Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Colorado's Charlie Blackmon, a North Gwinnett graduate, acknowledges a fan at Turner Field during batting practice prior to the start of Wednesday's game.
ATLANTA — Charlie Blackmon admits that he looked at the Colorado schedule early this season while still in the minors, checking to see when the Rockies might be making their trip to Turner Field.
“I was hoping that it would be late in the season,” the North Gwinnett graduate and former All-ACC choice at Georgia Tech said.
Despite getting off to a hot start in Class AAA with Colorado Springs, Blackmon didn’t expect to get a quick promotion.
“Realistically, it thought it would probably be September,” the outfielder said.
Instead, Blackmon made his debut with the Rockies in San Diego on June 7, meaning a potential homecoming trip as a major leaguer was less than a month away if he was able to hold his roster spot.
As it turned out, that wasn’t a problem. Capped off by a 4-for-4 game in Detroit on June 17, Blackmon had 16 hits in his first 39 major league at-bats. Included was a stretch of five straight games with a stolen base.
The Rockies were convinced that Blackmon belonged.
When Dexter Fowler, who had gone on the disabled list to make room for Blackmon, recovered from his abdominal strain, he stayed in Colorado Springs rather than return to the Rockies.
Although he cooled off his red-hot start, Blackmon celebrated his 25th birthday last Friday with a pinch-hit blast off Kansas City closer Joakim Soria for his first major league home run.
When he stepped into the batter’s box leading off for the Rockies against the Braves on the Fourth of July at Turner Field, it was another thrill for Blackmon.
“I was a big Braves fan growing up and my family used to share season tickets,” Blackmon said. “I’m pretty sure that Damon Berryhill hit a home run the first time I went to a game at Fulton County Stadium. I think I was 5 or 6.”
With about 25 to 30 family members and friends watching, Blackmon bounced out on Monday night against Tommy Hanson in his first Atlanta major league at-bat. But his personal fan club got to see an RBI hit as well as a nice running catch on Tuesday and he had a big group supporting him again in the third game of the series Wednesday night.
“My dad bought a block of 20 tickets in left field,” Blackmon said.
There was just one problem, though. With Carlos Gonzalez still sidelined, Blackmon played center field for the second straight night after manning left field on Monday.
Blackmon is happy to play anywhere, of course. If he hadn’t hurt his elbow his first year at Georgia Tech, he realizes that none of this likely would be happening.
“Hopefully I’d have a good job somewhere,” said Blackmon, who was 0-for-5 Wednesday night to drop his average to .250. “But I know I wouldn’t be playing baseball in the major leagues.”
Drafted twice as a left-handed pitcher while at Young Harris College, Blackmon found his niche as a hitter following a medical red-shirt year at Tech. After a breakthrough summer in the Texas Collegiate League, he became a second-round draft choice in 2008 thanks to a .396 season at Georgia Tech and hasn’t stopped hitting.
Blackmon went into this season with a .312 average in the minors and then hit .337 with 19 doubles, four triples, 10 homers, 49 RBIs and 12 stolen bases in 58 games with Colorado Springs in the Pacific Coast League.
Blackmon’s parents, Myron and Helen, made it on short notice to the first game in San Diego, but it took the trip to Atlanta to swell his cheering section. The four-game series concludes today with a 1:05 p.m. game at Turner Field with the Rockies still looking for their first victory.
“I got some good home cooking (for lunch),” Blackmon, who has been staying at the Rockies’ team hotel in Atlanta, said before the third game.
It is Blackmon’s hunger to succeed, as well as his maturity and understanding of the game, that has impressed Rockies manager Jim Tracy.
“He’s very composed, well grounded,” Tracy said. “But he’s got an edge to him when the game starts. I love that.”
Blackmon’s skill set also appears to be just what the Rockies need.
“He has an understanding of base stealing,” Tracy said, ticking off Blackmon’s pluses. “He has an idea of the strike zone. He’s not afraid to be aggressive. He can run. He’s got some power.”
That’s why Blackmon went into this season ranked among Colorado’s top prospects. Now he’s gone from prospect to major leaguer.