Aug. 3, 2013
By Jon Cooper
Baseball is often referred to as a game of failure.
Getting to play baseball at the highest level, the Major Leagues, requires constantly overcoming and adjusting to adversity.
Charlie Blackmon knows that and has shown the will and the ability to do both.
The former Georgia Tech and current Colorado Rockies outfielder (Class of ’11) was only on The Flats for two years (2007 and 2008) after transferring from Young Harris College, and had to redshirt one of those seasons, but he made a remarkable transformation and had a profound impact his one healthy year.
Blackmon had been an overpowering pitcher at North Gwinnett High School, where he was a three-sport star (baseball, basketball and football), then at Young Harris, where he led the Mountain Lions to back-to-back GJCAA State Championships. But at Georgia Tech, he made only one appearance, pitching one inning and allowing two earned runs, on two hits, with two walks. He finished his collegiate career with an 18.00 ERA.
With his primary avenue blocked, Blackmon, adjusted, going back to the outfield, where he’d also played at North Gwinnett.
“I came back (in 2008) and decided I would hit,” he said. “It was just one of those things where I had a pretty good swing and a little bit of coordination, some good hand-eye, and it kind of took off.”
Blackmon was an offensive machine, playing all 62 of Tech’s games, hitting in 55 of them and reaching base in 60. He led the team in batting average (.396), hits (99), runs (68), on-base percentage (.469), and stolen bases (25). His 99 hits still rank 14th all-time in school single-season history, while his 25 steals rank 19th, tied with Nomar Garciaparra.
“You’ve got to be confident to play this game and I always thought I could hit,” said Blackmon, who earned All-ACC and All-ACC Academic honors, was Second Team Capital One Academic All-American and was NCAA All-Region. “My first year at Tech was real humbling. I didn’t play much, I didn’t do well. I went from being nothing special to, ‘Wow, this guy can really play baseball,’ and ‘He’s a really important part of our team.’ It looked like I might be able to play at the next level.”
The Colorado Rockies thought so, drafting Blackmon in the second round of the 2008 First Year Player Draft. It was quite a different feeling from 2004, when he was selected on the 28th round by the Florida Marlins and 2005, when the Boston Red Sox took him on the 20th round.
“I will never forget that day,” Blackmon said. “It was a dream come true. That was a new beginning for me.”
He took advantage as over the next three seasons he wore out pitching at Tri-City (Short-Season A) in 2008, hitting .338, then batting .307 in 2009 at Modesto (A), and .297 at Tulsa (Double-A) in 2010, also blasting a career-best 11 home runs.
The 2011 season would be one of mixed emotions.
There was the high of hitting .337, with a career-best .572 slugging percentage and .393 on-base percentage at Triple-A Colorado Springs. That resulted in getting the call up to the Majors on June 7, getting his first Major League hit the next day and his first career home run on July 1, his 25th birthday.
But six days after after the homer things came crashing down, when he broke a bone in his right foot, rounding second base at Turner Field against the Atlanta Braves. The injury ended his season, but not his perseverance.
Blackmon once again found a way to adapt and adjust. With the Rockies’ blessing, he came back to Georgia Tech to complete his degree in Business Administration and Finance.
“When I was here, it was kind of frustrating because I only had one foot,” he recalled. “I couldn’t put any weight on that foot, so I had to use one of those little one-legged scooter things to go to all my classes. It was weird because I was non-weight-bearing for four months and your body kind of adapts and you compensate a little too much and one side gets a little stronger.”
Getting around on a Razor-like vehicle was neither easy nor fun but Blackmon’s ability to find a way paid off that December, when he completed his graduation requirements and walked across the stage at the Georgia Dome, receiving his diploma.
“It was a big deal for me,” he said. “School’s always been really important in our family and I was a very good student. Getting my degree was a big goal of mine. To come back and finish was a big accomplishment.
“You hate to start something, come so far and be so close to finishing then leave it alone,” he added. “So it gave me some closure to come back and finish it up. I’ll feel better towards the end of my career having that degree.”
Blackmon is doing everything he can to keep those days a ways off.
Heading into Friday night’s game in Pittsburgh, he was hitting .242 with a homer and four RBIs in 31 games (14 starts) in 2013 — he’s a career .264 hitter in (73-for-277), with 13 doubles and four homers — and has been with the big club since being recalled for the second time, on July 8, at San Diego, after pitcher Roy Oswalt went on the disabled list.
Splitting the last two seasons between Colorado Springs and Colorado is something he admits is a major challenge.
“It’s really hard,” he said. “Coming up from the minors, you play every day, you’ve got a feel for the game and you’re developing constantly,” he said. “At this level, not everybody can play every day and sometimes that’s going to be your role for a while. You have to embrace it, understand that what you’re doing is different than what you’ve been used to, work at it and adjust.”
Coming back to Atlanta helps.
Blackmon started one game and pinch-hit in the other three when the Rockies played a four-game series against the Braves earlier this week at Turner Field. He hit .286 (2-for-7), with a pair of doubles and while he obviously was disappointed that the Rox lost all four games, he appreciated the noticeable applause from family and friends in the crowd.
“It’s really nice to come back and play here and have a lot of people I know care about me enough to come out and watch,” he said. “It’s really a blessing and I enjoy it.”
Evidently, he also enjoys hitting at Turner Field, as he left hitting .276 for his career at the Ted, his highest average at any ballpark aside from Coors Field, where he’s had at least 15 at-bats. That includes a 4-for-4 game on Sept. 6, 2012.
“I knew I must have had one good game skewing those numbers,” he said, with a laugh. “That’s it.”
That game wasn’t his only memorable multi-hit game at Turner Field, as he was 2-for-4 for Georgia Tech on May 13, 2008, against Georgia.
“I do remember that,” said Blackmon, who still works out at Tech during the off-season. “I remember the first time being there and thinking, ‘Wow, it would be really cool to play here some day’ and ‘I don’t know how they do it with all these fans.’ But it’s kind of cool to play here as an amateur then come back and be able to play here as a big leaguer. It’s unbelievable.”
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