'I hear them and I love it': Joe's journey just beginning

April 10th, 2022

DENVER -- The Rockies’ Connor Joe is and always will be the subject of a great story. He doesn’t mind that and is happy he’s a fan favorite at Coors Field.

“It is something I'm very much aware of -- I hear them, I love it, I embrace it,” said Joe, whose eighth-inning, 444-foot homer off Blake Treinen gave the Rockies a 3-2 victory over the Dodgers on Saturday before a crowd of 48,087 at sold-out Coors Field. “It started early last year. Maybe the first game, the ‘Joe’ chant started. That’s something you can’t tune out. We try to stay locked in as long as possible, but I hear them and I love it.”

The love for Joe could be heard throughout LoDo -- Denver’s lower downtown, to those unfamiliar with the gem along the plains. Joe’s shot gave the Rockies a victory that was started by Germán Márquez’s seven standout innings -- three hits, one run, five strikeouts, 74 pitches -- and ended with three strikeouts from Daniel Bard in the ninth.

Joe’s first career homer came July 20, his one-year anniversary of being cancer-free and not long after his third and final callup from Triple-A Albuquerque.

It was the first of Joe’s eight homers before he sustained a right hamstring injury Sept. 3 that ended his season. But after a strong Spring Training (.412 with two homers in 14 Cactus League games), Joe has started the first two regular-season games and seems poised to keep writing his tale.

The drive to center field with two strikes added a nice page.

“There were a couple big moments last year for Connor,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “It’s still unfolding for him.”

Kris Bryant said, “He’s definitely had his fair share of ups and downs, not just in baseball, but life too. And for him to come here every single day -- he’s one of the hardest workers I've seen -- with a smile on his face.”

Joe, 29, accepts that interest in him extends beyond the field. Before Friday’s season-opening 5-3 loss to the Dodgers, he paused to discuss how he is viewed. It wasn’t that he was bothered, he needed to give it the thought it deserves.

“It's not something I want to be defined by,” Joe said. “But it's something that has molded me, so I have no problem with it being brought up. It's not something I want to forget. It's not something I want to push to the side because it's very much a part of me today.”

On either side of the health struggle, which took place during 2020, Joe went from talented but unsure to determined and appreciative.

He was Pirates' first-round pick (39th overall) in 2014 out of the University of San Diego, where he was a teammate of Bryant. The Pirates traded him to the Braves, who sent him to the Dodgers. Then the Reds selected him in the Rule 5 Draft and then traded him to the Giants, and he made his debut on Opening Day in San Diego, his hometown.

“Hundreds of people were there,” Joe said. “I was trying to figure all that ticket stuff out and still looking over my shoulder like not knowing how to act as a big leaguer, not knowing how long my leash was -- the uncertainty.”

Joe went 1-for-15 with the Giants, then was sent back to the Dodgers. He stayed the rest of the ’19 season and took some steps forward in Spring Training of ’20 until he was diagnosed with cancer.

Staying positive by throwing himself into kayak fishing during his recovery, Joe found his way back to the game. Having grown up watching Black manage the Padres, it was a natural fit for the Rockies to sign him.

After last season and the strong spring, Joe is proud the turns have put him in position for a solid career.

“The wording is going to be interesting on this one,” he said. “I don’t feel I’m established but I feel I belong. As an athlete, we're competitive. I don't think we're ever comfortable. But my confidence level is in myself that I belong here.”