Blake Perry has been a professional baseball player for almost a year now, but he's really just getting started.
Perry, the highest draft pick ever from this area, has been in Arizona for more than four months, and he's finally getting the chance to get some games under his belt.
The former Boyle County pitcher is playing for the Arizona League Diamondbacks, who began their season June 21. He has made two starts and is scheduled for another on Friday.
He spent nearly two months in extended spring training after being designated for one of the parent Arizona Diamondbacks' three short-season teams, and he said he is pleased with his progress to this point.
"I feel good about it," Perry said. "At the beginning of spring training it was a little rough getting used to it, but between extended spring training until now it's gotten a whole lot better. I feel good about my first two starts. I'm throwing the ball pretty well."
Perry, 19, got only a tiny taste of pro baseball last year after signing with the Diamondbacks, who drafted him in the sixth round out of the Pendleton School at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where he played his last two high school seasons.
Now he has settled into a routine at the Diamondbacks' spring training complex outside Phoenix, and he said he's enjoying every minute of it so far.
"It's a lot of fun," he said. "The coaching staff is really good, I like my teammates, and hopefully we can keep winning."
Perry is still looking for his first win in the pros. He suffered his first loss Friday, however, when he allowed six runs, including two unearned runs on six hits and three walks in three innings,
He started the AZL Diamondbacks' season opener June 21 and made his second start June 26, throwing five innings in each game. The Diamondbacks (4-5) went 1-1 in those games.
He allowed one run on four hits and had four strikeouts in his first start, and he allowed one earned run — and four runs in all — on seven hits with three strikeouts in the second. He walked only one batter in each game.
"I've still got things I've got to improve on, and hopefully I'll keep improving," he said.
Perry said coaches have told him that it is important to master the three pitches he throws before trying to learn any new ones, and he said they have also stressed the importance of consistency in his mechanics.
And he said he has learned quickly that he is facing better hitters than he has ever seen before.
"It's a whole lot different than high school," he said. "Mistake pitches here get hit a little bit further than they did in high school. On a 2-0 count, you can't lay one in there any more.
"They're just as smart as you are and just as good as you are now."
After signing with Arizona in mid-summer last year, Perry joined Missoula in the short-season Pioneer League less than a month before the end of its season, and he pitched only one inning there.
"I'm still considered a rookie," he said. "I think I was only there for a month, I came back home to Danville for a week and then I went to instructional league for a month."
He said he hopes to return to the instructional league after the 10-week Arizona League season ends Aug. 29.
"I hope to go back and get a second year in. I hope to keep getting better and come back to spring training next year better prepared than I was this year," he said.
Perry reported for spring training in mid-February and has been in Arizona ever since. He said he knew by the end of spring training that he would be assigned to one of the Diamondbacks' three short-season teams, but he didn't know until the last day of spring training whether he'd be going to Missoula or Yakima or staying in Arizona.
"It's a little hot," he said. "It's not humid like back home, but 110 is still 110. We play games every day, and the travel isn't too bad. We don't have any overnight trips."
That's one of the advantages of the Arizona League, where the 12 teams play at major league spring training complexes throughout the Phoenix area.
There are no long bus rides — Perry said the most distant team is no more than two hours away — and no multi-game series. Teams play about six days a week through the 10-week season, which concludes Aug. 29.
And he practices and plays in a state-of-the-art facility. The Diamondbacks' training site on the Salt River Indian reservation was considered the best in major league baseball when it opened this spring.
"It's the best one. It's top of the line," Perry said. "The teams that are going to build new spring training complexes are going to say, 'We want to build one better than that.'"
Perry knows the bus rides will be longer and the ballparks probably won't be as nice at higher levels of the minor leagues, but he said he's willing to give up those comforts to move up the ladder.
"I'd much rather be moving up," he said. "The ultimate goal is to play in a facility like this every day."