by Riley Hicks
As he stepped to the plate and made his 10-finger prayer, the pitcher wound up and threw a change-up. The baseball was smashed and redirected to the left outfield, but it didn’t just stop there. After reaching the height of the light pole, the ball soared into the trees where it finally landed, 375 feet from home plate.
That head-turning, base-clearing homer didn’t take place in a major league, minor league, or college baseball game, but rather on Aug. 6 during the Little League Baseball Southeast Regional Tournament. The batter was 13-year-old Jayce Blalock of the Peachtree City team, who before this was going through a slump at the plate. His grand slam helped extend the lead in a one-sided game against South Carolina to advance in the tournament. His team continued to battle its way into the championship game, but fell one game shy of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, after a loss to Carolina.
The home run, whose distance was wildly out of the ordinary for athletes beginning their teenage years, instantly went viral. ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and others shared the video of Jayce’s deep shot on social media. While the hit itself was surprising enough, what really complemented the scene was the announcer’s comments as the grand slam pitch was released.
“They said he could hit it in the trees,” the announcer said. “Now, if he hits it that far, that’d be amazing.”
Jayce’s coaches, teammates, and parents were not surprised by the viral home run because he’s made plays like this before. It’s commonplace for Jayce. Behind the helmet, however, Jayce is still a kid, trying to find the right balance between playing multiple sports and excelling in school.
During the year, Jayce is a seventh grader attending Trinity Christian School, bouncing from baseball to football and then to basketball. This baseball season alone, he played for three teams, including Trinity, Home Plate, and his little league team. When not practicing with one of these squads, Jayce meets with his hitting coach Robert Ambrose, who helped him accumulate all this power behind the bat. It’s not easy for his parents to drive him from place to place, but they always manage and are happy to spend time supporting their son.
“Sometimes I feel like painting my truck yellow like a taxi cab,” Jayce’s father Previn Blalock said. “Me and my wife put a lot of time into it, but I see he is good so it doesn’t matter,”
When not running around to training and practices, Jayce enjoys going fishing with his dad at lakes and ponds in the area and squirrel hunting. Jayce is well-versed in a wide range of sports, but it wasn’t always that way.
At one time, Jayce struggled even to get a hit in a game, which earned him a spot on the bench for part of a season. Determined and impatient, Jayce went to his baseball coach and asked how he could get some playing time. Ambrose, his coach at the time, offered to train Jayce. Though still early in his youth, Jayce began working out, which contributed to the power he now wields when he picks up a bat.
The home run that was a big deal to so many was not the case for everyone. Jayce thought it was a great experience seeing all the attention behind it, but the homer doesn’t even match his longest distance. Ambrose saw this as not unusual because he has seen this before from Jayce.
Even though the homer didn’t catch Jayce by surprise, it did catch the attention of the Atlanta Braves. They asked Jayce’s coach if he wanted to try and hit a home run in the new stadium, SunTrust Park, which was 375 feet in length. After about 20 to 30 hits, Jayce finally got the pitch he needed and hit one deep to left and over the wall.
A few Braves players were on hand to take notice of this great accomplishment, including infielder Dansby Swanson and outfielder Matt Kemp. Even in the major leagues, Jayce’s strength didn’t go unnoticed.
“Matt Kemp told me that he needed to start doing pushups,” Jayce said.
When Jayce finished his baseball season and his hit into stardom, he buckled the helmet and shoulder pads and sprinted onto the football field. Jayce started playing football at the age of seven, and currently plays middle linebacker and running back for the Trinity Christian School middle school team.
“I compare him to a young Bo [Jackson],” Jayce’s football coach Jacob Carr said. “He is as good as he wants to be in whatever he puts his mind to. He will run you over and he will outrun you, then he will hit one 370 feet into the trees.”
On and off the field, Jayce has formed himself into a leader and someone who the team can rally around, never showing off or bragging about his talents. Most times, Previn said, he is quiet and lets his skills do the work.
“Guys look up to him because of his attitude and the way he carries himself. He gets onto the guys and motivates them when need be,” Jayce’s baseball coach Ryan Danbury said.
Without a doubt, the athleticism and the intangibles are there, but there are other sports in the mix. Jayce’s coaches and parents believe that with whatever sport he decides to follow, he can make it professionally because of his strong mindset. At the moment, Jayce hopes to one day complete his career goal by playing in the major leagues.
“I want to play in the MLB for the Braves, L.A. Dodgers, or the Marlins,” Jayce said. His favorite players are Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen because “they’re hard workers.”
In a matter of years, Jayce could be adding himself to the list of local stars who made it into professional baseball, like Andrew Toles, Niko Goodrum, Myles Jaye, and Dwight Smith Jr. Since baseball isn’t Jayce’s only passion, those close to him believe he’ll hit a home run no matter what path he chooses.
“Jayce can set goals and go get them,” Carr said, “and he has the support behind him, along with the ability inside of him, to do whatever he decides to do.”