A WALK WITH A HAWK...FEATURING J.P. BLACK
April 24, 2014
PRINCESS ANNE, Md.— It’s 3:00 in the William P. Hytche Athletic Center on a late March afternoon. The winter sports season has wrapped up, and the icy weather that has plagued the region over the last few months has loosened its grip. A group of male UMES students enter their locker room to grab their litany of bats, balls and gloves. Despite the frigid weather over the past two months, these men have played nearly half their season in warmer climates and are deep into the in-conference portion of their schedule. All are eager to match their skills against the rest of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC).
One of the players that adds to this eagerness of this team is sophomore pitcher J.P. Black.
A native of Pee Wee Valley, Kentucky, J.P. moved to Elkton, Maryland when he was ten years old. His father is an attorney who left a group that owned Hooters franchises to join the State of Delaware as Assistant Attorney General, and his mom, a breast cancer survivor, is a paralegal for a research conglomerate. Baseball is no stranger to his family as his older brother, Alex, was a catcher for Coppin State who was twice nominated for the Johnny Bench award, which is given to the best catcher in college baseball.
J.P. Black’s path to UMES was atypical of the average college student. While throwing a bullpen session as a senior in high school, he was approached by former Hawks baseball head coach William Gardner. “Gardner said that they could find a spot for me, and that he liked my pitching style. And I thought that was awesome, because at that point I had no idea where I wanted to go. That was that. I applied and I got a scholarship, so I was good to go. I just went with it.” Shortly after accepting his acceptance to UMES, Coach Gardner was replaced by Coach Swann, which proved to be a perfect match for Black, who said “Coach Pedro—he’s the man. He’s the perfect balance between flexible and stern. He knows so much about the game because he played 17 years in the pros. I like his approach and how he coaches, the best coach I’ve ever played under.”
His role is vested mostly in the starting rotation, where he has started thirteen games along with six relief appearances out of the bullpen. Surprisingly, he took to pitching in full during his senior year in high school after playing multiple positions (and even several different sports) in previous years. “I just started pitching a lot my senior year working with my pitching coach, Dwayne Henry, who also knows [Coach Swann]. Kept working on it, got better at it, had more success at it, and stayed that route.” His success as a pitcher came after not seeing his full potential as a hitter.
As a student here, J.P. is the lone Aerospace Engineering major among all the student-athletes at UMES. He hopes to use this major to build vehicles, whether it be automobiles (his personal favorite), or off-road vehicles or even aircraft. However, that was not his first option. “When I was younger, I wanted to join the Air Force and fly. Only problem was that at 13, I found out I was colorblind. So I contacted the Coast Guard to try to become a guy who jumps out of helicopters and saves people. There were medical complications…some sort of reason or liability. So if I can’t fly them or jump out of them, I could design them, build them or fix them.” The inspiration for this job came from an uncle he’s never met, but his job at Raytheon, a leading aerospace manufacturer, showed J.P. a path to this line of work.
In the meantime, J.P.’s focus is on completing his sophomore season with the Hawks, which currently has nine games remaining, with six of those to be played at Hawk Stadium here in Princess Anne. Black hopes to become a leader for a core of underclassmen starting pitchers. “It’ll be good to set an example for these guys, even though they already have experience.” But he also does not feel that this team needs to wait to win the MEAC tournament in a few weeks. “We just have to learn to put a complete game together, and then we can win MEACs.”
Judging by the performance of the Hawks so far, J.P. may not be that far off. Thru 36 games last season, the Hawks were 5-31 with just a 2-11 MEAC record. Today, the team is 11-25 thru 36 games and has a 6-12 MEAC record; an improvement of six wins overall and four games in conference. The baseball team has already surpassed last season’s win total and furthermore, they swept a doubleheader at Delaware State for the first time in ten years.
After speaking with J.P. a few weeks back for this article, it’s clear that he’s a man not deterred by obstacles and shortcomings. When he did not find success in various sports throughout high school, he stuck with trying different sports until he found baseball. When J.P. could not join the Air Force or the Coast Guard, he took the inspiration of his uncle to join the aerospace industry. With all the Plan “B’s” and “C’s” J.P. has had to face, he never once showed any remorse or upset feelings. Rather, he looks forward to an optimistically bright future with great prospects. Optimism and positivity are virtues that can improve everyone’s lives and it’s clear that J.P. has no problem with his wind up and delivery on those virtues.