Speaking to the media isn’t on the top of the “fun things I look forward to” list for Charlie Blackmon, but the Colorado Rockies All-Star outfielder knows it is part of his job.
This season, Charlie Blackmon has spent a lot of time talking about subjects that are just beyond baseball. Sure, there are still the questions about his quest to hit .400 and the chances for the Colorado Rockies to make the expanded postseason. However, this year, Blackmon has also been thrown head-first into two of the year’s biggest stories.
Neither were certainly planned or by choice, but Colorado’s bearded wonder found himself in the middle of both.
The first came a couple of months ago. Blackmon tested positive for COVID-19 in June and missed the start of Colorado’s reboot of spring training at Coors Field. There were plenty of questions (many of them answered by Chuck Nazty himself during Zoom sessions with the media) about his readiness for the start of the season and his battle with coronavirus.
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The second came on Wednesday night following an 8-7 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix. It was Colorado’s third consecutive win and Blackmon blasted a grand slam to help keep his average at .390. Yes, Colorado’s quest for the postseason and Blackmon’s shot at .400 are still realistic goals.
But all of that seemed secondary in many ways because of the events two time zones away in Kenosha, Wis., and how professional sports had reacted to the shooting of Jacob Blake.
Yes, the Rockies and Diamondbacks played a baseball game on Wednesday night. In a year filled with a pandemic and tensions over social injustice, the fact the two teams took the field in Phoenix was big news … and a big dividing rod.
Debate raged on social media in the hours leading up to the game on whether the Rockies should play on Wednesday in light of the situation in Kenosha and building tensions over racial equality in recent weeks. Something big was sparked in our country by George Floyd’s death but those tensions had been built upon for years … and years … and years.
The NBA went quiet on Wednesday. So did the WNBA. So did much of MLS. So did the Reds and Brewers in Milwaukee along with games in Seattle and San Francisco. There was a looming thought that the Rockies and Diamondbacks would be a part of the attempt by athletes to make their voices for change heard through a work stoppage. That thought ballooned when Matt Kemp, who was scheduled to be Colorado’s designated hitter on Wednesday night, announced on Instagram that he would be sitting out the game.
Kemp sat … and the Rockies played on. Just like former Rockies outfielder Dexter Fowler and his team in St. Louis. Just like Chicago Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward as his team took on the Tigers in Detroit. Players chose to not participate while their teams moved on without them.
But while some players sat and their teams moved on, it was made clear that the team’s choice to play wasn’t done with malice in mind toward an individual player or his beliefs. Rather, it was done to help bring people together, Blackmon said after the game.
‘It was our opinion that playing the game would be more unifying,” Blackmon explained.
Blackmon, thrust into the media spotlight after what he did on the field, also became the voice of the Rockies clubhouse on Wednesday night after their win and after their choice to play in Arizona. He took the moments to speak from the heart and explain why the Rockies played when Kemp chose to sit.
“I spoke to Matt, and Matt was hurting. Today was tough for him,” Blackmon told media, including Rox Pile, via Zoom. “Matt did what he felt like he needed to do, and it’s important for me to understand that and know where he is coming from. I’ll never know exactly where he’s coming from, but try my best.
“That’s the most important thing, whether you’re over here, or over here, or over here, if you can’t at least try and understand what your fellow man is going through. You know, if you can’t put yourself in their shoes, or at least think about what’s going on with them, you know, you might be part of the problem, OK?”
There are times when none of have the exact right words or know the exact right thing to do. We each figure out our own way to support the causes (and people) we believe in. That includes a professional baseball team trying to find the right balance between saying and doing the right thing. Each of those players on that team is human, and each of those players will not always make the right choices. Listening, however, and trying to understand is never a wrong choice.
Are our choices always perfect? No, but even in those moments there can be learning moments if we allow ourselves to actually learn. There are also moments where we can try to teach and have our message heard.
That’s what Cincinnati Reds All-Star Joey Votto did earlier this season when he admitted he had had “an awakening” over racial injustice. That’s what Kyle Freeland and Trevor Story have done this season when they’ve taken the opportunity to speak to the media about their feelings on the subject as well.
Blackmon’s grand slam from Wednesday night will be seen on plenty of highlight reels. It is his words, however, after the game that should be the more publicized moment of a late night in Phoenix. Maybe, just maybe, if we all tried to understand what our fellow man was going through and helped him (or her) know he (or she) wasn’t alone, the changes we want to see happen in society may progress a little faster.
Sports in a larger capacity will likely resume very soon, if not today. Listening and learning, however, must continue, whether our teams are on the field … or court … or pitch … or not.