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Former Tiger Nolan Blackwood Returns Home to Play Against the Redbirds

Blackwood throws a pitch with family and friends in attendance, as the Redbirds defeated his Sounds.
Blackwood throws a pitch with family and friends in attendance, as the Redbirds defeated his Sounds.

When the Nashville Sounds came to town to take on the Memphis Redbirds this past week, it was a homecoming for Sounds’ reliever Nolan Blackwood, who pitched for the Memphis Tigers from 2014-2016. 

Nolan grew up in Southaven, MS where he won a 2013 state title for the Southaven Chargers. A Memphis area local, Nolan went to Redbirds games as a child and has a soft spot for playing so close to his hometown.  

“My little league team was the one that would run out with them (Redbirds players) for the national anthem sometimes,” said Blackwood.  

During his three years at Memphis, Blackwood would gain a reputation as one of the best relievers in the American Athletic Conference. In his sophomore year, he had an ERA of just 0.52, while in his junior year, he recorded 34 strikeouts in 40.2 innings pitched.  

After his junior year he declared for the 2016 MLB draft, where he was selected in the 14th round by the Oakland Athletics. When he was at Memphis, Blackwood was expected to utilize his fastball and sinker as the closer and force college batters to be able to consistently make contact. 

“I would just go out there and pound my fastball in the zone and try to go out there and close ball games for the Tigers,” said Blackwood. 

Once in the pros, he still spent quite a bit of time with the Memphis program, throwing in Memphis during his off seasons and interacting with the former staff. But now that his offseason home is in Toledo Blackwood isn’t as involved as he once was. 

 However, he still has fond memories of the program and his former teammates, remarking how he was able to have dinner during Spring Training with former Tiger and current Kansas City Royals pitcher Jonathan Bowlen.  

In the minor leagues, Blackwood had to expand his repertoire to put out professional batters, which Nolan took as a challenge.  

“I had to get my off-speed better,” said Blackwood. “I couldn’t just pound my fastball. I could still be an effective pitcher, but not as good as having a change up and slider.” 

Overtime, he changed his game plan to match the challenges of the increased competition. Using the movement of his sinker and off-speed, Blackwood rose into AAA at his age 24 season. 

“My sinker has a lot of movement and I try to get in on hitters and make them hit weak ground balls in the infield and get weak contact,” said Blackwood. 

However, there’s been quite a bit of movement throughout organizations in his pro career. In 2018 he was traded from the Athletics' organization to Detroit in a deal for major league reliever Mike Fiers to help Oakland’s playoff chances.  

After four years in AAA Toledo for Detroit, Blackwood entered free agency in November 2022 where he signed a minor league contract with the Twins initially, before ending up with Seattle’s AAA affiliate, the Tacoma Rainers, after getting released by Minnesota. He was released by Seattle on August 20, 2023, and he signed with the Brewers on a minor league contract this offseason. 

The term “career-minor-leaguer" is often associated with players like Blackwood, who is now 29, but Nolan’s mindset is positive.  

“I’m still playing the game that I love and it’s still cool being able to still play.” Blackwood said. “I’ll play as long as somebody wants to sign me.” 

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