SCOTTSDALE, Az. – Kyle Freeland was born five weeks after the Rockies first home game in history – the one that began with Eric Young leading off the bottom of the first inning in what became a rout of Montreal – at a hospital just down the road from the temporary home of Mile High Stadium – where an MLB record 80,227 legitimately paid to get in for that game.
He literally bleeds Rockies purple.
From his days in little league to the days at Thomas Jefferson High School, and even when he was attending Evansville University, the idea of one day pitching for the Rockies was a dream, which came true when the Rockies made him the eighth player selected in the 2014 first-year player draft.
“It was special,” Freeland said. “The Rockies have always been my team.”
And it’s even more special now. Not only has he emerged as the ace of a rotation that led the National League in innings pitched last year, but in the last 11 months he has been given that added incentive of anticipation.
First, Charlie Blackmon signed a six-year, $108 million deal the opening week of last season, and then came the announcement on Wednesday that Nolan Arenado agreed to an eight-year, $360 million deal.
It was a statement Freeland and other young members of the Rockies roster heard loud and clear.
“It shows obviously they are two great players, and the organization is investing in them,” said Freeland. “As a younger guy with a couple years in the big leagues you see those two guys who went the extra distance.
“It shows hard work paid off and the Rockies respected that hard work. Charlie and Nolan play the game the right way, and they are two guys our organization recognized for that.”
Freeland has given indications in his two big-league seasons that he, too, can play the game right. He finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting, ranked fourth in the NL with a 2.84 ERA, lowest full-season ERA in franchise history, and had a 2.40 ERA at Coors Field, where he was 10-2.
As if the competitive nature of Freeland wasn’t enough, the Rockies approach with Arenado and Blackmon only added to his focus.
“You hope with the hard work you put in it will pay off down the road,” he said. “For Charlie and Nolan, it did.”
The contracts give Freeland added incentive.
“I grew up a Rockies fan,” he said. “To be with the Rockies was exciting and hopefully I can play for this team for a long time. For me, being from Denver, I want to play for the Rockies as long as I can.”
What the Rockies have shown is they want their plays to be a part of the organization for a long time, too. They want to create a home-grown nucleus, and Blackmon and Arenado were perfect players to turn to for the start of that process.
“They are the kind of people you want to teach the younger players,” said Freeland. “They have set the bar high. They have shown what you have to do and what it takes to put yourself in a position like they put themselves. They showed the younger guys that the goal is possible.”