DENVER — The Colorado Rockies home opener has a chance to produce one of the best sports stories of the year, and that fact isn’t lost on Rox manager Bud Black.
“I think it’s great isn’t it? I think it’s awesome,” a gleaming Black said to reporters hours before first pitch on Friday. “A fellow who grew up a Rockies fan and dreamed of playing for his hometown team—to have it realized, that’s great stuff.”
Black is speaking of Rockies rookie pitcher Kyle Freeland, who is about to make his major league debut against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Coors Field. Controlling the chaos that comes with the situation will be a challenge for Freeland, but his skipper believes the Denver native is up to the task.
“Will his emotions run a little higher today? No doubt about it,” Black said. “Why wouldn’t they? He’s pitching for his favorite team in his hometown. But he’s advanced as a baseball player and ultimately it comes down to what he needs to do.”
Black says Freeland will just have to do “what Kyle Freeland does,” which is command his fastball, mix in breaking pitches in good spots and elevate the ball when necessary. “It’s a game he’s played his entire life,” Black added.
Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich referenced an even simpler approach.
“It’ll be a special day for him—get the jitters out and remember to breathe,” Bridich told reporters. “But once that first pitch is thrown, it’s just another game, and ‘let’s go beat a good team.’”
Freeland will have his work cut out for him against a good and experienced Los Angeles Dodgers lineup, but the 23-year-old lefthander is well prepared. He was hard at work hours before his start studying the Dodgers’ hitters and their tendencies. Now it’s just about executing, something that Freeland preached when asked Wednesday about his thoughts about how to pitch in the hitter-friendly environments of Colorado.
“You still have to execute pitches,” Freeland said on a conference call. “You have to get the ball on the ground and get outs. If you have that mentality pitching at Coors Field, you’re gonna have success. People get a little timid pitching there knowing the ball is going to fly but you’ve gotta execute pitches.”
One pitch in particular that Freeland may rely on helped him overcome a slow start to last season and finish strong as a youngster in Triple-A.
“Going back to last season, I did have a little bit of a rocky half season in Double-A,” Freeland admitted, noting that he was still figuring things out and fine tuning his repertoire. “When I got to Triple-A, everything clicked and settled in. A big part of that was refining my changeup, getting a fourth pitch into my mix to use as a weapon.”
Freeland credited, among others, then-Albuquerque pitching coach Darryl Scott, who is now the organization’s minor league pitching co-coordinator. Scott had success helping Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson, German Marquez, Jeff Hoffman, and Carlos Estevez—among others—take their game to the next level. Now it’s Freeland’s turn, and the hometown kid couldn’t be happier.
“Not many people get the chance to come play for their hometown team, Freeland said. “Being able to say that has been an honor.”