Colorado Rockies center fielder Charlie Blackmon (19), a North Gwinnett grad, smiles from the dugout before the game against the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday in Denver. (USA Today Sports: Ron Chenoy)
ATLANTA — Charlie Blackmon planned to get his almost-famous beard trimmed for his Atlanta homecoming with the Colorado Rockies.
It didn’t happen on Friday.
“Traffic was awful,” the former North Gwinnett and Georgia Tech standout said. “I guess I should have known that, right?”
Some things — like Atlanta traffic — don’t change. Blackmon’s baseball career certainly has, though.
The 27-year-old center fielder is seventh in the National League with a .322 average and his impressive stats don’t stop there.
Blackmon was tied for second in the NL through Friday with 35 runs scored and was tied for sixth with 32 RBIs and 57 hits. He’s also already set a career-best with nine homers.
Not bad for someone who came into this season having never spent a full year in the majors and wasn’t assured of a spot with the Rockies in spring training, despite ending last year with a .309 average.
Blackmon, though, had a 6-for-6 game against Arizona on April 4 and earned a regular spot at the top of the Colorado batting order with a torrid first month of the season.
The left-handed hitter’s breakout game tied the Rockies record and he was the first major leaguer to ever go 6-for-6 with three doubles and a homer included.
Blackmon, one of the toughest batters in the majors to strike out, finished April with a .389 average and has remained in the NL Top 10 despite a recent cool down.
So is it the beard?
Blackmon, who always favored cowboy boots and the casual look, showed up at spring training looking a little like Grizzly Adams.
The inspiration was the Boston Red Sox.
“I was down in Australia after the season and just sort of letting it grow,” said Blackmon, a Buckhead resident. “I was watching the Red Sox in the World Series when I was down there and I noticed that all of the guys wearing beards were hitting.
“I figured, why not?”
Hey, it worked for Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, David Ross and company. So why not indeed?
Blackmon is a Georgia Tech graduate, so he is definitely smart enough to know that facial hair doesn’t really help you at the plate. But baseball players are nothing if not superstitious, so don’t expect him to be clean shaven any time soon.
“I can’t say I expected it,” Rockies manager Walt Weiss said of Blackmon’s breakout. “But he certainly showed flashes of it last year, the last part of the year when he was getting consistent playing time.”
Blackmon hasn’t let the early success this season go to his head.
“I feel like I’m the same guy. I try not to act any different,” he said. “I might get recognized if I walk right out of the stadium in downtown Denver right after a game, but that’s about the extent of it.”
Opposing pitchers, though, certainly know Blackmon now.
“They’re making adjustments and I’m trying to make adjustments to them,” said Blackmon, who got a breather from the starting lineup Saturday after going 0-for-4 with two rare strikeouts in Friday’s series opener at Turner Field. “They’re starting to pitch me a little differently than they did at the beginning of the year, so it’s a cat-and-mouse game. Everybody’s constantly adjusting.”
Blackmon, though, finally has the upper hand.
“It’s really nice to go from being a guy that doesn’t play quite as much as you would like to getting an opportunity and producing,” the former second-round draft choice said. “To play regularly has been my dream, my goal, for a long time.”