Attention to detail is a trait Ty Blankmeyer picked up at his kitchen table as a youngster.
Coaching has always been in Ty Blankmeyer’s blood. Let’s face it, even as a little boy, every time he turned around he’d bump into one.
His dad, Ed, was the longtime St. John’s baseball coach. His grandfather, the late Mike Sheppard, Sr., was a literal institution at Seton Hall University. And uncles, Mike, Rob and John Sheppard have been piling up baseball wins at an astonishing pace in their own right since before Ty fielded his first ground ball.
Sure, Ty wanted to be a major leaguer in his deepest dreams, but, he admits, he always wanted to be a coach.
Blankmeyer, who spent the past year as a volunteer assistant at Wake Forest, has been hired as a full-time assistant at Duke University. We caught up with the former Diamond Jack out of Diamond Nation on the recruiting trail for the Blue Devils in Fort Lauderdale.
“It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid,” said Blankmeyer. “Sure I had aspirations of playing in the big leagues, but if you look at all those class assignments I did since kindergarten, I was always saying I wanted to be a coach when I grew up.”
Blankmeyer witnessed first hand the effect an excellent coach can have on his players athletically, sure, but more so on the personal end.
“It’s been a blessing to see my father, grandfather and uncles coaching the game and knowing it’s always been about the relationship with their players for them,” said Blankmeyer. “It’s always been about them making sure their players were the best version of themselves.”
Blankmeyer witnessed that effect in the grandest of ways at his grandfather’s funeral in 2019. “Thousands of people showed up,” he said. “He made such an impact on so many people’s lives. That’s what God wanted him to do.”
Coaching, Blankmeyer believes, is his life’s mission, as well. At the age of 28, he certainly has already earned an advanced degree in the sport of baseball. You can say it began in his younger years but it certainly has accelerated since college and after the Cincinnati Reds drafted him in the 36th round in 2016.
Blankmeyer was no baseball prodigy, not with that 36th round selection, but he was quickly becoming a walking encyclopedia in regard to the nuts and bolts of winning baseball. It seems he’s been striding forward, gaining valuable experience at every stop since that Draft day in 2016.
“Ty is a winner and he knows what it takes to win,” said Travis Anderson, one of Blankmeyer’s coaches during his five years as a Diamond Jack at New Jersey’s premier travel ball facility.
The Reds sent Blankmeyer to the Pioneer League in 2016 to begin his advanced degree in baseball, if you would, but the return the organization received on its investment was a young man with a larger fire burning inside to coach.
Blankmeyer batted .280 in the Pioneer League but the Reds saw something else and moved him into a player development role, assigning him to the Arizona Complex League, working alongside former major league infielders Barry Larkin and Jose Nieves.
“The biggest compliment I can give Barry was that he treated everyone the same,” said Blankmeyer. “I was a 36th rounder and he treated me no differently than he did the first rounder. He showed the same energy for everyone.”
So add Larkin, a Hall of Fame shortstop, to Blankmeyer’s already long and impressive list of baseball tutors.
Having been around ballplayers from a young age, Blankmeyer could surely separate the average from the good, the good from the outstanding and the outstanding from the special, but he’d get a crash course on talent evaluating when the Milwaukee Brewers hired him in 2017 as Northeast Region scout, managing all scouting responsibilities in the region for five seasons. He signed the Brewers No. 1 pick (15th overall) Sal Frelick out of Boston College in 2021. Frelick is currently batting .315 at the Double-A level.
Blankmeyer loved scouting and player evaluation, but still longed to return to the field, holding dearly to that young boy’s dream of becoming a coach.
He would take the wealth of knowledge garnered during his five years with the Brewers and apply it as a volunteer assistant at Wake Forest this past season.
“I don’t like to call it ‘volunteer assistant’ because it’s a full-time job,” said Blankmeyer. “(Head coach Tom) Walter allowed me to work and learn. I was happy there. It was where I was meant to be at that time in my life.”
Before Duke University would enter into the picture, just a week ago, Blankmeyer had hooked up with the Burlington (N.C.) Sock Puppets of the Appalachian League, a summer collegiate league looking for a manager. Blankmeyer jumped at the opportunity. For the uninitiated, summer collegiate leagues thrive in the south and are often a big hit in those local communities, drawing huge crowds.
“In the winter, Casey Fahy, a Royals scout I know, hooked me up with Burlington. He’s the director of the league. He offered me the manager’s job.” The league had hired Fahy last November as its Director of Baseball Development. Blankmeyer and his three assistants had the Sock Puppets in first place when Duke came calling.
“I just coached my last game with Burlington on Sunday night,” said Blankmeyer. “It’s one of the most fun experiences I’ve had.” The Sock Puppets season ends the first week of August.
While Blankmeyer was getting a crash course on coach the past 12 months, his name was certainly out there and heads were turning his way.
“I wasn’t really looking, but other schools had contacted me,” he said. “But when I heard from Duke, they made the most sense. It’s the greatest school and a great program. That’s what sold me. They are only an hour and 20 minutes down the road from Burlington.”
Blankmeyer is thrust right back into the recruiting game with Duke, except now he has the entire country as his target. His title is assistant coach/recruiting coordinator and he’ll work with Duke pitching coach Brady Kirkpatrick on that all-important chore. Fitzpatrick is also new to the Blue Devils’ staff.
“I’ll do a lot of the same stuff I did at Wake,” said Blankmeyer, “defensive stuff, recruiting. Not sure how they will break it all down yet. I’m dancing into the chaos (of recruiting) and doing the best I can. My scouting experience is a big help and I have a lot of connections from those years.”
New Jersey has always been fertile recruiting ground for Duke, which boasts four players from New Jersey on its 2022 roster and one from nearby Easton, Pa. Two of those rising juniors are former Diamond Jacks Adam Boucher of St. Joseph (Met.) and Luke Storm of Easton Area High School.
“And we will continue to recruit New Jersey,” says Blankmeyer. “I know what you get in a New Jersey player, what they’ve battled through. There are a lot of good players in the state and it’s a place I’m passionate about. We’ll continue to find good players there.”
Blankmeyer says coaching college offers him the best of the two baseball worlds he loves, coaching and evaluating talent.
“I love evaluating players, figuring them out, understanding what makes them tick and developing relationships with them,” he says.
Through it all, Blankmeyer has had enviable resources at his disposal, particularly a family tree of coaches who have seen just about everything the game can throw at a coach. An infielder by trade, Ty has fielded everything thrown his way since he left the field as a player. He played his high school ball at Seton Hall Prep for his uncle, Mike Sheppard, Jr. and his college ball for his dad at St. John’s.
“My dad’s advice has always been, ‘You have to be all in. It’s got to be in your heart and you have to pour yourself into what you do, individually,’ whether it’s recruiting or coaching. He’s never told me what to do. He just gives me his perspective, which is a lot. At times, he’s going to tell you what you don’t want to hear. He’s honest and insightful. We’ve talked about the importance of developing relationships with players.
“I know he’s happy I stayed in the game as a coach, but he’d be happy about whatever I chose to do.”
It does seem like Blankmeyer’s coaching gene has clicked into overdrive the past couple years.
“Ty is a grinder who brings a lot of energy to what he does,” says Anderson. “He has a knack for evaluating talent and absolutely loves the game and wants to make it and his players better. I can see him being a college head coach in a few years.”
Blankmeyer has also embraced the motto so tied to his grandfather, one Mike Sheppard, Sr.’s former players, some of whom are in their late 60s now, still point to as a life lesson.
“My grandfather’s whole ‘Never lose your hustle’ mantra means way more than just those words,” says Blankmeyer. “It’s a lifestyle. It’s about being present, energetic in whatever you do. There are so many nuggets of wisdom he’s given me and I feel I constantly share his message. It’s really the way he treated people and lived his life.”
Blankmeyer has invested in a bank of baseball knowledge delivered initially to his kitchen table as a youngster and it has been fortified now that he’s pursued it as a coach and talent evaluator with an unquenchable thirst for the game.
“Ty has always had a great passion and respect for the game,” says Sheppard, Jr. “He’s a student of the game, even as a young kid. He was always inquisitive, asking us questions. You knew at a young age his future was in baseball. Duke is getting an excellent up and coming young coach.”
Indeed, the baseball classes continue for Blankmeyer.
“You are always working toward a PhD in baseball,” he said. “You are never done learning. You go to the park every day, always learning. So much of the joy I’ve had has been on a baseball field. It’s still the same for me. My purpose, too, was to coach baseball.”
Like his dad. His grandfather. His uncles.