Denver - Somewhere, someplace, there is possibly ... a picture of a very young Kyle Freeland with Colorado Rockies mascot, Dinger. "Growing up, I always knew who he was, I think I might have gotten a picture with him when I was little," he says. "It was always fun seeing him running around."
It's odd to think we may have crossed paths over the years as fans at down at the ballpark long before baseball would become both of our jobs. Especially considering how far outside the mainstream people from this area so often feel. There's something special about the hometown, or in this case also the home state, hero. And when you come from a smaller, often overlooked part of the country, you take that much more ownership and pride over the success of your neighbors.
"It's definitely special," Freeland says. "There's much bigger stages out there like New York, Chicago, places like that where their fan base is extremely massive and goes throughout the United States. Here in Denver, it's special. It's a tight-knit group of fans that want to see you succeed and want to see how. Being able to have that fan base behind you being from Denver, they want to see you succeed. They want to be able to talk about that story about a hometown kid who is playing for the Rockies and be able to come out and enjoy the moment and have fun and have success."
"When I woke up that morning ... came to the ballpark ... about 10-15 minutes after I got to the ballpark, I actually put my phone into airplane mode just so I didn't get all the notifications and everything. I got a lot of texts, got a lot of people tweeting at me and reaching out telling me congratulations and good luck. After the start, everything went smooth. Got a win in the home opener. They all came flooding in after that but it was cool."
In a feel-good story that felt straight out of the very best of Pixar, The Southpaw from the Centennial State appeared for the first time in front of an MLB crowd -- and MLB hitters -- making his MLB debut in the Rockies home opener at Coors Field against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"When I first walked out of the dugout to take the mound in the first inning and hearing the roar of the crowd and everyone behind me and everyone excited to see what was about to happen? That right there, walking out of the dugout, it gave me chills."
It gave 50,000 people chills. The roar felt as though it emanated from the whole of Lower Downtown Denver and somehow magnified in intensity until it went supernova, shaking the foundation of a city when Freeland struck out Logan Forsythe, the very first batter he faced. Jets flew overhead before the game, but they had nothing on the reaction to that punchout.
"The strikeout was big definitely," Freeland recalls. "Especially on the first hitter I'm facing. The thing that really sticks out to me still is that first inning, getting out of that bases-loaded jam. I just remember walking off the mound like, whew, that's how it is. That's the pressure you can feel and be able to face that and come out of it on top was big."
It wasn't just that first batter either. He has pitched phenomenally well to begin his career, posting a record of 3-2 with a 2.93 ERA over 34 innings pitched. Freeland, and fellow rookie Antonio Senzatela, have somehow been the Rockies most consistent pitchers in a season that sees them leading the NL West through a month and a week of the season.
"Me and him have definitely fed off each other," Freeland tells us about Senzatela. "We've been together for quite a long time. I met him when I got promoted to Low-A right after I got drafted. I've been moving up the ranks with him ever since. We were in Modesto together after I got off of rehab. We were in Double-A together last year and then spring training and we broke together. He's a great guy, great pitcher. He's got an amazing fastball. We feed off each other being rookies."
Each young pitcher has only one bad outing so far this season. For Freeland, that came in his second game against San Diego when he gave up six earned runs over just 4.2 innings before being pulled. But even though his next game saw him retire two fewer hitters, it was a remarkable display of growth and quite possibly a major turning point early in his career.
"It was my first time on the road and it was in a stadium that can get pretty loud," he says of his trip to Los Angeles to face the mighty Dodgers. "It was a little intimidating at times. I did find myself a little bit. I think I was trying to be too fine with pitches instead of letting all of my pitches work and do what I did against them in my debut. It was a battle for the four innings I was out there."
Just four innings but he kept the defending division champs in check, allowing just run in a game Colorado went on to win. It's a cliche but games like this are the reason why; Freeland kept his team in the game.
"That's the goal every time," he says. "Obviously you want to go as deep as possible. Four innings really isn't as deep as you can go but you always want to leave a game with your team up and put them in a position to win."
What Dreams Become
"It's been a long journey since I graduated high school and definitely a dream come true for me," Freeland says. "Going through the whole process and then finally being up here the past few weeks has been awesome. [I've] been soaking it all in, learning a ton from the guys, a lot about myself and a lot about the game."
And the game has been learning about Kyle Freeland. If he keeps pitching this well, they'll have to learn a great deal more. For now, at least the constant text and tweets have stopped.
"Things have definitely settled down," he says. "Once the news broke and the debut and everything, things were crazy. It was fun. It was fun to experience that and be a part of that, have friends and family be a part of that. Being from Denver and everything, it just made it that much sweeter."
Hollywood scripts about kids from small(er) cities growing up to become the hometown hero on their local baseball team get tossed out because the odds of that occurring make it less believable than tales of aliens, robots, and people with superpowers.
Thomas Jefferson High School sits approximately 10 blocks from the mound at Coors Field where Kyle Freeland turned the dream of a five-year-old into a reality. It was the streets and the parks and the people who helped shape him who graced the background as the tapestry on which he could paint this surreal picture.
For every time he caught the 16th Street Mallride or went down to Larimer Square or up to Cap Hill ... for every trip out to the suburbs of Lakewood, Aurora, Cherry Creek, Arvada, Wheat Ridge and beyond -- probably to play baseball ... and for every time he walked up Blake Street and bought a Rockpile seat at the ticket window just like some kid will today and tomorrow ... and for every moment in between, April 7, 2017, will always be one of the greatest days Kyle Freeland ever got to spend ... at home.