Cron zone: 'I'm just trying to hit the ball hard'

April 17th, 2022

DENVER -- The taco stand on the concourse behind the left-center bleachers at Coors Field is a long way from home plate -- except when C.J. Cron is batting.

In the third inning of the Rockies’ 9-6 victory over the Cubs on Saturday night, Cron crushed the first of his two homers -- for two runs, off starter Mark Leiter Jr.’s jersey-numbers-high fastball -- over that taco stand, at a Statcast-projected distance of 466 feet. 

“The first [pitch] was a little bit up for me,” Cron said, modestly. “But I got to it on time.”

His bat arrived on time in the seventh inning, too, blasting another homer for 423 feet. It would’ve been a maximum feat of strength for most stronger-than-normal humans who swing the bat at the Major League level. For Cron, it was barely lengthier than average.

From the start of last season -- when Cron signed a Minor League deal with the team and proceeded to earn his current two-year deal -- through Friday night, Statcast had Cron tied with the Marlins’ Jorge Soler with an MLB-leading average homer length of 422 feet. After hitting two home runs farther than that on Saturday, Cron has kicked up his average.

“I don’t really care,” Cron said. “I’m just trying to hit the ball hard. And wherever it goes after that, I can’t control. I guess I have natural power. And sometimes I get hold of it. It goes pretty far.”

How many and the runs they bring is more important. Cron’s five homers are tied with the Blue Jays’ Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for the MLB lead. A shot that barely clears the wall -- not that he knows much about that -- is just as rewarding as the one that draws oohs and ahs. Each run counts the same, and the Rockies needed every one of those runs to bring their record to 6-2 on a night when the bullpen was not as airtight as usual.

Still, Cron is in a zone. And the trip from his bat to the Cron Zone is long and impressive.

“There’s a little awe factor,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “Probably not 1,000 feet of homers, but pretty close.

“When you look at players like ‘Cronie,’ that’s the standard of the scouting grade of true raw power. He hits it a long ways when he gets it, and those two tonight were examples of that.”

While he has a habit of managing both, Cron will take meaning over length any day. And Cron, 32, has become a key cog since signing his Minor League deal before last season. The Rockies envisioned him as their regular first baseman despite the modest salary of $1 million, and saw him hit a team-leading 28 homers and finish 14th in the Majors (among qualified hitters) in OPS at .905.

Within days of season’s end, the Rockies presented a two-year, $14.5 million offer that Cron signed “as quickly as I possibly could.” Having begun his career as a designated hitter with the Angels while Albert Pujols played first base, Cron had reason to jump at the offer. It was the first multi-year contract of his career, even though he had seasons of 30 homers with the Rays in 2018 and 25 for the Twins in 2019. A knee injury limited him to 13 games in 2020 with the Tigers.

“Nobody really wanted me,” Cron said. “That’s not the best feeling. But the Rockies made it abundantly clear that they wanted me to play first base for them. It was a great opportunity for me. Having a chance to play every day for the first time in my career, it was special.”

Cron has gone from feeling unwanted to being needed and cherished.

Instead of having to prove his worth, Cron is lending calm and experience that goes beyond a career in its ninth Major League season. Cron’s father, Chris, played for the Angels in ‘91 and the White Sox in ‘92. More importantly, he let his son grow up in the game. Chris Cron’s playing career ended in 95, when his son was five, but he went on to a long coaching career and now serves as the Athletics’ assistant hitting coach.

“I don’t know any better, really -- I’ve been in a locker room since the day I was born,” Cron said. “I guess it just feels right to me. I can’t thank him enough. Obviously, he’s my dad, but it was super-special and I don’t take it for granted.”

Cron’s manner around the game is like his swing.

There is an ease that produces a special power.