From utility man to starter, Blackmon living a fairy tale
Rockies outfielder ranks in top 20 in average, home runs, RBIs, on-base percentage
Charlie Blackmon is officially the Cinderella story of Major League Baseball this season.
Blackmon is 27 with a full beard, so he doesn't look much like a Disney princess, but he could sure pass for the Prince Charming of the Colorado fan base.
The man has established himself as not just an everyday player, but an offensive stalwart.
It's not like Blackmon hadn't hit before. In 2013, he batted .309 through 82 games, driving in 22 runs and scoring 35 times on 76 hits. But Blackmon definitely didn't have the golden touch he's wielding right now.
"Golden touch" is no understatement. Blackmon is currently in baseball's top 20 in batting average, home runs, RBIs, stolen bases, slugging percentage, OPS and WAR (according to FanGraphs).
No one is more surprised by Charlie Blackmon's success than, well, Charlie Blackmon.
"I wasn't expecting to get off to the start that I did," Blackmon said. "But every offseason I sit down and I say, 'What are the adjustments that I need to make to make my game better?' So I try to come back every year a little bit better. I think the big thing that got me over the hump was that I was able to start this year in the big leagues.
"In previous years, [I started] in Triple-A, and when you come up, not only are you having to deal with a different talent level, but also a different atmosphere -- things you aren't used to. So everything is kind of out of whack, and baseball is big on routine and consistency. So I think it's hard to go from one atmosphere to another atmosphere and to be on a completely different team. And to just pick up where you left off, that's really hard."
You certainly wouldn't know it to look at Blackmon today. He's baffling every pitcher he faces, including Cincinnati Reds ace Johnny Cueto, who entered Thursday with a Major League-leading 1.43 ERA.
Blackmon connected for a game-tying RBI single off of Cueto in last Friday night's Rockies-Reds matchup.
"[Blackmon is] a good hitter," Cueto said through Reds assistant trainer and interpreter Tomas Vera. "That was a pitch I wanted to throw in, a backdoor sinker. It stayed in the middle. It was a bad location, and I missed the location."
And while Blackmon himself may be surprised by his own success, those who are around him most are not.
Colorado teammate Jordan Pacheco has known Blackmon since 2008, when both played at Class A Tri-City in Washington. Pacheco, asked to talk about his relationship with Blackmon, flashed a grin and offered to dish "the dirt" on his buddy without missing a beat.
"First impression was that he was really lanky," Pacheco recalled. "He seemed very uncoordinated. He was pretty unorthodox the way he did stuff, especially in the outfield."
Uncoordinated? Probably because Blackmon was primarily a beanpole of a left-handed pitcher through high school. But it didn't take long for him to adjust to life as an outfielder after his arm started getting sore.
In any case, Pacheco is happy to see his friend succeed.
"It's definitely nice to see him having the success he's having," Pacheco said. "I know how much work he puts into it. I know how much he studies the game. When you see that out of somebody and you're with them when they aren't doing really well, when they're doing well, you appreciate them a little bit more.
"I wouldn't say [that I'm] surprised, but what he's done this year so far has been special. [If] you give a guy a certain amount of playing time and a certain number of at bats -- and I saw what he could do at the Minor League level -- to watch him put it all together, it's fun to watch."
Rockies manager Walt Weiss admits he wasn't expecting this show of power out of Blackmon, his former utility outfielder.
"I can't say I expected it," Weiss said. "[Blackmon] certainly showed flashes of it last year, the last part of the year when he was getting consistent playing time. We knew the power was in there. He's got a plaque in Baltimore for where he hit the ball."
Indeed, take a walk on Eutaw Street outside Camden Yards and you'll find 77 plaques there, one commemorating each ball crushed beyond right field since the park opened in 1992.
Blackmon's Aug. 16, 2013, monster was just the 73rd ball to hit Eutaw Street. He joins the likes of Ken Griffey Jr., Rafael Palmeiro, Jim Thome, Eddie Murray, David Ortiz, Justin Morneau, Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, Lance Berkman, Aubrey Huff, Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, Josh Hamilton and Chris Davis.
No big deal. As always, Blackmon remains humble. He's just content to soak it all in.
"It's really nice to go from [being] a guy that doesn't play quite as much as you would like to, to this year I got an opportunity early on and made the team for the first time," Blackmon said. "I've played well early, so now I got a new role on the team and that role is to play pretty regularly. That's been my dream, my goal, for a long time."
Make no mistake, it's not easy, and never will be, no matter how effortless Blackmon manages to make it look.
"It's an adjustment all around. First of all, I've never really played quite so much, so physically I'm getting more tired," he said. "On the other hand, mentally it's [getting used to playing] every day. You're having to grind every day. If you don't do well one day, you don't have a day off to stop and think about it. You've got to come back the next day ready to play. You can't dwell on it. Those are the two big things.
"And there's a lot more preparation. I don't have all game to watch a guy pitch and then just get one pinch-hit at bat. I've got to be ready to go from the start, and I've got to be familiar with the bullpen. … They're making adjustments and I'm trying to make adjustments to them. They're starting to pitch me a little differently than they did at the beginning of the year, so it's a cat-and-mouse game. Everybody's constantly adjusting."
All in all, though, Blackmon doesn't consider himself "famous." He's just an ordinary Georgia guy who likes fishing and flying (he dreams of flying in a military jet someday). Oh yeah, and playing a little baseball now and then.
"I feel like I'm the same guy. I don't feel any different," Blackmon said. "I try not to act any different. I don't think doing one thing or another and becoming successful -- that shouldn't allow you to go out and try to be something completely different. I don't change a whole lot. I don't consider myself famous. I might get recognized if I walk right out of the stadium in downtown Denver right after a game; that's about the extent of it.
"Baseball was something I've always wanted to do. I played football and basketball, but baseball was really my dream, and I spent more time doing that than anything else. You know, when you're a kid, you always say, 'I'm going to grow up and be a baseball player.' It's just really cool to be 27 years old and still playing baseball."
Maybe it's Pacheco who said it best.
"He's not a materialistic guy. He just likes to play baseball," Colorado's catcher said of his friend. "That's what keeps him grounded. That's what keeps him being Charlie Blackmon."
And right now, being Charlie Blackmon isn't half bad.
You might even call his story a bit of a fairy tale.
Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.