In part three of my four-part series recapping my trip to Grand Junction to cover the Rookie Rockies, I spoke with 2013 draftees Jordan Patterson and Ryan McMahon, two very different personalities with the same ultimate goal.
My very first interaction with Jordan Patterson was a perfect glimpse into what he is really all about. I was standing behind a line of young kids waiting for the players to sign autographs, looking for players I recognized so I could ask them a few questions. I didn't recognize Jordan Patterson but as he walked past me, he stopped and turned around with genuine concern on his face.
"Hey, I'm sorry man, did you have something you wanted me to sign?"
"No, but I write for a Rockies blog called Purple Row, mind if I ask you a few questions?"
"Well I feel silly, but first what is your name?"
"Haha. I'm Jordan Patterson."
"Oh! Kid, you have been hitting the (stuff) out of the ball!"
This was an awkward place to begin. I made it clear I didn't know immediately who he was, though I'd been watching him play for the last few days and was impressed, and he had really only stopped because he was worried he had accidentally ignored a fan.
The beginning of our conversation, therefore, was a bit stilted. Even so, Jordan still struck me as a more reserved, quiet type. His first couple answers were of the one-word variety.
"What kind of player do you consider yourself, what do you want to bring to the table?"
Struggling to find something not generic or lame I could ask, I searched my memory and found a play from just the night before where Patterson had thrown a laser beam to third base from deep right field that kept the runner at second. When I mentioned this play to Jordan his face lit up and he mentioned being excited to be noticed for a good defensive play that didn't result in an out.
In the game that night, Patterson would make two more incredible throws, getting one guy out at the plate (catcher Jose Briceno hung in nicely as he was getting run over) and an even more impressive throw to third that again would not result in an out.
The second throw was offline by about a foot, but it was made from foul territory in extremely-deep right field. He was only a few feet away from being tucked into the farthest corner from third base in the park and he threw a one hopper that turned a no doubter into a very close play. When he picked it up and threw, my first thought was, "there is no way."
I would later mention Jordan's arm to pitcher Jonathan Gray, who would muster a "whew!"
Patterson can hit too. While I was there it seemed like he produced nothing but line drives. He has a beautiful, compact, left-handed swing and watching him take batting practice was a treat. I mentioned a line drive double he pulled into the gap that hit off the top of the wall the night before. "Off the bat, I thought I got it," Patterson said. "I feel like I'm in a good zone, though. Hitting the ball hard." Very, very hard.
"Everything" may have ended up being the best quote Jordan gave me. He really does want to do everything, and from what I saw, he may just be able to. The arm is an absolute cannon, the athleticism is clearly there and he is every bit of the 6'5", 215 pounds that he is listed as. He moves well, hits well, throws exceptionally, and has absolutely zero noticeable ego.
Jordan's quietness, and the fact that he had to get out to the field to stretch, cut our conversation a bit short. He ended it with the same kind of kindness with which it had begun.
"Sorry man, I gotta go stretch, can I catch up with you later?"
We briefly chatted almost every time he walked by me after that. We were both busy at times, but it was clear that Jordan had appreciated my time as much as I appreciated his. Either way, I sincerely doubt we have heard the last of the 2013 fourth round pick.
Ryan McMahon's (PuRP No. 17) walk-up song is Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive." This seems extremely appropriate considering that Ryan radiates a palpable and exuberant baseball energy. While every player I talked to was kind, patient, and definitely still having fun, Ryan exuded nothing but positive and radioactive baseball joy.
I talked to Ryan as the team was heading out to the field to warm up, so I wasn't sure he would even have the time. When I made eye contact and sheepishly asked, "Ryan, do you have a second to chat?" He bounded over to me with a big smile on his face and a jump in his step as though I had just asked asked if he wanted free tickets to see his favorite band.
My first question was dreadfully generic. "How does it feel to be a Rockie?" If his smile could get any bigger, at that point it did. "I absolutely love it. I love being here. I love the fans. Before I got here I thought maybe we would be playing in front of like 10 fans." Playing for decent crowds who know their baseball is a privilege that Ryan McMahon would not let go unappreciated.
On the field, McMahon plays like a captain.
He has a knack for the game and an impressive baseball IQ. I recall a particular play, with a runner on first, where the ball was hit hard on the ground to the left of his position at third base. He didn't need to fully dive, but took a step and a slide to knock the ball down. Rather than still try to force the double-play after not fielding the ball cleanly (which would not have worked), Ryan never panicked, stayed focused on picking up the ball spinning around and making a strong, accurate throw to first base. As my dad would say, "you always have time to make a good throw."
This kind of play may seem routine in many ways, but it's the kind of play that can get messed up at the lower levels of professional ball. Everyone wants to prove they can make the exceptional play, but Ryan proved over and over again that he understands the need to make the right play. He is as calm and collected inside the lines as he is jubilant outside of them.
More proof of this dynamic can be found in the last at-bat Ryan took the night before I spoke with him and had the ensuing conversation with me about it.
The team was down (and had been for most of the night) but was making a comeback and Ryan came to the plate with his team now only losing by 2 runs. He worked a full count then proceeded to foul off about five more pitches before finally drawing the walk. He hustled around the bases on balls in the dirt and would eventually score on a passed ball.
When I asked him about this specific at-bat, Ryan's exuberance for the game of baseball reared its head again as he grabbed the bat he was using the night before and showed me the smudge marks from those foul balls.
"All on the barrel. I had him, just kept barely missing."
"Can you show me the mark from when you hit that hard grounder up the middle on the first pitch you saw last night?"
"I got lucky on that one. The pitch was pretty low and I got on top of it."
This insight spoke volumes to me. He was way more excited about the foul tips and drawing a walk than the base hit. He had the immediate perspective to know what he needs to work on regardless of what the results in the box score might show.
However, the moment I witnessed that I think best defines Ryan McMahon was not an at-bat or his incredibly solid play at third base each game I attended, nor was it anything he said to me, though our conversation could only be described as pure baseball fun. It wasn't a play at all, but a gesture.
The last night I was in town, Helmis Rodriguez pitched a gem. He had been cruising through the opposition, giving up only one hit (to the beer batter!) and looked completely in control. But as we all know, baseball can be a cruel mistress, and Rodriguez came out in the fifth inning and no longer had his command. He walked two batters and hit one. Rodriguez got out of the inning without allowing any runs, but the damage to his pitch count had been done.
Clearly frustrated during this sequence of unfortunate events, Rodriguez began to walk off the mound in a bit of a funk until his third baseman ran over, put his arm around the struggling pitcher, and offered a few words.
I have no evidence to suggest that Ryan McMahon is the kind of person who gets out of bed bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (whatever that means), but he definitely shows up to the park that way. It is as much of a joy to see him think about the game as it is to watch him play it.
I don't know what Ryan said to Helmis, but he clearly recognized the frustration and the reality that his starting pitcher had probably thrown his last pitch of the night. Empathy can go a long way in this game. I always wondered how scouts end up knowing things like "above-average skills across the board, with plus-plus makeup." After meeting Ryan McMahon, plus-plus makeup almost feels like an undersell. He has more than just a great attitude; he is clearly a born leader.
I returned to my seat after our conversation to browse through my program and the most amazing thing so far about the Ryan McMahon experience hit me. He was born in December of 1994. He didn't come off like an 18-year-old and he doesn't play ball like an 18-year-old.
Unless, of course, you count that little league smile that gets closer and closer to being a big league smile every day.