ALTOONA, Pa. — For a guy whose name means home, Altoona Curve right fielder Bligh Madris is trying to make it like home both on and off the field.
"I'm named after my uncle," Madris said. "It means home or house. I try to make people feel loved, make it feel like home all the time. It's one of my strengths in the clubhouse. That's how I lead — I love giving people confidence and making them feel comfortable."
Bligh, pronounced Bl-EYE, has roots that follow his family back to a South Pacific island named Palau, where he's one of the more popular athletes.
"I'm one of the only athletes from there to get big. Not from there, but family history and stuff like that so I have a big following over there," Madris said.
As for finding his way home on the field, Madris has been a staple in the heart of the order as he's scored 11 runs — good for third on the team — while also knocking in nine through the first 23 games of the season for Altoona. Madris, the ninth-round pick of the Pirates in the 2017 MLB Draft, leads the team in batting average as he's currently hitting .319 on the season and .333 over the course of the last 10 games for Curve manager Michael Ryan's team.
"Right now, he's getting the foot down. He's got very good barrel control, and he's hitting in the middle of the order and that's what we're looking for him to do," Ryan said.
Despite the success, the Colorado Mesa product has had his fair share of struggles early this season adjusting to life at the Double-A level.
"He's been a little up and down right now," Ryan said. "He's the type of player that once he gets on one of these hot streaks, you can tell by the pitches he's taking, he's not expanding the zone and he's staying within his approach. That's exactly what he's doing right now and when it's not going so well, from what I've seen early in the season, it's when he does expand, starts chasing off-speed in the dirt or elevated fastballs. That's where he gets caught in between."
The Las Vegas native is looking to keep his hot start consistent as the season grows on, and he said he's cognizant of the fact a lot of things can happen on a day-to-day basis in the game of baseball.
"I've had a good start. I hope to stay consistent with it and I have to give it all to my routines, my manager, my hitting coach; they stay on me every single day to keep pushing, doing what I'm doing right now and staying with it," Madris said. "I feel like I've gotten off to a good start and given myself some cushion because baseball happens all the time. It's a long season and I need to stay consistent with my approach and consistent with my routines in order for me to keep doing well."
It's quite the jump to go from NCAA Division II baseball to professional baseball like Madris did after being drafted in 2017, but it was a learning curve he was ready and willing to take.
"We had a pretty good program, but it was nothing like what I was thrown into my first year of pro ball. Seeing arms every single night, 93-plus, was a big jump for me," Madris said. "Going from Morgantown straight to High-A in Bradenton, man, a lot of guys had a lot of great stuff. I learned a lot last year about myself and about the game still. I'm learning stuff every single day and I'm just trying to be a sponge and take it all in."
That take-it-all-in approach has gotten the 23-year-old right fielder on the right track to start his Double-A career, and his growth has come in large part to the relationships he built with the coaching staff while in Bradenton last year.
"Butch (Wynegar), me and him would talk for hours and hours — we still text to this day and I still ask him stuff. It was really him who helped me get my mentality, my mindset and approach all together to do what I needed to do to come here," Madris recalled.
And while the the adjustment from Division II to professional ball was difficult for Madris, the jump from High-A to Double-A has been much calmer for Madris.
"Honestly, High-A was really hard. You had guys throwing just absolute gas all the time. Here you have more guys who actually pitch, fill up the zone and it's not 100 at your head or 100 in the other batter's box, they paint it," Madris said. "Here, we get guys who are crafty and know how to pitch; it's a little bit easier to stay in a zone and just really commit to a zone."
As Madris continues to make his adjustments and grow within the game, he's got a big fan cheering him on from Pittsburgh: Cole Tucker. Tucker and Madris go all the way back to when the two were playing against each other in tournaments in Arizona, but it was a mutual friend that connected the two once the latter was drafted.
"My girlfriend has a roommate and a teammate he's close family friends with. When I got drafted, she texted him and he said 'shoot me his number' and he texted me and said 'Hey man, congrats! Hope to see you soon, we'll catch up when you get here,'" Madris said.
From day one there was a bond and connection between the two and that connection led Madris to make a trip to Pittsburgh to see Tucker in action for the Pirates on an off day.
"We just clicked when we met and we love talking baseball. He'll text me 'Dude, great night!' and I'll do the same to him," Madris said. "We keep tabs on each other and it was super cool seeing his family down there and sitting with his family at the game."
PNG Field sits an hour and 46 minutes from PNC Park and only Triple-A Indianapolis sits between Altoona and Pittsburgh on the way to the show. The close proximity in distance and seeing a close friend and teammate on the field helped Madris put everything in perspective for what needs done on his end to get to where Tucker is.
"It puts in perspective how close we really are and what we need to do," Madris said. "He's a great role model and he just paves the way for us as young guys. He just gives us all the confidence in the world as well and it was great seeing him out there. He's living it up, he's loving it."
For Madris, only time will tell on how far up the ladder he can go within the organization but with Tucker in his corner and his continued growth, it's very possible he could be knocking on the door to the majors within the next few years.
CURVE'S TOP HITTERS
Hunter Owen, 3B - Hit three home runs, seven runs scored and seven extra base hits over the course of six games. Owen was named Eastern League Player of the Week for his performance.
Mitchell Tolman, 2B -- Finished a double away from the cycle Sunday going 3-for-4 with a home run, triple and two RBIs.
CURVE'S TOP PITCHERS
Top starting performance: James Marvel vs. Richmond on April 26: 7.0 innings pitched, four hits allowed, three strikeouts. Marvel is 3-1 with a 1.52 ERA on the season and currently holds a shutout streak of 14.2 innings dating back to his previous start.
Top reliever: Jake Brentz. Brentz appeared in three games last week, throwing a scoreless inning in a victory against Richmond Friday and another scoreless inning against the Flying Squirrels on Sunday. He allowed his only run of the season last Wednesday. He's appeared in seven games throwing 7.1 innings and has recorded a 1.23 ERA down from the 13.50 ERA he recorded in 12 games with Altoona last season.
THE ROSTER MOVES/INJURY UPDATE
Here are the roster moves over the last week:
4/26: INF Stephen Alemais place on the 7-day injured list. INF Adrian Valerio assigned to Altoona.
4/28: RHP Dario Agrazal promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis. RHP Angel German assigned to Altoona.
Altoona went 3-3 over the past week to move to 11-12 on the season.
The offense came alive in the three victories over the last week as they scored as they scored 10, 7 and 8 runs respectively. Along with the offensive outburst, the Curve also got stellar pitching from James Marvel Friday night as he threw seven shutout innings in a 7-0 victory over Richmond.
After finishing up the home stand with two more games against Erie, Altoona will head to Richmond for a three game series before returning to take on Bowie early next week.
ALTOONA FUN THING
In his first Double-A start, Erie's Casey Mize, the first pick in the 2018 MLB Draft hurled a no-hitter. Altoona's Cam Vieaux went seven innings allowing one run on six hits and two walks in a losing effort.
Mize needed only 98 pitches to get the job done as he recorded seven strikeouts, walked one and hit a batter.
"It's definitely a great day, a lot of credit to Jake Rogers behind the plate, he called a hell of a game," Mize said following the game. "It was definitely one of those days where it just felt like autopilot."
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