Greer, a .305 hitter over nine seasons with the Texas Rangers, met Blackmon that summer, after Blackmon’s discouraging spring at Georgia Tech. He had transferred there after two seasons at Young Harris College in Georgia, where he had been a 20th-round draft choice of the Red Sox. Before that, after a high school career near Atlanta, Blackmon was chosen by the Marlins in the 28th round.
He was tall and lanky — a projectable body, as scouts say, perfect for a left-handed pitcher. Blackmon considered himself a pitcher, too. He did not hit a home run over the fence until his senior year of high school, and once had season tickets to Braves games at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, where he marveled at the artistry of Atlanta’s star pitchers — Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.
After he transferred to Georgia Tech, though, Blackmon developed tendinitis in his elbow and changed his arm action to compensate. His velocity dipped and he pitched just one inning all season — two hits, two runs, two walks. The Yellow Jackets left him behind on trips, so Blackmon would haul a bucket of balls into the batting cage and pitch to a target on a screen.
“That was a really hard time for me,” he said before a recent game at Dodger Stadium. “I had to figure out what was important in life, what were my priorities. I just missed baseball and wanted to play.”
During summers in junior college, Blackmon had pitched in the prestigious Cape Cod League. After his first year at Georgia Tech, he found a different summer opportunity — with the Colleyville LoneStars of the Texas Collegiate League. Greer coached the team but did not know much about his roster beforehand. That was a relief to Blackmon, who planned to assume a new identity.
Blackmon had looked good in pitchers’ batting practice that spring, and a coach, Bobby Moranda, told him he might have a future at the plate. Blackmon did not think much of it then, but by the end of that lonely season at Georgia Tech, he was desperate enough to try. He billed himself as a hitter in Colleyville.
“I was basically just going in there bluffing,” he said. “I told them I was a two-way player because I just wanted to play. I figured, worst-case scenario, I don’t get any hits and I still get a chance to pitch, but at least I get to go out there and take some batting practice and feel like a baseball player again.”
Greer said he was not impressed with Blackmon’s pitching; he threw 88 to 90 miles per hour with an ordinary slider, nothing that would give him a chance for a long, productive playing career. But Greer liked how he pulled the ball with authority as a designated hitter, and how close he came to beating out routine grounders.
One day, as Greer dragged the infield dirt at Colleyville Heritage High School, he noticed Blackmon blazing across the outfield grass, practicing 50-yard sprints. In the course of just four sweeps on a John Deere Gator, Greer said, he plotted a new course for Blackmon.
“He could run,” Greer said. “If you played, you don’t need a stopwatch or a radar gun to tell you someone is doing something other people can’t do.”
Greer coached only that one season for the LoneStars, a team that no longer exists. But he took the job seriously, encouraging Blackmon to learn the outfield and calling Georgia Tech Coach Danny Hall with an encouraging report.
That fall, in an intrasquad game, Hall let Blackmon bat against the team’s star pitcher: a 6-foot-8-inch left-hander, David Duncan.
“He’s the last guy I want to see,” Blackmon said. “He falls behind, 2-0, and I’m like, ‘All right, I’m just gonna let it eat.’ He throws it right down the middle, and I hit it, like, way out. So the first swing anybody saw me take, I murdered this ball.”
The home run cleared the right-field wall, some trees and another retaining wall before landing on Fowler Street. It was settled: In the spring of 2008, Blackmon would be an outfielder. He hit .396 with eight home runs and 25 steals for the Yellow Jackets, and by the end of the summer he had hit .338 for a Rockies Class A team.
“I think he’s a better hitter because he pitched, because I think he realized how hard it was to pitch,” Rockies second baseman D. J. LeMahieu said. “I’ve played with him pretty much every game since 2012, minors and majors, and he’s done nothing but get better — defensively, base running, hitting, hitting for power. He can drive balls with anybody now.”
Yet it took Blackmon a while to establish himself in the majors. His first season, in 2011, ended that July with a broken foot (Blackmon used the downtime to finish his finance degree at Georgia Tech). He shuffled between the Rockies and Class AAA for two more seasons, and then vacationed in Australia in late 2013.
That fall, a gang of thickly bearded Red Sox won the World Series. Blackmon noticed and decided not to shave on his trip, just to see how it looked. As his beard grew, he liked what it represented.
“I was just kind of sick of getting cut from the team, not playing well when I did get the opportunities,” Blackmon said. “I was just over being so serious about myself. It was kind of a personally rebellious thing, like, ‘I’m just going to have fun, do my own thing and try to be myself.’”
He has never returned to the minors, earning his first All-Star selection in 2014, stealing 43 bases in 2015 and batting .324 last year. Along the way, he logged postgame entries into notebooks, compiling a dossier on opponents that he has now mostly internalized.
Blackmon still drives the car he had in high school, a 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee with 150,000 miles on it; he likes not having to keep it clean. He lets his hair go, too, with a stringy mullet (“It evens out my head,” he said) descending from the back of his cap.
On social media, Blackmon calls himself Chuck Nazty. His Instagram account has chronicled his adventures as a trout fisherman, on a solo backpacking trip through Europe and wearing a Batman costume for Christmas.
“He’s the greatest of all the superheroes,” Blackmon said. “He always had the cool gadgets, and he wasn’t invincible. It’s easy to be brave if you’re immortal, if you can’t die, like Superman. Batman was the real deal.”
Nolan Arenado, the Rockies’ All-Star third baseman, said he envied Blackmon’s carefree persona, the way he can lock in for a game and then let go: Charlie on the field, Chuck Nazty away from it.
“It’s like an alter ego in a way,” Arenado said. “Like, ‘I don’t want to be this shy center fielder. I want to be a dude, and this is who I want to be.’”
Ten years ago, Blackmon just wanted to be a baseball player again, even if he had to leave the mound to do it. Now he is one of the best, a dude with a style all his own.
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