Before Charlie Blackmon entered his senior year at Georgia Tech in 2008, he was a little-used lefthanded reliever.
But then Blackmon’s baseball journey took a strange turn. He disembarked for Colleyville, Texas, to play in a college summer league. There, however, was a problem: his left arm bothered him.
So when he showed up, he told manager Rusty Greer, the former Rangers outfielder, that he was an outfielder. The first chapter in a strange tale of Charlie Blackmon’s emergence as a big league all-star was being written.
“I was coming back from bone spurs and was super inconsistent,” Blackmon remembered of his bullpen work as ajunior at Georiga Tech. “I wasn’t very good. But I wanted to play baseball. I hit a little bit in junior college (he spent two years at Young Harris JC in Georgia), but I had not played a position since high school. It wasn’t like I thought I was going to be a great hitter. I just wanted to get on the field.”
By the end of the summer, Blackmon was an outfielder—period. He had taken the first step in a transition that allowed him to blossom into a two-time all-star, an NL batting champ and the man who last summer set a major league record for leadoff hitters with 103 of his 104 RBIs coming out of the top spot in the lineup. In April, the Rockies extended Blackmon’s contract through the 2023 season at six years and $108 million.
The biggest challenge came when Blackmon showed up for the fall semester at college. Greer had called Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall, but Hall wasn’t sure the move was going to work.
“I come back and it’s, ‘All right, you think you are a hitter now,’” Blackmon remembers Hall saying.
Hall was willing to give it a look, but he wasn’t going to make it easy.
“I remember that first workout in the fall. The first guy I face in an intrasquad game is our Friday night pitcher, David Duncan,” Blackmon said. “He’s lefthanded. He is 6-foot-9, 230 (pounds). He was a fifth-round draft choice of the Astros. I wasn’t really excited he was going to be my first at-bat.
“He threw a fastball over the plate and I hit it as good as I can hit a baseball. It goes way out. In intrasquad games, you don’t hit a home run and run the bases. I touch first base and head back to the dugout. Danny Hall is laughing, completely laughing. He doesn’t know what to think. I am thinking I was meant to be an outfielder. Since that time, I was a hitter.”
A pretty good hitter. He was, after all, taken by the Rockies in the second round of the 2008 draft after his senior year at Tech—much to Blackmon’s surprise.
“When it’s just one season, you have to get someone’s attention early enough that they are going to pay enough attention to you that when it comes to the draft, they are willing to push hard for you,” Blackmon said. “I was a one-year wonder. Going in the second round was crazy high. I was thinking the 15th to 20th rounds would be good.”
By the time teams were finalizing their draft lists, however, Blackmon had made a believer of Hall. How big a believer? Big enough that he convinced Rockies special assistant Danny Montgomery that Blackmon was the real deal.
“I flew in on Sunday to see a kid at a Sunday game, (and) coach Hall tells me to keep an eye on his center fielder, that the kid had been a pitcher, but he’s hitting now,” Montgomery said. “He told me, ‘Rusty Greer worked with him during the summer and kept saying I need to let the guy hit, so I let the guy hit.’”
Montgomery showed up for the Sunday game and kept an eye on Blackmon. He liked what he saw.
“Tech had a makeup game on Monday, so I decided to stay another day and see (Blackmon) again,” Montgomery said. “I didn’t tell anybody, not even our area scout. I show up on Monday and I am sitting at the top of the stadium, away from everybody else. I like him.”
How much did Montgomery like Blackmon? He liked him enough that he got scouting director Bill Schmidt to select Blackmon in the second round, a pick that had most scouting directors shaking their heads in disbelief. If they had reports on Blackmon, they were the kind that would have had him going in the 20th round or later.
“I’m not knocking anybody, but after what Danny Hall told me and what I saw I was like, ‘Wow, look at this guy,’” Montgomery said.
Blackmon certainly isn’t a sleeper anymore.