Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press
What is Charlie Blackmon looking at?
He is stepping out of the batter’s box and staring straight up into the night sky. It is 2010, and Blackmon is with the Double-A Tulsa Drillers. What is it? Is there a UFO swooping in? A Baseball God to beseech for more hits? What in the world is up there in the Oklahoma heavens?
“I was having trouble adjusting my eyes at night in the lights,” says the Colorado All-Star, who sees and hits the ball as well as anybody in today’s game.
He felt like they were exceptionally bright, producing more glare than light. The result, in his mind, produced a “sun-glare-like” effect that would cause his vision to blur.
“So I was, like, OK, that means there’s too much light getting into my eyes and so, in my thinking, my pupils were too big, so what I’m going to do is step out of the box and direct my face at a light,” he explains. “Don’t look at the light, right? That will hurt your eyeballs. But if I point my face at the light, there will be a lot of light coming into my face and what that will do is constrict my pupils, make them smaller, so it will let less light in.”
Then, he figured, when he stepped back into the box and looked out at the pitcher, his blurred vision would be gone and he wouldn’t feel like the lights were too bright.
“Whether or not that made sense, it helped me at the time,” Blackmon says. “But people would ask me, ‘what are you looking at?'”
Charles Cobb Blackmon, 31, Rockies leadoff man, hitting savant and all-around goofball, sees things that others do not. His mind works in ways that others do not. He knows this.
“Yeah, I do some weird stuff,” he says.
This is not breaking news to any of his Colorado Rockies teammates.
“He’s not being funny,” outfielder Carlos Gonzalez says. “He’s just being Charlie. That’s just the way he is. He’s a great player and a great teammate.”
“Every day he comes up with something,” shortstop Trevor Story chimes in. “He’s the most quirky guy I’ve ever been around.”
Photo courtesy Julian Valentin
“He is a legend, that’s for sure,” says second baseman DJ LeMahieu, one of Blackmon’s closest friends on the team. “Charlie’s one of a kind.”
Blackmon burst onto the Colorado scene for good in 2014 with a spring so sizzling that he forced his way into the club’s plans. Then he went 6-for-6 in the home opener with three doubles, one homer, five RBI and four runs scored.
He is one of the hardest-working players on the team, starting his days with a no-nonsense pregame routine each afternoon and finishing with a strict 30-45-minute postgame routine built around an elaborate stretching regimen.
“Certain parts of my body, like my hips, are tight and I think postgame is the best time to improve your flexibility,” he explains. “So there are certain parts of my body that I’ll stretch out to make sure that, anatomically, I work right and efficiently.
“I probably spend too much energy getting ready to play the game if you ask other people. I do a lot of pregame stretching and warming up, and to me it’s important mentally to know I’m ready to play the game, that I can tear out of the box for a triple maybe the first pitch of the game.”
Given that he leads the majors with 11 triples, who’s to argue?
Also inarguable is the fascination that surrounds his quirky adventures. He is the subject of so many stories that you wonder how much is fact and how much is pure, unadulterated legend.
“I’m embarrassed to admit,” Blackmon says, “probably a lot of them are true.”
It was LeMahieu who rescued him on the side of the freeway one morning in January, 2016, on their way to work out. Blackmon, who still drives the 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo that served as his high school wheels, sometimes likes to challenge the fuel light by seeing how far he can push it before the tank runs empty. That day, he lost.
“I’m always late to workouts, and that morning, it was still early and I had just gotten out of bed when he called me and said, ‘Hey, where you at?'” recalls LeMahieu. “‘I’m on the side of the highway.'”
So LeMahieu rescued his buddy, picking him up, driving him to the gas station and bringing him back to the Jeep with a full gas can. Then, to the everlasting gratitude of the Rockies, he alertly snapped a photo for posterity.
DJ LeMahieu @DJLeMahieu
Found this guy testing out the empty light in his car this morning. Didn’t quite make it @Chuck_Nazty https://t.co/infV8EW1me
“That was really nice of him to take that picture of me,” Blackmon says, sarcasm dripping from every word.
“Everyone thought that was staged, but it was real life,” LeMahieu says. “He was on the side of the road looking like a homeless man.
“When he was filling up, I said, ‘I’ve gotta get a picture of this.'”
The Jeep has roughly 140,000 miles on it, and if vehicles could become cult heroes, this heap would qualify.
“I hate it,” Gonzalez roars. “I told him I’m going to get some gasoline and burn it in the parking lot. I might get in trouble for it, but it will be worth it.”
Initially, the Rockies cut Blackmon some slack for refusing to part with his rolling high school sweetheart.
“At the beginning, I get it,” CarGo says. “He was a young guy. We all go through that process where we’re not making much money, and then you make money but you’ve got to save it for your family.”
“I’ve told him many times, ‘It’s about time you get a new car,'” Nolan Arenado, Colorado’s All-Star third baseman, says. “‘You’re one of the best center fielders in the game. It’s time.’ But he’s very laid back.
“He’s not into material things. That’s what I love about him.”
Maybe the closest he’s come to getting a new ride happened one time when the Rockies returned home from a road trip. The team bus made the 45-minute trek from the airport into Denver around midnight, and as the sleepy traveling party arrived at Coors Field, Blackmon became alarmed when he couldn’t find his Jeep to drive the short distance to his downtown home. Hey, who stole…
Then it hit him: He met the team at the airport to start the trip, and his vehicle was parked there.
Photo courtesy of Julian Valentin
“Oh yeah, I did that,” Blackmon shrugs. “So I’ve got to get in a cab and go get it at the airport. Drive 45 minutes back to the airport, get my car, drive 45 minutes back.”
What, LeMahieu couldn’t save him that time?
“I don’t know,” Blackmon says. “He let me down right there.”
Adds LeMahieu: “I can only help him out so many times. He’s gotta eventually figure things out on his own.”
On the field, Blackmon has done that as well as anybody in the game. Aside from triples, he also leads the majors in total bases (226) and hits (122) through Sunday and is tied for third in runs scored (75). Brian Jones, the Rockies’ longtime video director, says Blackmon has become so adept at studying hitting video that he probably could run the club’s digitized system himself.
It’s just that, well, when he crosses that stark threshold from baseball back into real life, let’s just say some of his good friends in the clubhouse still view him as a ball of clay that could use some shaping.
“Everybody thinks my look is a joke, my hair and my face,” Blackmon says. “And apparently, I’m not a very good dresser.
“I think I look amazing.”
He favors jeans and a collection of shirts ranging from various things that catch his eye on the internet. Teammates have been known to hoot loudly when they see him pair a Tommy Bahama shirt with that scraggly (stylish?) beard that he’s been growing since 2013.
“His clothes…” Arenado groans. “He’s not wearing no Louis Vuitton or Gucci. He’s wearing … I couldn’t even tell you.
“He asked me once, ‘Do you want some shirts? I’m going to go on Amazon and get ’em.’ And I’m like, Amazon?!”
In the clubhouse when the televisions are tuned to other games before or after Colorado plays, Blackmon will see something that will cause him to go into a rant that Arenado describes as some of “the best rants ever.” Which, of course, spurs the Rockies to fire him up even more.
“We’ll tell him, ‘Oh man, that guy is better than you,'” Arenado says. “And he’ll go, ‘What?! He doesn’t do this as good as me, he doesn’t do that as good as me!’
“Oh yeah, we’ll tee him up.”
That’s easy, because while Blackmon may not take himself seriously, he takes his baseball dead seriously. Manager Bud Black throws batting practice to him several times a week, at his request, because Blackmon likes to get a look at the left-handed sliders Black feeds him because he knows that later that night, in a high-leverage situation, he likely will be facing the other team’s lefty relief specialist.
Then there was the first time teammate Mark Reynolds met him in 2016. Reynolds came away amazed because as their group was hitting against a batting practice pitcher in the cage, Blackmon remarked that the protective L screen was a little too close. Blackmon stepped off the distance from home plate to the screen, and sure enough, it had been placed a step too close to the plate.
“He’s very particular,” Reynolds says.
He’s also very talented.
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Blackmon grew up in Suwanee, Georgia, transferred to Georgia Tech University as a pitcher from Young Harris College and even tossed a shutout inning for the Rambling Wreck in an exhibition game against the Atlanta Braves.
“He always was one of the freakiest athletes we had in college,” says Nationals catcher Matt Wieters, whose last year at Georgia Tech was Blackmon’s first. “There are some things God gave him that you can’t teach.
“And the longer he’s been in the game, the more his mind has developed. You can tell he’s always thinking about things.”
A classic case of great arm but no command, Blackmon was an outfielder by the time he left Georgia Tech, when Colorado picked him in the second round of the 2008 draft. Four years later he met LeMahieu at Triple-A Colorado Springs when the Rockies acquired him from the Cubs, and they bonded even more living near each other in Georgia at the time during the offseason.
“My house was close to the place we worked out,” LeMahieu says. “He’d stay over, and slowly but surely, he kept leaving his clothes there. Pretty soon, the bathroom was filled up with his stuff. Before I knew it, he was, like, living with me.
“That’s Charlie, man.”
Interesting thing was, LeMahieu was married.
“He’d text, asking what my wife was making for dinner that night,” LeMahieu says. “He was figuring out where he was going to eat.”
It wasn’t long before Jordan LeMahieu started asking her husband: “Can you find out if Charlie is coming over for dinner again tonight? I need to know how much to make.”
David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Now the two pals are All-Stars living in Denver.
“And my wife goes furniture shopping for him,” LeMahieu says, shaking his head. “Charlie will call every once in a while. Not as much now that he has a girlfriend, but I’m pretty sure [Jordan has] helped him buy a couch and a couple of chairs.”
He’s also bonded with Julian Valentin, Colorado’s social media director, partly because they both attended Atlantic Coast Conference schools (Valentin played soccer at Wake Forest University) and partly because, well, Blackmon is a nice dude and his quirks are perfect for capturing on social media. In fact, it was during a Twitter Q&A with fans when Blackmon was in the minor leagues in 2011 that Valentin helped create the outfielder’s social media alter ego, Chuck Nazty.
“He did this trip in Europe that I think personifies that personality,” Valentin says. “It was a couple of offseasons ago, and instead of flying first class and staying in nice hotels, doing the typical pro athlete thing, he hoofed it. He carried a backpack and stayed in hostels. A friend canceled at the last minute, and he went by himself and enjoyed the experience.”
Blackmon sees things. It’s just that he doesn’t always see the same things others see.
“I’m very analytical and concrete,” says Blackmon, who earned his degree from Georgia Tech in business administration with a concentration in finance. “Things have to make sense to me. I always feel like I need to know why things work the way they work. I always ask a lot of questions.”
Yes, Charlie Blackmon is an absolute classic, and he doesn’t care who knows it. Take, for example, the fact that his walk-up music at Coors Field dates back to 1985, a song called, “It’s Your Love” by The Outfield. It’s the same tune he’s been using since college, and way he figures it, by not choosing something in this century he doesn’t have to keep up with “the new trends, or whatever.”
Photo courtesy of Julian Valentin
Yes, he’s quirky, but get close enough to him and the rewards are immense. Why, he’s even let Story ride in his Jeep.
“It was a high honor,” Story says. “I don’t think he lets just anyone ride in the Blessed Chuck Jeep.”
Inside of which is an eclectic assortment of items that includes a Wiffle ball bat (used as recently as this past spring training, Blackmon says), a fishing pole, ice chests….
“It’s a mess,” Story says.
Hey, one man’s trash is another’s treasure.
“I just feel like every man should have a certain amount of things in his car,” Blackmon explains. “At any given time you’ll find protein, a Wiffle ball bat, Wiffle ball, duct tape, a couple bottles of water. It’s just kind of a rolling box of junk.”
Across the clubhouse, CarGo rolls his eyes.
“He told me two years ago he was building a car. A classic car,” Gonzalez says. “Two years later, I ask and he says he’s still working on it: ‘It’s going to be a muscle car, but I don’t want to give you any details yet.’
“I asked again recently, ‘Charlie, what’s happening with the car?’ He said, ‘Oh man, it’s taking forever.'”
CarGo howls, laughing at the transparency of it all and how he knows and Charlie knows that this is a ruse to change the conversation.
“He’s such a liar,” Gonzalez says, smiling broadly. “But that’s why we love him.”
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter, @ScottMillerBbl and talk baseball.