Visalia, Calif. -- Charlie Blackmon wanted to be as little of a nuisance as possible. The Colorado Rockies' All-Star center fielder, on a rehab assignment with the Modesto Nuts while recovering from turf toe, was intent on going about his business quietly as the team prepared for the second of a three-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks' affiliate Visalia Rawhide on Wednesday night.
"I remember back when I was in their situation," Blackmon told me about his new Nuts teammates in the visiting clubhouse before last night's California League game. "I always thought it was kind of a pain in the butt when guys like me would come down to rehab and interrupt the whole schedule. I want to avoid them feeling that, so I try to assimilate as best I can."
That's a noble ideal for Blackmon to hold, even though his arrival inevitably affected the Nuts' lineup the past several days. On Wednesday, it left Max White the odd man out, banished to sit on the bench when he'd normally be playing left field. Beyond that, Blackmon's big league experience and the visibility that carries make it impossible for him not to affect the minor leaguers around him during his rehab assignment.
"It’s really special to see the way he goes about his business here, because he’s very professional," Nuts second baseman Forrest Wall (No. 11 PuRP) raved before the team's Wednesday night affair. "Everything he does seems to be with intent. It’s awesome to have been able to see Jon Gray, how he worked, and now Charlie Blackmon. Both guys are on big league rosters for a reason. It’s awesome."
It's not just Wall who thinks it's awesome, either; several fans called to Blackmon by name before the game, with others wearing Rockies gear, no doubt there to see the outfielder on a night that otherwise saw low attendance at Recreation Ballpark thanks to a mid-week game combined with blustery, biting winds throughout. The public address announcer at Visalia's historic park even played up Blackmon's arrival, loudly announcing the outfielder as being "on a Major League rehab assignment for the Colorado Rockies" before his at-bats.
So much for assimilation.
"I have a lot of really good memories from this league," Blackmon said, smiling, in reference to his strong summer with the Nuts back in 2009. That summer, the young outfielder slashed .307/.370/.433 in 133 games, with 30 stolen bases, 34 doubles, 87 runs scored, and 169 hits—that final stat good enough for fourth-best in the league that year.
"It’s nice to come back and see that Visalia hasn’t changed a bit," Blackmon added dryly. "And neither has the ballpark. Or the locker room."
Cramped as the visitor's locker room may be in Visalia, Blackmon won't be there for long; in fact, he was fairly certain that Wednesday night was to be his final rehab tune-up before rejoining the Rockies.
"I don’t know exactly what the schedule is. In a perfect world I would play tonight and then meet up with the team in Phoenix, but we’ll see," he said. "But I feel good, though, everything feels good."
Of course, Blackmon's health questions center on his left foot after dealing with turf toe the past several weeks. Now apparently fully healthy, though, the big leaguer contextualized how an injury seemingly so minor—nagging pain in such a small part of the body—has to be rested and rehabilitated so meticulously.
"This injury is tough because it’s your foot, that’s your foundation," he reasoned. "Your whole kinetic chain starts in your foot, so when you hurt something in your foot you’ve got to get that 100% before you’re going to be able to play baseball. It’s frustrating in that sense."
That being said, the injury happened early enough in the year—and Blackmon hasn't missed an extended amount of time—that the outfielder is optimistic he'll fall back into his usual on-field output as he gets back into his rhythm over the next couple of weeks. After all, just eight plate appearances with Modesto already likely leave Blackmon ready for the real thing back with the Rockies this weekend.
"I don’t feel like I need that many at-bats, since I didn’t have a whole lot of time off," the outfielder said. "It’s just getting back to being competitive again, and getting comfortable. I’m hoping I can get it going here pretty quick."
There's little doubt the Rockies feel the same way as Blackmon gets closer to the everyday big league lineup again. And once back in the majors, he certainly won't be a nuisance as he goes about his business.
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Immediately above this note, look through pictures from Charlie Blackmon's rehab stay with the Modesto Nuts this week. At the very top of this piece, watch Blackmon take batting practice and get game at-bats in Wednesday night's Nuts game against the Visalia Rawhide. Click here to subscribe to the Purple Row YouTube channel for more video.