Tony Blengino can’t say too much about his appearance on the MLB Network’s upcoming quiz show, Baseball IQ. The 32 contestants — one from each major-league team, plus MLB.com and the Hall of Fame — have been sworn to secrecy about the results until the show airs (much like the contestants on The Bachelor, not that there are any other comparison between the two).
What Blengino can say is that there was “a stereotypical game-show buzzer” for the contestants to hit when they went head-to-head on a question. They did put makeup on him, “and I did not look freakish, as far as I could tell.” And, yes, “there were lovely parting gifts. Everyone gets a basket of swag.”
Baseball IQ, described as “a recall-based trivia show,” premiers next Tuesday at 6 p.m. Pacific time on MLB Network. Blengino’s first-round match will air Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 6:30 p.m. Pacific time. He faced off against David Nosti, an account manager from the Oakland A’s. That’s part of the appeal of the program — the wide range of participants, ranging from front-office personnel to equipment managers and scoreboard operators. You can find the complete list of contestants, and the format of the game, here.
“I got to meet a handful of (the players), and they’re all super,” Blengino said. “It’s a cross section of different departments within the organization, but obviously they’re all baseball lovers. They’re all good, solid folks.”
Of his foe, Nosti, Blengino said with a laugh, “Ironically, he was another Italian guy from New Jersey — although he was probably young enough to be my son. He’s got his stuff together.”
In the Mariners’ case, they held an in-house trivia contest to determine their representative, in which Blengino — a special assistant to general manager Jack Zduriencik — came out on top of about a dozen participants. He said he was ambivalent at first about participating, but when people kept telling him he should do it, “it becomes a defend-your-honor type of thing.”
Blengino was somewhat reluctant to leave the office while Mariners business is still being conducted, “but I asked Jack beforehand, if there was any reason you don’t want me to do this. He said, ‘Go for it.’ ”
All the contestants flew to Secaucus, N.J. earlier this month for filming of the bracket-style tournament, which took place over a two-week period,according to MLB Network spokesman Lou Barricelli. A winner has been crowned, and will be revealed in the final episode on Feb. 23. There will be two new episodes aired each Tuesday beginning at 6 p.m. Pacific time until then. Participants can earn up to $45,000 for their designated charity (Mariners Care, in Blengino’s case).
The show is mostly predicated on lists, such as this one from the Mariners’ test: “Name the 15 winningest pitchers in Padres history.” But questions cover the gamut of the sport and its history.
The 48-year-old Blengino, who oversees the Mariners statistical analysis for player evaluation at all levels, as well as overseeing their advance scouting staff, comes by his baseball knowledge honestly. A native of Magnolia, N.J., he’s been a rabid fan since the 1971 World Series between the Orioles and Pirates captivated him.
“That”s when it all just locked in,” he said. “That World Series is emblazoned in my memory — Roberto Clemente doing the things he did. I was mesmerized. From that point forward…I got my first baseball game, Sports Illustrated Baseball, for Christmas when I was 8. My mom woke up at 7, and I was already a few games into the season.”
Blengino graduated from St. Joseph’s University in 1985 with a degree in accounting, and started a career as a certified public accountant. But the baseball bug kept tugging at him. He joined SABR (the Society of American Baseball Research) and published an annual book called “Future Stars,” which was a scouting and statistical review of minor-league prospects. He eventually got into scouting in 2003 with the Milwaukee Brewers, where Zduriencik was scouting director. Blengino and current M’s scouting director Tom McNamara were the two Brewers employees Zduriencik brought with him to Seattle when the Mariners hired him in October of 2008.
Now Blengino can add “game show contestent” to his resume, but he’s not ready for another career change.
“It was a fun experience,” he said. “I doubt if I’ll ever have the experience of being on a game show again. The stars came into alignment, and it was kind of a cool thing. I’m glad I did it. It was very professionally done, top shelf all the way.”