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Colorado Rockies' Eddie Butler remains a class act, even through demotion to minor leagues

The Colorado Rockies' prospect retains a refreshingly open and approachable outlook despite some personal struggles on the field.

Colorado Rockies right-handed pitcher Eddie Butler.
Colorado Rockies right-handed pitcher Eddie Butler.
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Scottsdale, Ariz. -- It's late Thursday afternoon on the Rockies' back fields, and almost 200 minor leaguers are making the long trek back to their clubhouse after six hours of scrimmaging in the sun. As the number of players lagging behind dwindles, fans too begin to leave the fields for the day. Minutes later, the place clears out, and there's only one man left across the complex.

He sits on a picnic bench filling out pitch tracking sheets from his teammates' outings that afternoon. He's not rushing, as if he hurriedly wants to wrap things up; rather, he's diligently checking boxes and marking notes, not once looking up from his binder.

As he stands up, he closes the binders he's been using all day, grabs his glove and the last bag of balls left by teammates, and begins the long trek to the minor league clubhouse. Two children waiting in the shade of a nearby tree run up and ask for autographs. Already precariously carrying the glove, balls, and binder, he never hesitates, setting everything down to oblige them with signatures and conversation.

The kids run away, back to their father to show off their new autographs. The man picks up his stuff and once again starts off for the clubhouse.

Then he sees me.

I worry this may not be the best time; Eddie Butler has been out here all day, after all. Everybody else is already in the clubhouse. The entire minor league camp has a day and a half off beginning, well, right now. Suddenly, I'm the only thing standing between him and more than 24 hours without baseball for the first time all spring.

"Hey," I say, sidling up, "do you have a minute to talk?"

"Of course, man," Butler responds, smiling, never once hesitating to again put all his stuff down and shake my hand. "Good to see you."

★ ★ ★

This isn't the first time I've spoken with Butler this spring. Several weeks ago, just a few hundred yards in distance but a world away in mindset, Eddie and I chatted in front of his locker in the Major League clubhouse, just days before he was reassigned to minor league camp. I had never met Butler before that interview, only having heard about him from those who have been very close to him in the past.

When I caught up with Butler that first time in the Major League clubhouse, the pitcher was under the proverbial gun. After parts of two underwhelming seasons in the big leagues, the prevailing thought entering this spring was that Butler needed to assert himself; that perhaps now would finally be the time to prove himself a big leaguer, or else his future would become murky pretty quickly. So when I walked up to him two weeks ago, I expected a pitcher on edge, tightly wound because of the external pressure, who might not make for a good interview.

That couldn't have been further from the truth. Fifteen minutes later, when I turned the tape recorder off after that first interview and intended to walk away, I didn't. We kept talking. Not for an interview; just because Eddie Butler is a really easygoing guy.

He started telling me about playing college baseball at Radford University. He beamed describing how far Radford's program has come since his time there. If this was a man stressed by the pressures failure, it wasn't affecting interactions with those around him, even members of the media he'd only met minutes before, and it was clear how loyal and appreciative he remained to the baseball opportunities in his past.

★ ★ ★

Things weren't supposed to be like this. This was supposed to be the year Butler and teammate Jon Gray would lead the Rockies to glory, not the year to be demoted back to irrelevancy in minor league camp. When the chips failed to fall for him, then, and the Rockies sent Butler across the complex to the backfields, I once again expected to see a pitcher burned out and maybe a little bitter about being relegated to another turn on the farm, now facing my interview at the end of a long day when he'd rather be anywhere else in the world.

But that's just not how Eddie Butler operates.

"It’s an opportunity to grow," Butler politely says when I ham-handedly ask about the demotion to minor league spring training. "They had me come down to work on a couple things. Finishing off guys, innings, things like not giving up two strike hits, or two out hits. That was a big concern they had, so I'm just working on that."

"I just gotta finish it," he adds when I ask how he plans on going about it. "There's been too many pitches in the zone, especially with two strikes. I’ve even seen it since I’ve been down here. The last time I had an outing I gave up hits with two strikes on a slider or two, and that’s what they are talking about, being able to put guys away. I need to make pitches when they count."

He still doesn't have 100 career innings in the Major Leagues, but the 19 starts he has made there are already more than what most guys in minor league camp will ever see. For that reason, especially seeing how levelheaded he's been about his demotion, I ask Butler if there's a component to his time in the minors that could benefit other young players that want to be where the Virginia native has been.

"Some of the guys come up to me and ask me what it’s like, so I have that opportunity to help," Butler admits. "And then I'm trying to work my butt off to show them that once you’re up there and you get that taste, you’ve still gotta fight for it. Nothing is guaranteed. I knew that going into camp for myself, I did everything I could to stick up there, and now I’ve got a couple things to work on so I got sent down to do that."

Though it may seem to some that Butler is fast putting himself between a rock and a hard place if he can't successfully make the jump to Denver, the righty didn't seem worried about that during our conversation. In fact, he almost seemed relieved.

"I’m in a lot better spot this year, especially going into spring training," he tells me. "The big difference between me being up there right now and me being back down here is once I was ahead, I didn’t put guys away. Hopefully we’ll be able to get it all together and get back up there."

Butler sounds optimistic in his answers, though I can't help but wonder whether that's just the response he has to give to the media. After all, the organization trains their players well regarding positive mental outlooks through adversity, and Butler has proven himself a smart enough guy to know the approach to these things.

"I talk a lot about gratitude to our team, and maintaining that perspective, because it’s easy to lose that," Rockies manager Walt Weiss tells me. "I don’t care what your circumstances are, whether you’re an All Star or not, it’s important to be grateful."

Sure, that is important, but it's also somewhat of a played out notion; of course these players are grateful. Of course they'll say how lucky they are to play a game, and get paid for it. It's when they face real adversity—a prospect gets demoted early in camp and must, on some level, feel forgotten—that you find out how truly grateful they are. From what I can tell, Butler walks that walk.

"Hopefully they’ll see me working hard," he says of impressing the organization while in Triple-A, "and the other guys, they’ll see that I’m working on those things and I’m still trying to get up there."

"I’m not angry or bitter," he adds. "I’m happy."

Butler thanks me for the time, shakes my hand, and picks up his clipboard, glove, and ball bag to once again start the long walk to the minor league clubhouse. His day is now done, the last man left on the backfields finally heading in, metaphorically and—in that moment—physically isolated. I look out on the complex, realizing I'm now completely alone as Butler disappears around a corner in the distance.

I’m not angry or bitter, his words echo in my head.

I’m happy.