May 28, 2014
By Jon Cooper The Good Word
It would take Georgia Tech fans a few minutes to recognize Charlie Blackmon thanks to the new-look bushy beard he wears.
But that swing and the splendid results would clear any ID issues up.
Colorado Rockies fans can relate.
Both Tech and Rox fans would agree that they like what they see, both with the beard and on the field.
The 27-year-old Blackmon (he turns 28 on July 1), a former second-round pick of the Rockies in 2008, is hitting lead-off and jump-starting the National League’s highest-scoring, top-hitting and top-slugging offense.
And it’s not close for second in any of the categories. Heading into play on May 28, the Rockies’ 268 runs were 30 more than the next team, their .289 batting average and .471 slugging percentage were 28 and 55 points higher than anyone and their .808 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) was 63 points in the lead in the N.L.
Blackmon has done his part, ranking seventh in the league with a .321 batting average (21 points higher than his career average), and a .524 slugging percentage (he was .447 coming into 2014). He has 60 hits in 51 games — he had 74 in 82 games last season.
Blackmon admits he is comfortable at the plate, having already set career-bests for home runs (nine), RBIs (33), walks (10) and stolen bases (nine) and has tied his career-high for runs scored (35).
“Everything has kind of come together,” said Blackmon, prior to a recent game against the Atlanta Braves during the Rockies lone visit to Turner Field this season. “It was nice to be with the team Opening Day, and not have to make the transition from Triple-A to the big leagues. I think that was one of the biggest reasons I was able to start well.”
Included in his start was a career-day on April 4, against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Coors Field, when he finished 6-for-6, with five RBIs and four runs scored. The six hits matched the franchise-single-game record, and made him the 100th player since 1914 to amass six hits in a game. Three of his hits were doubles, making him the first player with six hits, including three doubles in a game since 1960.
“It was just one of those days, where it was just a normal day. You start getting a couple of hits and then, you kind of look up towards the end and you realize you’re having a good day,” he said. “Then you kind of realize, `I haven’t gotten out yet.’ It’s one of those things where you know you’re kind of in uncharted territory. You’ve never really done it before. You really have nothing to lose, so I just pretended I was 0-for-0, just trying not to think about it. Just go up there and do what you do.”
On April 23, he had another one of those days, scoring four runs in a game for the second time in 2014. That put him in the company of Tulowitzki, Larry Walker, Todd Helton and Andres Galarraga, basically the Rockies’ Mount Rushmore.
Blackmon isn’t lobbying for a spot up there with them. He barely takes any credit at all.
“It’s one of those things where, yeah, you have to get on base but the hardest part is once you get on base is getting somebody behind you to drive you in,” he said. “It’s a testament to how well `Tulo’ has swung the bat, and [Carlos Gonzalez], [Michael Cuddyer] and all those guys behind me have swung the bat.
“It’s really nice when you get on base but when you don’t you kind of feel like you’re letting them down,” he added. “I feel like if I’m doing my job it makes our offense better.”
Blackmon has been doing his job very well and very consistently.
He hasn’t gone more than three straight games without a hit (going hitless in three-games once) and has had back-to-back hitless games only three times all season. He hasn’t discriminated, hitting .308 against left-handers and .326 against righties, and is batting .333 when ahead in the count and .293 when behind. He’ll pick up runners, too, hitting .333 with runners in scoring position (15-for-45).
He’s also found his power stroke, as his nine homers match his career output coming into the season and the franchise-single-season record out of the lead-off spot.
Blackmon prefers not to talk about his sudden long-ball propensity.
“I don’t consider myself a power-hitter,” he said. “I consider myself a hitter who if I make good contact can hit the ball over the fence. So home runs for me aren’t a product of swinging hard or trying to pull or anything. It’s mostly just making good contact.”
The consistency shouldn’t surprise Tech fans, as Blackmon was the Yellow Jackets’ MVP in 2008, after leading the team in batting average, hits, runs scored, doubles, triples, stolen bases and at bats. During that year’s NCAA Tournament, he set a school-record by hitting in all 12 Tournament games.
He still remembers the Super Regional in Athens.
“[Georgia] beat us twice to win out of the loser’s bracket that year,” he recalled. “They went on to lose to Fresno State in the National Championship. If we didn’t lose, we might have made it just as far.”
He has added defensive versatility to his offensive consistency. He came in to Spring Training faster, having worked on building up his speed, so as to be able to play all three outfield positions.
“It was mostly a lot of running. I worked really hard this off-season to get my speed up to where I thought it should be for a centerfielder,” said Blackmon, who has matched his career-high for games (25) and starts (22) in center. “I’ve been really happy with my running so far. I feel fast. I feel athletic and that’s because I changed the way I train this off-season. I wanted to be able to play centerfield and if you can play centerfield you can play the corners, too. So it’s a big deal for me to have that ability and not be limited to just left or just right.”
Blackmon has helped the Rockies stay in contention in the N.L. West and is earning national renown, as he’s third overall in National League All-Star balloting behind perennial All-Stars Tulowitzki and St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and leads all National League outfielders. He’s sixth overall in the Majors.
Still, he remains humble, recognizing how quickly the good-looking numbers on the oversized scoreboard can turn ugly.
“You know it’s not going to last forever,” he said. “It’s a humbling game. It’s only a matter of time before you strike out or look bad. So it’s just one of those things that you can’t put too much stock into it. You just know it’s going to be ups and downs.
“I think it’s harder for me to hit when I’ve been really successful,” he added. “You start thinking too much, you start changing things, you realize, `Wow, I’m doing really well.'”
He’s happy with his numbers look on the scoreboard and approves of his new look, with a beard.
“I just kind of liked the way they look and I thought it would be cool if I had one of those, so I gave it a shot,” he said. “I’m not superstitious or anything like that. I like the look so I’m going to keep it for a while.”
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