By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
Sports really is the ultimate reality show because you simply can’t script it.
Charlie Blackmon certainly couldn’t have scripted a season like 2017.
“It’s been really good. I’ve enjoyed being on this team this year,” said Blackmon, who’s finishing up his seventh season with the Colorado Rockies, and his third as their starting center fielder.
There’s been a lot to like.
The 31-year-old native of Dallas, Texas, who patrolled right field and earned second-team all-ACC honors in 2008 in his one year playing on the Flats -- he led the Yellow Jackets in batting average (.396), hits (99, tied for 14th in program history), runs (68), on-base percentage (.469) and stolen bases (25, tied for 19th), with 30 multi-hit games and 12 multi-RBI games -- has become one of Major League Baseball’s most dangerous leadoff men, igniting a Rockies’ offense that is one of the most explosive in the game.
Blackmon, who was all over MLB All-Star week -- participating in the annual Home Run Derby, then making his first All-Star Game start in his second ASG appearance -- began September having already set career-highs in runs (120), triples (14, including a Rockies record 13 at Coors Field), homers (32), RBIs (84), walks (51) and total bases (334) and sat six hits (he had 82) and eight doubles (he’s at 28) shy of setting career highs in those categories.
All but the high in triples were set LAST SEASON, when he was Silver Slugger (his previous high in triples was nine in 2015).
His career-best numbers setting the table -- when he’s not clearing it, himself, that is -- have helped set the Rockies up for one of two National League Wildcard spots, as they’re 3.0 games up in the second spot.
The prospect of a return to postseason -- where the Rockies have not been since 2009 and only three times in their 25-year history -- has given Blackmon a career-high mentally.
“It’s very exciting to be playing meaningful baseball this deep in the season. I’ve never done that,” he said. “It’s way better to be on a team that’s winning. Usually that means your personal goals will take care of themselves. Then just your overall mental health is in a better state when you’re winning.”
It’s probably a good thing that Blackmon’s mind is on the postseason because it might be blown were it focusing on his regular season.
Let’s start with runs batted in. Blackmon will begin the season’s final month Friday night with 84. That total is amazing enough coming from a leadoff hitter, and NL leadoff hitter (St. Louis’ Taylor Douthit did it in 1930), and is only four behind the NL record, set by Houston’s Craig Biggio, who sparked the “Killer B’s” of 1998.
Biggio’s not the only Hall of Famer that Blackmon has a chance of catching milestone-wise.
He currently leads the Majors in hits (by 10 over Atlanta’s Ender Inciarte), runs (by 17 over Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton), total bases (plus-11 on Stanton) and triples (five more than Cincinnati speedster Billy Hamilton). Should that continue he’d be only the 13th player in history to lead in all four categories and the first in the National League since Stan “The Man” Musial, who did it for the Cardinals in 1948. He also leads the Majors with 55 multi-hit games (he’s seven up on Inciarte).
Blackmon’s also has a chance to score 150 runs. Only 12 players in history have done that in a season (since 1901) and the last two to do it were Houston’s Jeff Bagwell, 152 in 2000, and Boston’s Ted Williams in 1949!
Pretty mind-blowing stuff...except to Blackmon. He can wait on all that.
“I’m really not big into the statistics and stuff,” he said. “There will be a time for that, maybe after the season, where I’ll sit down and evaluate what’s happened but right now I’m more focused on the quality of my at-bats and scouting reports and stuff like that. Hopefully that will LEAD to those good numbers but that’s not really how I go about it.”
Blackmon’s going about things resulted in his being named NL Player of the Month for May, when he hit .359 (42-for-117) with six doubles, five triples, six homers, scored 24 runs, drove in 22 more and put up a 1.037 OPS (.387 on-base percentage + .650 slugging).
The Rockies’ great play drew attention to him and led to his being named an All-Star for the second time (he also made it in 2014). He also got prime time exposure by agreeing to participate in Home Run Derby.
“That was really cool. I didn’t know how that was going to go. I’d never really done it before,” he said. “I actually got really nervous for it but I ended up having more fun than I thought I was going to have. So it was a great experience. I’m glad to have done it and felt honored to be invited to such an event.”
Blackmon hit 14 homers, but was eliminated in the first round, 15-14, following a furious last-minute rally by Dodgers’ rookie sensation Cody Bellinger.
He found hitting homers on demand was quite taxing.
“It’s not as easy as you think,” he said. “If you come watch BP, maybe there’s a handful of guys that can do it consistently and that’s certainly not how I hit batting practice. So it was a big change for me to go out there and really only try to hit home runs.”
Blackmon, aka “Chuck Nazty” -- his longtime Twitter handle -- hit a home run and became an Internet sensation when two-year-old Tommy Carlson’s reaction to seeing Blackmon on TV went viral.
“OH YEAH! ‘The Charlie Blackmon Kid.’ That was great,’” Blackmon said, breaking to a huge smile. “It was such a genuine moment there for him that was caught on film. I really enjoyed seeing that. I thought it was hilarious. I enjoyed learning the background to that story, also. It was cool. We actually brought him out to a game. I met him. I didn’t know how he would react in person. He’s only, what, two? He was a little bit nervous.
“I’m probably a little scary,” he added, with a laugh.
Blackmon’s proficiency for leadoff homers -- his six this year, tie for the N.L. lead and his 28 since 2013 lead the Majors -- is very scary.
It could be very scary come postseason when you consider the Rockies are 62-26 when hitting a homer and 56-22 when they score first.
Then throw in the spookiness for pitchers of pitching in Coors Field.
“A lot of guys don’t like pitching there,” he said, smiling slyly. “Whether there’s as much truth to it or it’s just in their head, either way, it’s our advantage.”
“That’s not to jump that far ahead,” he added. “We still have another month of baseball and we have to play really well if we even want to have a chance to play a playoff game.”
Blackmon will simply just continue to enjoy the ride.