DENVER -- For die-hard Rockies fans, the number 21 is magical. It was the number on the back of Eric Young's jersey when -- on April 9, 1993 -- he took the first swing of a Colorado Major League baseball player in Denver's Mile High Stadium and sent the pitch
DENVER -- For die-hard Rockies fans, the number 21 is magical. It was the number on the back of Eric Young's jersey when -- on April 9, 1993 -- he took the first swing of a Colorado Major League baseball player in Denver's Mile High Stadium and sent the pitch over the left-field fence for a leadoff homer, electrifying the 80,227 fans and defining "baseball with an altitude" for generations to follow.
It's also the number worn by Kyle Freeland, a second-year pitcher who has been the most consistent starter in what could go down as the strongest Rockies rotation to date.
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It would be natural to assume that Freeland, a Denver native raised on the Rockies, had EY in mind when he chose the number 21 for the back of his own jersey.
"It's EY's number too, yeah," Freeland said after a magical walk-off win to take a series from the Padres Thursday. "I was really young. I probably don't remember it, but I've seen it multiple times since then."
Freeland, in fact, was born five weeks after that first game in Colorado, and the inspiration for his jersey number -- which this weekend will double as the nickname on the back of his jersey, "Two-One," -- came years later when he played his first season of baseball for Denver's Thomas Jefferson High School.
"That number was actually given to me in high school after my freshman year by one of the upperclassmen who graduated," Freeland recalls. "I wasn't on varsity my freshman year. I had surgery. And then sophomore year when he graduated, 21 was handed down to me. He was one of the guys that I looked up to."
That explains the number. But what about the nickname, "Two-One?"
For that, switch gears to football and one of the most acclaimed sports books of Freeland's era, a non-fiction book by Buzz Bissinger, later made into an equally celebrated movie and television show, which is an enduring cultural phenomenon that helped create a bond between Freeland and his teammates from his days at The University of Evansville in Indiana.
"When I was in college, me and my solid group of guys on my team, we were all into the TV show 'Friday Night Lights,'" Freeland explained. "Tim Riggins [the high school fullback central to the story] would always call everyone on the team by their number, and he'd say it by number, so like, 'Two-One, One-Seven,' whatever.
"We just kind of started saying that around our clubhouse and in games. It kind of just rolled. So 'Two-One' stuck with me since freshman year of college."
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When Freeland takes the field this Players' Weekend, cheering his current teammates on from the dugout after his Thursday start to win the series with the Padres, "Two-One" will be stuck on the back of his unique Players' Weekend jersey.
It's fitting that on a weekend meant to celebrate the players in a light-hearted manner, capturing nicknames new and old, so often the product of unique relationships among teammates, Freeland will be giving a shout-out to the high school teammates who inspired him, the college teammates who helped shape him in his critically formative baseball years and the work of creative non-fiction from Buzz Bissinger that so essentially captures those enduring relationships between players coming together as a team to pursue a common purpose.
Owen Perkins is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver.