DENVER – It reeked of champagne inside the Colorado clubhouse just 18 hours after they clinched a postseason berth for the first time in eight years. The Rockies were not done drinking in celebration just yet.
Manager Bud Black stopped his men, called them over to Charlie Blackmon’s locker and had each raise a glass with the leftover bubbly from the night before.
Black and company were now toasting Blackmon’s batting title.
Blackmon, a self-described ‘not a big stand-up-in-front-of-everybody kind of guy,’ when pressured to speak in front of his entire team said back, “this is fun, I don’t always have fun and you guys know that, but this is fun.”
The crowd of players, coaches and staffers cleared and appeared a single item in the centerfielder’s locker, a pristine game-worn Carlos Gonzalez home jersey signed with two captions. One on top of the number five and one below, “two-time Silver Slugger, 2010 batting champion.”
The jersey came right off the back of Gonzalez and straight into the locker of his teammate of seven years.
This jersey, gifted from one fan favorite to another, might have been the last home Rockies uniform that Gonzalez ever wore.
Gonzalez is at the end of a seven-year, $80 million contract that he signed after one of the greatest seasons from individual in club history back in 2010. While he was not his superstar self until September this season, Gonzalez knew that even his best performance was outdone by Blackmon’s display.
“I’ll tell you what, I’ve been in this game for a long long time and that’s probably the best year I’ve ever seen from a single player,” CarGo told BSN Denver. “With the way he played with how consistent he was the entire year… It’s special, I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Blackmon finished the year with a .331 average, besting Daniel Murphy at .322, earning the Rockies their 11th batting title in the club’s 25-season history.
He also smacked a team-high 37 homers, a record-setting for a leadoff hitter 104 RBI (103 out of the leadoff spot), and an MLB-best 14 triples, 213 hits and 137 runs scored.
In fact, not since Hall of Famer Stan Musial in 1948 has somebody hit as many homers, triples and RBI while batting .330 as Blackmon did.
“He’s a special guy,” Gonzalez said. “He works really hard every day, he showed up a couple years ago with a different mentality and he kept growing and growing. Last year was a great year for him, winning a Silver Slugger Award for the first time and I’m sure he’s going to do it again this year with all the things he did.”
Gonzalez and Blackmon are the same age. One has reached his highest heights this year while the other has fallen to his lowest lows. But each now knows what it’s like to be one of the game’s best. One arrived very early with the talent to thrive in the bigs while the other worked for it.
“I saw him get called up and sent down and break his foot, he went through a lot,” Gonzalez said about the one who worked for it. “Then he said to himself ‘I’m going to be the best that I can,’ and he worked really hard. He found a way to make himself what he is today.”
“Carlos is a very special player, he’s a special person,” Blackmon said about the one who has always had it. “He’s someone I really enjoy spending time with. I enjoy watching him play the game. He’s so good at so many things and there are parts to his game that I will never get to. It’s cool to be able to watch him and try to learn from him.”
Blackmon debuted in 2011, playing alongside Gonzalez who had just finished third in NL MVP voting the year prior.
His rookie season was held to just 27 games and he continued to be riddled with injuries until 2014 when he played his first full season and became an All-Star.
By WAR, Blackmon has improved in every single year of his career.
“He deserves everything he accomplishes in his entire career because I saw how hard he works and I saw him turn his career around,” Gonzalez said. “He stuck with it and that’s why he put up big numbers all year.”
As for the story behind the new set of pretty purple pinstripes in Blackmon’s locker?
“It’s a tradition that we have, when I won (the batting title) in 2010, I unexpectedly got three jerseys from Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki and Jason Giambi, they signed and wrote how proud they were,” CarGo said. “I kept that going when Michael Cuddyer won then DJ LeMahieu last year.”
“It was really nice of him to gift me that jersey,” Blackmon said. “I’m just happy to have been around him for as long as I have.”
The only player that has had unequivocally a better season than Gonzalez in his tenure with the Rockies ended up with what might be what he wore at his final day at Coors Field.
“Charlie just wants to prove to everyone that he’s one of the best players in the game,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez has long been one of the faces of sports in Colorado and depending on how things shake out, Blackmon may own a very special piece of Rockies history. A piece that might be more special to him, and the Rockies’ organization, than the National League Batting Title he took home on the same day.
Charlie Blackmon has a CarGo jersey hanging in his locker pic.twitter.com/IdVIHVqjCv
— BSN Rockies (@BSNRockies) October 1, 2017