FACE OF THE FRANCHISE
Behind that lustrous beard, Charlie Blackmon has brought stability and professionalism to Colorado for 10 years
By Jerry Crasnick
Since his debut in 2011, Charlie Blackmon has been a staple in the Colorado Rockies’ lineup and clubhouse. He’s seen Todd Helton, Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki retire and Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story and DJ LeMahieu leave Denver by trade or free agency and kept adding to a resume that includes four All-Star appearances and two Silver Slugger Awards.
Quietly and without a lot of national attention, Blackmon has solidified his status as an elite player in franchise history. He’s first on the Rockies’ career list with 54 triples, second to Helton in hits, total bases and games played, and climbing the list in several other offensive categories.
In June, Blackmon joined Lorenzo Cain, Patrick Corbin and Yasmani Grandal as one of four big leaguers to reach 10 years of MLB service. His teammates recognized the achievement in the clubhouse with a few speeches, a parade of hugs and a 10-year-old bottle of whisky as a memento.
“It was a really cool experience,’’ Blackmon said. “I don't usually like to make things about myself, so they had a pretty good feel to make it kind of short and sweet. ‘Here’s your thing, but let’s move on. We’ve still got a game to play.’ I thought it was really professional the way it went down.’’
Blackmon recently sat down with the MLBPA for 10 questions about his tenure in Denver. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
1. Why is getting to 10 years important to you?
Ten years is known as the benchmark of, ‘Have you played a long time in Major League Baseball?’ It is a big deal because so many things have to go right. I've been blessed with some talent, and that'll maybe get you to the big leagues. But then there's the health aspect, and somebody has to want you to play on their team for 10 years. So many things have to go right to get there, it's a really special benchmark.
2. How much more meaningful is the achievement doing it with one team?
I think more and more guys are going to move around, and it's less likely you’ll see one guy for 10 years in one place than it used to be. I’m super thankful to be in one place. I'm not the best at making new friends. I don't want to have to move around and get comfortable in a new place. It tells me that the Rockies wanted me to be there. And of course, I wanted to be in Denver. Being able to do it with one team is the best way to go, because it means it’s really worked out for both sides.
3. You were a pitcher and an outfielder at Georgia Tech. Do you think you could have had a major-league career on the mound?
I don't think I would have even come close to upper minor-league level baseball as a pitcher. There was a time where I thought I was gonna be a pitcher and I was really good at pitching. But after seeing how hard it is to hit this pitching . . . I mean . . . it's so much better than I ever could have been. It was a really good decision to put that behind me. I'm glad I'm a hitter now, I’ll say that.
4. You’ve played your whole career at Coors Field. What's the biggest misconception about the park?
Most people hear ‘Coors Field effect,’ and they’re under the impression that on your way in, when you put on your jersey, they hand you a homer. It’s like they're just giving out home runs there.
You look at all these park-adjusted numbers and they’re probably going to ding you for the park being offensive. But I don't think they give you any credit for things like spending extended time at elevation, which means you aren't recovering as well. You're more susceptible to injury. You're playing the game not as fresh as you normally would. That will compound over the course of the season.
This is the highest level of baseball. Guys are really good, and there’s a very fine feel between a good pitch and a bad pitch. We spend like 30 percent of our games in flux, going from one atmosphere to another and then back home. Just because you were at sea level for a week and balls out of the pitcher’s hand do one thing, you can't just come home and the next day be completely sharp and know exactly what a two-seamer is going to look like at altitude. It's going to take you another game or two to kind of reacclimate.
There are a lot of pitches that I've missed, because in Coors Field, this slider is going to look like this. But in San Francisco, it looks completely different, even though my eyes are telling me it's the same spin and the same arm speed. That’s completely missed. People don’t get that.
5. Which teammates had the most profound influence on you early in your career? Did anyone help mold and prepare you for life in the majors?
I got to be around Todd Helton, and he was kind of the elder statesman. He wasn't a big ‘rah rah, let’s all go out to eat and talk about how cool baseball is’ kind of personality. He was more the ‘I'm going to go about my business and do what I need to do’ guy. I would watch and observe, and in certain situations I could ask him questions. If he was in a good mood that day, he would hand out some advice and I was always quick to snatch that up. I really enjoyed being around him.
Two guys between him and me were Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. Both those guys were incredibly successful with different skill sets and completely different personalities. It made me realize there are a lot of ways to get to the end goal of being a good baseball player. There’s not one cookie cutter way to do it.
6. Your beard has become part of your identity Have you ever looked at old photos of yourself and laughed, or been tempted at any point to say, “I'm going to show up one day with no facial hair?"
It’s funny looking back and seeing myself, because I've played so long with the beard. There was a time I played without it and it looks like a completely different player. Except for Jhoulys Chacin, nobody in the locker room has ever seen me in person without it. My wife hasn't even seen me without it. There are a lot of people that don’t know what my naked face looks like.
I'm pretty well locked into this look. I really like the beard. But it would be kind of interesting, before it's all said and done, to maybe come full circle and play a game the way I started.
7. Another piece of your identity is your walk-up song, “Your Love,’’ by the Outfield. Are you surprised how it caught on and became a nightly ritual at Coors Field?
I actually used that song in college, and I loved college, man. Everybody should go to college. It didn’t catch on in college, but I stuck with the song because it worked for me and I liked it. To see what it’s become now -- it’s a thing. It’s something people remember when they come to the game. I speak to a lot of fans and they're like, ‘Oh, you're that guy. That's your song.’ They couldn't tell you if I got a hit or struck out, but they remember singing the song and everybody else pitching in. I think it makes for a cool experience in Colorado.
8. Do you have a favorite road park or city through the years?
My favorite places are the ones where I feel like I have the best chance to hit a home run -- so everywhere but San Francisco. It seems like all the teams that wear red play in good places to hit home runs. So I feel pretty comfortable playing a team that wears red or in a park that has some humidity. That always helps me. I really like being hot and loose. But there’s not one park where I just love it. I do like hitting in Philly, and Cincinnati is probably the best park to hit in.
9. This one might be more challenging. If I were to say to you, ‘If I never have to face (blank) again, I would be a happy guy.’ Is there a pitcher who springs to mind?
I am not going to give any one guy the satisfaction of being that guy for me. And if he is, he'll never know it. I'll take it to my grave.
10. Fair enough. To wrap up, do you have any sort of cool, hidden talent? What are you good at outside of baseball?
I mean, I like fishing. I can juggle. I used to be good at video games. I don't have any musical artistic talent. I'm super concrete. I can add up numbers really fast. I don't think I'm that special. I think I just happen to be pretty good at baseball most of the time.