Countless special baseball teams over the years have drawn on inspiration from what we might loosely refer to as “real life” in order to find ultimate glory on the field. And, to be sure, there is likely no shortage of such energy surrounding the Colorado Rockies who have been mourning and celebrating Don Baylor since his passing (TIME)
But, at his core, Baylor was a teacher. And one blessing that all good teachers bring are lessons that their students never stop learning from.
After a 9-1 beatdown of the Los Angeles Dodgers by the Colorado Rockies on Thursday night, Carlos Gonzalez was asked by Marc Stout of ATT&T Sports about his resurgence at the plate. CarGo invoked Baylor and a simple lesson about the most basic of things; how he was gripping the bat.
If this change — this one, single, solitary change — has gotten Gonzalez back to being the player he once was, the entire dynamic of the final weeks of the National League baseball season has been shaken up. Heck, if he’s even 70 percent of the All-Star he has been, the Rockies are suddenly not just a much more dangerous team to secure that second Wild Card spot, but they suddenly become a ballclub no one is excited to play in a postseason series, no matter how long.
The Rockies have managed to spend every day of the 2017 season in the postseason picture mainly on the strengths of their incredibly young starting pitching staff, their overhauled bullpen, phenomenal defense and the offensive contributions of Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado. Mark Reynolds had a strong first half and Gerardo Parra has been nothing short of necessary for the survival of this team, but Blackmon and Arenado have both been MVP caliber while the rest of the lineup has shown the propensity to disappear for weeks at a time.
Much of the blame for the lackluster offense has been laid at the feet of Gonzalez and rightfully so. He has been one of the league’s worst hitters after coming off back-to-back seasons being one of the game’s powerhouses. It isn’t just that Gonzalez was a mostly empty at-bat for much of the first four months but that his resume kept earning him opportunities and struggles at the shortstop and catcher position meant the team needed him. In fact, they still do.
Bud Black and Jeff Bridich and the gang have made it clear that they believe in CarGo, at least enough to keep putting his name on the lineup card through some heavy droughts. He has rewarded that faith by hitting .324 over his last 41 games with 14 doubles and three home runs.
If this is a sign of things to come and not some mirage, it changes everything. Carlos Gonzalez is that kind of talent.
As much as we have joined and often led the chorus that players like Raimel Tapia should have gotten more of a look and that sticking by the veterans may end up being what cost the 2017 Rockies a chance to be something special, it looks like a huge part of what might make them special lay dormant within this whole time.
Baylor’s teachings live on. How he taught young men to be the best humans they could be will forever matter more than how he taught young men to swing a baseball bat. But that latter lesson, in the middle of his most trying season, may have saved one of the greatest Colorado Rockies of all time from ending his tenure in purple with a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. Now, he can be that hero he was the last time Colorado saw the postseason. With how well his teammates have played for most of the season, Gonzalez doesn’t need to be the guy anymore, but if he can return to being one of the guys, the Rockies just added a player with the talent to be among the game’s best to their roster for the stretch run.