#TGW: Charlie (Heart and) Hustle
Former Yellow Jackets’ outfielder leading off the charge as the heart of the Colorado Rockies
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
- Stephen Hawking is quoted as saying “Quiet people have the loudest minds.”
Based on Hawking’s reasoning, Charlie Blackmon has one of the loudest minds in the Colorado Rockies’ clubhouse.
Based on the reasoning of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, he also has one of the biggest hearts. Blackmon, who was Georgia Tech’s most valuable player in 2008, his lone season on the Flats, was named the Rockies’ winner of the 2016 Heart & Hustle Award by the MLBPAA on Tuesday. He’ll be recognized in a pregame, on-field ceremony during the team’s upcoming homestand.
The award is given to a current player who shows “a passion for the game of baseball and best embodies the values, spirit and traditions of the game,” and rewards that player’s “passion, desire and work ethic demonstrated both on and off the field.”
Of course, Georgia Tech fans know all about the outfielder’s passion and heart, as he showed it in spades back then.
He doesn’t look the same, as his face is pretty much buried in the bushy facial hair that has become his trademark look for the Rockies, where he is in his third full season, but there’s still that fiery style of play and big bat he wields at the top of the Rockies’ order.
Blackmon headed into Colorado’s mid-week series against Tampa Bay at Coors Field with a .305 batting average, tops among National League centerfielders and leadoff men. He also ranked second among the senior circuit’s leadoff men in slugging (.484) and on-base percentage (.370).
He’s been especially lethal power-wise, having blasted 12 homers in 2016, seven off his career high. Five of those have come in the first inning, when he has a .365 on-base percentage, a.643 slugging percentage and a 1.008 OPS (slugging plus on-base percentage). He’s put the Rockies on the board in the first inning 17 times since 2013, tied for most in the majors since 2013 with New York Mets rightfielder Curtis Granderson.
Blackmon's MLB bio
Scoring first is a big deal, as the Rockies are 25-14 when they do so, 18-35 when they don’t.
“Obviously you want to score first and put the other team in a position where they have to play catch-up the whole game and that way you’re using the strength of your bullpen and that kind of stuff,” said Blackmon. “That’s our goal, is to get on the board early and do it as often as possible.”
This season, he’s been as good late in games -- he’s batting .333 in late-and-close situations and with runners in scoring position.
Blackmon’s put up an array of numbers that might even dizzy Hawking and is especially impressive for a leadoff guy.
“He’s a guy that we can start the game 1-0 right away. That’s always great,” said Rockies’ All-Star outfielder and neighbor in right field Carlos Gonzalez. “The leadoff guy used to be the smallest guy just bunting and trying to get on base, try to steal second, try to make things happen. Charlie can steal bases, he can get on, be a tough out, but he also can supply some power. He’s a great leadoff hitter but he can also be a three-hole hitter because he can drive the ball, he can be a tough out, he can hit lefties and righties.”
Sounds like what Blackmon did in 2008, when, primarily hitting led off -- he also batted third -- he helped Georgia Tech get to the NCAA super regionals. Blackmon led the team in batting average (.396), runs (68), hits (99), at-bats (250), stolen bases (25), and triples (three), with his hits and steals still ranking 14th and 20th all-time for a single season in Georgia Tech history. He hit better the later the season got, hitting at a .471 (8-for-17) clip, with two runs and three RBIs in four NCAA Tournament games after going .533 (16-for-30), with eight runs scored and eight more driven in during three ACC Tournament games. He was voted team’s MVP and top Scholar-Athlete, and earned second-team All-ACC, All-ACC Academic, ACC Honor Roll and CoSida Academic All-America honors.
Since coming up to the Majors for good on July 8, 2013, Blackmon’s never hit below .287 and should continue that this season as he’s within reach of career-highs for average, homers, RBI and is currently putting up career-bests for on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS.
This season he’s also showed resilience bouncing back from an early-season setback, going on the disabled list from April 14 through 29 with turf toe. Since returning he’s been unstoppable.
“I think I’ve just been able to implement what I’ve been learning the past couple of years and manage to play relatively consistently and been healthy since coming back,” said Blackmon, who made his final appearance at Turner Field last weekend, getting a hit in each game while helping Colorado take the series in Atlanta for the second straight season.
Blackmon brought a nine-game hitting streak into the Tampa Bay series, during which he’s batted .311 (14-for-45), has reached base via hit in 22 of the last 24 games (he’s batting .346, 36-for-104) and has reached base in 66 of 71 games since coming off the DL, with a .316 average and .380 on-base percentage.
And he’s not just getting fat at Coors Field. Blackmon is batting .329 with seven homers and 27 RBIs, with a .393 on-base percentage at Coors Field on the road.
“People are always going to say this and that, but I feel like I’ve been a pretty good baseball player no matter where we’re playing this year,” he said.
In fact, one of his best games of the season came at Yankee Stadium on June 21, when he blasted two home runs off New York starter Ivan Nova, becoming only the second Rockies player ever to hit two homers in a game at Yankee Stadium.
“I did not know that,” said Blackmon. “It’s obviously a big deal playing in Yankee Stadium against the Yankees, and it was nice to play well. To do that is really cool.”
(Coincidentally, Nova was the pitcher in the other two-homer game came on July 26, 2013, when Ty Wigginton did it. Blackmon batted eighth and played left field, Gonzalez led off in center.)
More cool recognition for Blackmon came in late June, when he won National League Player of the Week for the week of June 20-26 after hitting .424 (14-for-33) with nine runs scored, five homers and nine RBI, with .909 slugging percentage and 1.381 OPS.
“It must have been a down week for the league,” he said, with a laugh. “That was really cool. Any time you get recognized across the whole league you’ve done something really good.”
That week actually started with a Sunday afternoon game in Miami, against the Marlins and former Jackets’ teammate Derek Dietrich, when he went 3-for-5 with a home run to help Colorado salvage the last game of the four-game set.
“I spoke to him a little bit,” said Blackmon. “It’s really nice to see Dietrich step in there and establish a bit of a role on that team. I’m really impressed with how he’s been playing. He’s having really professional at-bats and doing a great job for them.”
Blackmon, who recorded his 500th career hit on May 11 in his 500th career game (it came on his 50th career homer), said that one of his biggest moments of the season is coming up on Saturday. That’s when he’s the centerpiece of Star Wars Night at Coors Field, as he will be featured with the Charlie Blackmon X-Wing Fighter Star Wars Bobblehead giveaway.
“Oh, I’m super-excited,” said Blackmon, who said this year’s model tops last year’s Charlie Blackmon Bobblehead. “A bobblehead is kind of a big deal, especially the X-Wing Fighter Pilot Star Wars Bobblehead. I love Star Wars, so the Star Wars bobblehead thing is really cool for me.”