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Joe Blanton
Phils righty battle-tested on, off field

Doug Miller / MLB.com

When Joe Blanton finally made it to his first Major League Spring Training, he should have been thinking about nothing but baseball: pitching well and impressing his team.

Unfortunately, that's not what happened.

The Phillies right-hander was then a 23-year-old A's farmhand a year removed from being selected in the first round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft.

But not long before he left his Kentucky home for Phoenix, he found out that his mother, Carolyn, had breast cancer.

"It was tough, especially with me leaving," Blanton said. "I wanted to stay and be with her, going to the hospital with her for appointments and all that. But I talked to my dad, and he said I had a job to do, so I went.

"He was right, but it was a terrible feeling."

Believe it or not, Carolyn said Dad was right, too.

"I wanted all of my family to continue with their lives as much as normal," Carolyn told MLB.com, referring to her husband, Joey, her daughter, Kara, and Joe. "And I didn't want this to hurt [Joe's] career, so I was really glad his father told him to go."

Go he did, and more than six years later, life is good for all the Blantons.

Age: 27

Hometown:
Nashville, Tenn.

School: University of Kentucky

MLB Teams:
OAK, PHI

Video | Player bio
Carolyn is cancer free, and Joe is a key cog in the Phillies starting rotation. Blanton went 4-0 down the stretch after being traded from the A's in the middle of the 2008 season, and his winning performance in Game 4 of the World Series helped the Phils end their 28-year championship drought.

"Since he's been here in Philadelphia, I can definitely say that he's gutty and he's kind of a bulldog on the mound," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "And I like that part about him."

That part certainly comes from having to face adversity, something Manuel can identify with. When Manuel's mother passed away in the middle of this postseason, Blanton couldn't help but think back to 2003. But like Manuel, he used baseball to escape, and it helped.

"It's on your mind but you really have ... that period where it's almost like a getaway from reality, where ... that's the one period of the day you can get away and focus on something," Blanton said. "It's almost like there's so much focus [that] goes into it because you don't really think about the negatives going on, [and] it almost puts you in a different zone."

Blanton was in that zone when Carolyn made it to an A's game and threw out the ceremonial first pitch mere minutes before her son took the mound.

And he was in that zone in the World Series, pitching six innings of two-run ball and connecting for his first big league home run in that Game 4 win.

After overcoming what he and his family have faced, Blanton said opposing crowds don't scare him one bit.

"You get focused on the game at hand and the plan you're trying to attack for each hitter," he said. "It doesn't become such a factor for you if you really execute your plan."

Doug Miller is a Senior Writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.