Child’s play: Charlie Blackmon dialed in as hitter, new dad

Sports

FILE – Colorado Rockies right fielder Charlie Blackmon, front, connects for an RBI-single as San Diego Padres catcher Francisco Mejia, back right, and home plate umpire Brian Knight look on in the second inning of a baseball game in this file photograph taken Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, in Denver. Success doesn’t push the ever-thinking, ever-tinkering Charlie Blackmon nearly as much as failure. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

(AP) — At the plate, Charlie Blackmon is confident he can solve just about anyone he faces.

As for this new kid? Now, she’s throwing the Colorado Rockies outfielder for quite a curve — in a cute, cuddly way of course.

His methodical, ever-thinking approach to hitting is mere child’s play compared to learning the nuances of being a new dad.

“It’s kind of like trying to figure out a Rubik’s Cube,” said Blackmon, whose daughter was born in January. “You just know you’re never going to do it, but you keep trying.”

That could very well apply to mastering the art of hitting, which is Blackmon’s constant quest. He’s driven not through success, but by failure.

“If you want to feel alive, go out there and get your butt kicked — strike out in a big spot or make that error that loses the game. For me, that’s when I feel the most alive,” the 34-year-old Blackmon said. “I hate it and I want to change it. I don’t let it happen again.”

The outfielder known for his bushy beard and mullet haircut was off to a scorching start in 2020, hitting .500 through the first 17 games. According to the Rockies, the last player to hit .500 or better through that many games was Barry Bonds in 2004. Hall of Famer Larry Walker also accomplished that feat with Colorado in 1997.

Blackmon faded down the stretch and finished with a .303 average. His late struggles sent him back into his hitting lab to analyze what went wrong.

“It’s rarely mechanics for me,” said Blackmon, who reported minor symptoms after testing positive for COVID-19 last summer. “Usually it’ll be mental or an aggressiveness thing.”

Rockies manager Bud Black counts Blackmon as one of the most diligent workers he’s seen.

“Tremendous routine,” Black said. “It’s really impressive to watch.”

Utility infielder Chris Owings recently caught a glimpse of Blackmon’s astute knowledge during a batting practice session in Arizona. Blackmon actually knew the spin rate of the machine throwing pitches.

“He’s just dialed in on another level,” Owings said. “The way he’s able to make adjustments is why he’s been so successful.”

One big missing piece will be the slugger customarily hitting behind Blackmon in the lineup — Nolan Arenado, who was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Blackmon’s first thought on the trade was natural: “That I don’t get to play with one of my buddies, and that hurts,” he said. “He’s a guy I enjoyed being around.

“I’m thinking, ‘How do we move forward in the wake of his absence?’” Blackmon added. “That’s the part that doesn’t scare me as much as it did, initially. When I look around, I see the talent in the locker room.”

As a sage veteran on this team, Blackmon is always open to discuss the intricacies of hitting with anyone seeking his advice. But he’s careful not to deliver information overload.

“I need to instill confidence,” Blackmon said. “Sometimes it’s the fact they might need a scouting report or sometimes it’s they just need to vent about their swing — just have somebody let them know they care and listen to what they have to say.”

In early January, Blackmon and his wife, Asley, welcomed a new daughter. Asked what was more rewarding between being a dad and hitting a baseball, Blackmon kiddingly took a brief moment to ponder.

“Good question. The right answer is obviously being a dad,” Blackmon said. “But I’ll tell you what: I really like getting hits. Love getting hits.”

He’s sure gotten a lot of them — 1,311 and counting. He’s currently fourth on Colorado all-time hits list, behind Todd Helton (2,519), Walker (1,361) and Carlos Gonzalez (1,330).

Not bad for a former pitcher.

In high school, Blackmon was a lefty who was picked by the Marlins in the 28th round of the 2004 draft. A year later, he was selected in the 20th round by Boston after a season at Young Harris College in Georgia. He attended Georgia Tech, where he switched from the mound to outfield full time and was taken by the Rockies in the second round in 2008.

Blackmon takes great pride in figuring out how to bounce back from tough situations, whether it’s at the plate or in the win column. That’s why it doesn’t bother him the Rockies are being written off after the Arenado deal.

“I don’t really care what anybody else thinks about me or the team,” Blackmon said. “If I were to let the fact that some member of the national media says we’re going to stink this year or whatever, if I let that change how I feel or how I think or how I prepare, what kind of professional player am I?”

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