Jul. 7—ROCHESTER — As amateur baseball players get a little older, and farther away from their college-playing days, they often have to take a different approach to the game. That was the case with Drew Block of the Rochester Royals.
Block is a 2009 Mayo High School grad who played college baseball at Gustavus Adolphus College for four years.
He played one year of amateur baseball for the Rochester Blues in 2010 and then joined the Royals in 2011. For more than a decade, Block has been a staple in the Royals lineup and he has been a player/manager since 2015.
But Block, who will turn 32 later this month, had a couple of lean hitting seasons in recent years. In 2020 and 2021, he batted lower than .250 each season.
“It’s always challenging when you’re not playing college baseball and you’re at home and you’re working and you try to get back into things for each season,” Block said. “I think I had a few years there where I maybe just wasn’t preparing enough for the summer.”
The last couple of seasons, Block and some of his older Royals teammates have been doing more work prior to the start of the upcoming season. That included taking batting practice before the season started.
“We try to get into the swing of things a little bit quicker,” Block said. “It helps playing with younger guys, too. You see how hard a lot of those guys work in college, you want to show them you can still play.”
Block said it also helps to have some veteran players with coaching backgrounds such as Matt Meyer, Bo McClintock and Matteo Finnochi.
“That’s what we’re trying to teach some of the younger guys, too, to stay in the game and be in the game as long as you can,” Block said. “The expectation is to go out and play hard and make sure we’re giving our best effort.”
In 2022, he rebounded and hit .347 with two home runs, five doubles and a team-high 34 RBIs while helping the Royals win the Class B state championship. This year he is batting .365 (19-for-52) with four homers, two doubles and 20 RBIs. He is second on the team in RBIs, tied for first in homers and third in batting average.
Block not only worked harder in the offseason to improve his game, but the left-handed hitter also changed his approach at the plate.
“A few of those down years, you’re being too selective on pitches and looking to walk more,” he said. “I’ve just been trying to be more aggressive the last two years. I think that’s what’s changed. It’s obviously worked out, you jump on some pitches early in the count.”
Heading into the 2022 season, the Royals also had high expectations. Meyer, the former minor-league pitcher, was one of the driving forces behind the commitment to winning a state title.
“With Meyer, (former Division I player) Mike Michalak and some of the other guys, we’ve got some guys who played at a pretty high level of baseball,” Block said. “So you want to go out and play your hardest and as best you can.”
Winning is also fun and can be contagious. The Royals were 32-8 while winning the Class B state title a year ago and are currently 15-7 this year. They also earned a state berth in 2021.
Block had a strong postseason in 2022 and he was named to the state All-Tournament team in Class B. He is the second-longest active Royals player. Tim Osterlin, another player/manager, has been with the team since 2007 but in recent seasons he only sees limited action as a player.
Being familiar with many of the pitchers that the Royals face during the regular season is also a bonus for Block and the rest of the team’s hitters.
“The longer you play, obviously there’s not as many situations where you feel nervous, or feel the pressure,” Block said. “You can play more loosely and with a little more confidence. That’s probably the biggest thing.”
Block has played a lot of first and third base for the Royals over the years. This year he has spent more time as the designated hitter than in past seasons.
“The hardest thing is probably bouncing back after a weekend of two or three games. And trying to stay sharp,” he said. “I’m still only 31 or 32, I don’t want to tell the guys I’m a dinosaur or anything like that. But you don’t bounce back like you do when you’re 21 vs. 31, I’ I’ll say that.”
Block, like most veteran players, also has to balance a family and a full-time job. Aside from work and baseball, he also has three young boys 4 and younger.
“My wife is a trooper and is a big helper obviously, and lets me play as much as I have been able to the last couple of years,” Block said.
Block still enjoys being a player/manager, despite the added responsibilities. He does get help from Oesterlin and several other Royals players.
“Nobody can do it alone,” Block said. “It’s too hard. We’ve got a bunch of guys who help us out. It just depends on who’s there on any given night.”
Block is unsure how long he wants to keep playing, and managing the team. He admitted after winning a championship a year ago, the thought of stepping aside crossed his mind. But winning another title was also in the back of his mind.
“The easiest part is just writing the lineup and playing,” he said. “Just like running any other team, there’s multiple moving parts. But it’s all worth it, especially when you win a state championship. It definitely makes things a little bit sweeter.”
But the time for him to take a smaller role may occur in the near future, especially with a trio of young boys to raise.
“I really haven’t made that decision yet,” he said. “It’s still fun to be a kid and be on the baseball field. It’s hard to pass up when you’re still able to play.”