Rockies join Kemp, decide not to play

August 27th, 2020

The Rockies voted in an emotional team meeting not to play Thursday afternoon’s game against the D-backs in Phoenix, adding their voice to a call for social justice amid police violence against Blacks -- with Jacob Blake being added to the list. Blake is fighting for his life after being shot seven times in the back by police in Kenosha, Wisc., on Sunday.

Rockies outfielder Matt Kemp -- who sat out Wednesday’s game -- said Thursday he understood that events across pro sports Wednesday unfolded at a timing that didn’t allow the Rockies to think it through and join him. NBA players refused to take the floor for playoff games and three MLB games were not played Wednesday. The Rockies learned of the NBA decisions on the team bus, which arrived at Chase Field late because there was no batting practice. Players were in preparation as the story was developing.

“I don’t think they realized what was going on at the time,” Kemp said. “There were just a lot of moving parts. But today, I had a really good conversation with Trevor [Story] and some of those guys. It was a really good conversation with Trevor. He poured his heart out to me.”

Even in the tight time window, the subject came up before Wednesday’s game. Outfielder Charlie Blackmon said after the game he talked to Kemp, among others, and did research. But he also said “the most unifying thing” was to play “one of the most inclusive games in the world. You can be Black, white, Latino, Japanese, doesn’t matter … if you can play the game.”

Before the game, Story repeated his commitment to speaking up to the Black community he had grown up around in Irving, Texas. During the game, Story felt the presence of Kemp, whose heart and soul wouldn’t let him give his body to compete.

“Yesterday was tough,” Story said. “Honestly speaking, mentally I wasn’t all the way there. Realizing the hurt that Matt is going through, that the Black community is going through, was weighing on my mind. That was all I could think about yesterday.

“After reflecting on it, that’s the way I felt. It bothered me to my core that we kind of missed the opportunity.”

But Story was heartened to learn there is no deadline for calling for social and racial justice.

“After talking to my friends, the consensus was that it’s not too late -- ‘You guys can still stand with us, and it’s going to mean a lot if you do,’” Story said.

The Rockies’ decision to transform -- from providing distraction for fans to taking action for all -- crystalized overnight and through morning and afternoon through talks and texts.

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“It happened so fast yesterday, there really wasn’t that time to have a legitimate, measured meeting, like we had today,” Black said.

Black did not reveal the particulars of the meeting, and neither did Story or Kemp, who also participated in Zoom interviews. But Black said there was a sense of solidarity with athletes, leagues and teams. But mostly there was discussion. 

Beyond Kemp, the Rockies have reliever Yency Almonte, born in Miami and the son of a man who moved from the Dominican Republic and is teaching baseball. Stu Cole, the third-base coach, and senior director of Major League operations Paul Egins, who was mentored by Hank Aaron at the beginning of his Major League career, also spoke. Black and several players also feel the presence of outfielder Ian Desmond, who decided not to play this year and cited the need to make a difference socially among his reasons.

“After reflecting on what happened yesterday, we had a team meeting which was emotional, but yet eloquently spoken by a lot of players,” Black said. “Some things came out today and we decided to not play. I’m proud of our players for speaking passionately, speaking from their heart about a lot of different things.”

The Rockies announced the decision in a tweet:

The D-backs retweeted support:

Kemp, 35, mentored by a Dodgers team that feels the aura of Jackie Robinson (who will be celebrated Friday, with the Rockies and Padres scheduled to meet at Coors), knows postponed sporting events won’t end the strife. But players can use their power for the powerless.

“My teammates love playing baseball,” he said. “I love playing baseball. This just wasn’t one of those days that we felt that we needed to play a game.”

Athletes can receive criticism for expressing humanity, and Kemp has received profane and racists messages via Instagram. But when Kemp announced his decision not to play Wednesday, he finished it with tragic hashtags -- #JacobBlake #BreonnaTaylor #GeorgeFloyd #Saytheirnames. And he acknowledged that there is little separating him from becoming another.

“Not everybody knows me as a baseball player,” Kemp said. “I could walk around my city and some people might not recognize me. I could get treated … the same thing can happen to me. It’s saddening that these things are happening. I just wish things could change.”