The eyes of Newport will be on Dickey-Stephens Park this week as Grant Black returns to Arkansas as a professional baseball player with the Springfield Cardinals.
Black, who played at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, has had an improbable path to the Minors as a hard-throwing, right-handed pitcher.
At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds Black has the size of a pro, but his baseball resume was thin. He last pitched for UAM in 2017, where he spent two seasons and was honorable mention all-conference his senior year for a solid Boll Weevils squad.
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Undrafted and unsigned by a big-league club, Black hit the independent league circuit playing in the Frontier and Atlantic leagues with the Gateway Grizzlies in Sauget, Illinois, and then on to the New Britain Bees in Connecticut.
As a relief pitcher, he didn’t put up impressive numbers -- an ERA of 4.38 for the Grizzlies and then a 2.81 ERA for the Bees -- but he managed a total of 17 saves over the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
That was followed by a momentous December 2019 tweet where Black said he was looking for an “affiliated opportunity” and listed what he could do: A four-seam fastball that was between 94 and 96 miles per hour, a curveball that hit between 83 and 85, with a changeup that came in on the radar gun at 86 to 88. Plus 65 strikeouts in his two independent league seasons.
In February 2020, the St. Louis Cardinals came calling and the Redbirds bought out Black’s contract with the intention of sending him to the minors last season, then came the pandemic and all of baseball shut down in 2020.
Hope, like baseball, springs eternal and Black was back on the mound and pitched two games in relief last week for Springfield. His stat line wasn’t the greatest as he gave up five hits and three earned runs in two appearances, but Black’s potential flashed with four strikeouts in just three innings pitched, while also hitting 95 miles per hour on the radar gun.
Now, for Black, he’s back in Arkansas and playing for the organization he grew up following. And, if you go, you might hear some familiar voices in the crowd as Black’s father, David, and uncle, Buddy, are the long-time announcers of Newport High School football.