Ten years ago, Blake Treinen was a lanky college sophomore, just hoping for an opportunity to walk on to the University of Arkansas baseball team. He wasn't even allowed to try out.
Fast forward to 2018 and Treinen is arguably the best closer in Major League Baseball. He leads the league with a 1.02 ERA, and his 27 saves rank fifth.
"Everything happened for a reason," Treinen believes. "10 years ago, I'd tell you I just wanted to play college baseball. That's what is so great about our God. He just opens doors and writes things better than you could ever imagine."
Treinen was born June 30, 1988 in Wichita, Kansas. He attended high school in nearby Osage City, a town of fewer than 3,000 people. Treinen played baseball as a freshman, but quit during his sophomore year when he developed prediabetes. He worked hard to clean up his diet, began exercising regularly, and rejoined the team for his junior and senior seasons.
In 2007, Treinen enrolled at Baker University in Baldwin City, Kansas, and pitched for their NAIA baseball team. He transferred to Arkansas in 2008, hoping to show his ability as a walk-on, but he never got that opportunity.
"It's tough to see the future in a world where realistic thoughts are so pounded into our heads," Treinen said. "Things like 'the pro athletes are the ones who stand out in high school' or 'just getting to college ball is such a hard thing to do, let alone have success.' When I look back 10 years ago, I reflect on my faith and my dream. I had a passion and a dream to be here."
Treinen's first big break came in the winter of 2008, when he attended a baseball camp run by former Kansas University pitcher Don Czyz. By that time, Treinen was well over 6 feet tall, with a 90 mile per hour fastball. Czyz recommended the wiry right-hander to a former Kansas teammate, Ritchie Price, now the head coach at South Dakota State.
Treinen emerged as SDSU's top starting pitcher in 2010, earning first-team all-Summit League honors. He was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the 23rd round of the 2010 MLB Draft, and it looked like his dream of playing professional baseball was finally a reality.
But life threw Treinen another curveball. After offering him a contract, the Marlins informed Treinen that an MRI had revealed shoulder inflammation, and they withdrew their offer.
"Through all the ups and downs, and different struggles over the years, it's kind of emotional to think about," Treinen said. "My career path is my testimony. The struggles I've gone through were all for a greater purpose."
Treinen shook off the disappointment and returned to South Dakota State in 2011, where he continued to improve. His fastball now reaching the high 90s, Treinen went 7-3 with a 3.00 ERA. He was selected by the A's in the seventh round of the 2011 MLB Draft, and this time signed a contract.
"I've worked really hard, but at the same time, God has been pretty good to me and my family, opening doors and opportunities that I never would have thought possible," Treinen said. "People saying 'no you can't' only drives you more. Being faithful along the way, things just continue to open up."
Even after Treinen turned professional, it was far from smooth sailing. He was traded to the Nationals in 2013, where he displayed great potential, but lacked consistency. After a few up and down seasons in Washington, he was traded back to Oakland last July.
Treinen performed well for the A's in 2017, utilizing an effective sinker to record a 2.13 ERA in 35 appearances. But this season, at the age of 30, he has taken it to another level, becoming an All-Star for the first time in his career.
"It's a rewarding feeling," Treinen smiled. "Just playing in the big leagues is a dream come true, let alone being a closer, playing for a group of guys like this, and then getting a nod to go to the All-Star Game. I don't know know if I've ever dreamed about the All-Star Game. God writes scripts that are better than your wildest dreams."
A's manager Bob Melvin has had a front row seat to watch Treinen pitch the last year, and he still marvels at his ability: "If you see him first hand, throwing upwards of 100 miles an hour, with that kind of movement and that sharp a breaking ball, there aren't too many guys in the league, if any, who have that kind of stuff."
Added catcher Jonathan Lucroy: "It's 98, 99 (miles per hour), going straight down. It's diving hard. It's a nasty pitch. I've caught some sinkers in my life, but that's a legit elevator sinker."
Through all of his success this season, Treinen has remained humble. He will never forget the arduous journey to get to this point.
"Every struggle and every obstacle I've had has been for a bigger plan. I'm so thankful that this is the moment in my life that I get to live. I'm just trying to enjoy every moment of it."