Minnesota Twins pitcher Nick Blackburn may be a laid back, easy-going guy in the clubhouse, but when it comes to his Oklahoma City Thunder, there's nothing mild-mannered about him. The 29-year-old right-hander, an Oklahoma native, is a self-proclaimed Thunder "super" fan.
He's had a lot to cheer about, as the Thunder lead the Denver Nuggets 3-1 in their first-round playoff series. The potential series-clinching Game 5 is tonight in Oklahoma City.
Thunder super-fandom is a fairly recent development, since the team moved from Seattle to Oklahoma City following the 2007-08 season. Blackburn wasn't an NBA fan growing up. Instead, he was a follower of college basketball and Oklahoma State. "[Before the Thunder's arrival in 2008], I couldn't have told you anything," Blackburn said of his lack of NBA knowledge.
I sound like one of those idiots that yells at me half the time. I have to keep it under control.” -- Twins pitcher and Thunder super fan Nick Blackburn
Blackburn and his wife, Alicia, a sports fan and former basketball and softball coach, were introduced to pro basketball when the Hornets played in Oklahoma City in 2005-06, after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. The couple had a great time at a game and decided to check out the Thunder after the team arrived from Seattle. They were hooked after their first Thunder game at the Oklahoma City Arena (then the Ford Center). Last season, Blackburn invested in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook jerseys and the couple got season tickets in February, their first for any pro sports team.
Blackburn has been a quick study, breaking down the strengths and weaknesses of the two stars (Westbrook is his favorite because "he's having fun out there, he gets after it"), and the merits of the midseason trade that shipped Jeff Green to Boston and brought in big man Kendrick Perkins.
And now it's a family affair, with Blackburn passing his super-fandom on to baby daughter, Payton. The 7-month-old has "at least six" Thunder T-shirts in her wardrobe and attended her first game earlier this season. "She loved it! She sat and watched the big screen the whole time and just stared," Blackburn said. "Later I was holding her and I could feel her chest rattling. I held her up to my ear and I could hear 'Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.' She was just humming along with the music. She had a blast. ... We're going to have to get more season tickets pretty soon because she's not going to be able to go for free for much longer."
Being a Thunder fan has also given Blackburn insight into how baseball fans in other cities think and behave.
"It's kind of fun to think of it that way from a fan's aspect," he said. "It makes me think that I understand why people do some of the stuff they do now. They're enjoying life. It's fun."
Then again, Blackburn's careful not to go too far overboard at the games.
"I find myself drifting into one of those typical fans you hear up in the stands, 'Come on!'" he said. "I'll be saying something and then I think I've got to stop and catch myself. I sound like one of those idiots that yell at me half the time. I have to keep it under control."