Like his beard, Blackmon learns to let himself go

March 14th, 2022

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- At the end of a whirlwind day that began with a flight with family and dog from Atlanta, pleasantries with his Rockies teammates and the detailed physical that always starts Spring Training, bent over to pick up his sunglasses.

Well, most of his pair of shades. The left arm temple stayed behind his ear.

“This is what happens when you travel with a baby,” he said, smiling.

Blackmon’s adherence to routine is a key ingredient to the not-so-magic sauce that has brought four All-Star Game appearances and a National League batting title in 2017.

But this offseason hasn’t gone in apple-pie order, thanks to a lockout that halted the sport for 99 days until the agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement on Thursday. Sunday, or about a month after pitchers and catchers would normally have begun, Blackmon and many of the Rockies had their physicals. Given the early flight, Blackmon did not join teammates in their light workout, but everyone will have a normal workout on Monday.

But Blackmon, 35, found that at least for the start of 2022, a disorderly offseason wasn’t so bad.

“Once I got to the point where I had completed a normal offseason to me, where I was ready to play, and we didn’t have an agreement, my wife and I took a few trips on weekends,” Blackmon said. “We went to St. Thomas for a long weekend. Two weeks after that, I went down to Key West and went fishing.

“It was really weird. Usually, I feel this incredible building of baseball focus. I get more and more focused, then we go to Spring Training. To not have a CBA and not be ready to play, I’m like, ‘Who knows how long this is going to last? I’ll get my work in during the week, but I’ll go out and do something fun on the weekend.’”

Maybe, just maybe, being a little less Type A could help him rebound from a tough 2021. His .270 batting average was his lowest over a full season, and (excepting the COVID-truncated 2020) his 13 homers were his fewest in a normal season since he became a lineup regular in '14. The Rockies finished fourth in the NL West for the third straight year.

It might be said Blackmon has become more like the beard he hasn’t shaved since a vacation in Australia after the 2013 season -- cared for through shampooing and brushing daily, but just enough unkempt to be iconic.

Here are five ways that Blackmon let himself go, just a teeny-tiny bit, in hopes that he will take off once the season begins.

1. He doesn’t have to know everything.

Since a sizzling start to 2020, pitchers reduced the frequency of fastballs they used against him, even in situations that called for such a pitch. With hitters around him struggling, the new strategy gave him fewer opportunities for his best swing.

Blackmon believes he adjusted too much.

“I don’t want to be in a situation where I am so reliant on others’ tendencies that I just can’t be a complete hitter across the zone,” he said. “Be a little more fundamental … work from the middle of the plate out is a good way to think about it.

“You can overcomplicate things -- regurgitate a whole bunch of statistics and know that 64 percent of the time you’re going to get a fastball in a 1-0 count. Just because you know that doesn’t mean you’re going to be a better player. Implement your plan.”

2. He still needs his preparation routine, but use it for the good.

“More and more, I think it’s important that I do all the preparation -- which is not something I struggle with a whole lot,” he said. “But once I go all that, just go out and react. Have fun, enjoy it and let my reactions take over.”

3. Don’t burn too much mental energy on the Hot Stove.

Rockies Nation is refreshing its social media account to see if one of the team’s stated targets -- Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber or Michael Conforto -- sign up for Purple Pinstripes. But Blackmon doesn’t have time for that.

The later-than-he-expected coming together of the agreement created a logistical crunch. Blackmon and his wife, Ashley, and daughter, Josie Layne, had to scramble for housing in Scottsdale and Denver. Their black lab, Ozzy, is on every mile of that journey.

“I haven’t been thinking a whole lot of it, other than my buddy, Trevor [Story, the free agent shortstop], since we don’t know where he’s going to play,” said Blackmon, who added the rises and drops in optimism during CBA talks was exhausting.

“I haven’t thought about or looked at who all the free agents are," he said. "I follow the free-agent market as it happens.”

4. No matter how the Rockies augment the daily lineup beyond shortstop José Iglesias (one-year, $5 million agreement), he is already feeling better about it. Last season saw measurable improvement from third baseman Ryan McMahon, second baseman Brendan Rodgers, catcher Elias Díaz, and late in the year outfielder Sam Hilliard experienced a power surge.

“Last year or two years ago, you were asking yourself, ‘Is this guy going to sink or swim,’” Blackmon said. “Now it’s like, this guy is a pretty good player and the question is, 'Do you think he’s going to put it together the whole year?' You’re asking very different questions about most guys on the field, in a good way.”

5. He tried to make a major change, then didn’t do it. Somewhere in that, there’s a message.

“I messed around with some different bat models and ended up with something extremely similar to what I’d been swinging,” he said. “I felt it was worth trying something new, tweaking a few variables.

“But at least now I’m much more confident in what I’m doing.”