and it can eat you alive if you let it.

“Everything happens for a reason and my outlook was that the Angels were the ones who gave me a chance.”

Glendale college Coach Chris Cicuto, who led the Vaqueros to two straight conference division championships and an appearance in the state tournament in 2011, said he was glad Gailen prevailed at Lancaster.

“It’s unbelievable what he’s been able to do,” Cicuto said. “He was always a special kid to us when we had him here and he was one of the better players in our conference.

“He has that ability to understand the game and he was far and above one of the best players who I have coached. He’d spend anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours in the office talking about the game. He deserved everything he worked for this year and we are proud of him. He will make the most of the opportunities presented to him because he’s a winner.”

Gailen said he’s now preparing for his next step with the Rockies. He plans to join the club in February for spring training.

“They told me I can be anywhere from high-A to triple-A,” Gailen said. “They seem like a good organization and I’m very excited about being able to go to spring training.

“I don’t want to ride the highs to high because I know I still have a lot of work to do.”

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