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The beauty and necessity of a team captain

Colorado Rockies news and links for Friday, July 1, 2022

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On Thursday, I got to witness something that I can’t imagine I will get to as a Rockies fan: a championship parade ending in a rally at Civic Center Park. It’s a glorious celebration with thousands of your fellow fans to relive the highlights and cheer for the players to honor the organization’s amazing work and dedication. It’s a special feeling.

Purple Row’s Renee Dechert wrote a great piece earlier this week in light of the Avs championship about how Rockies fans deserve better, but the organization’s failures from the owner down through the front office, centered around the lacking analytics and inability to make smart moves, will prevent the Rockies from ever completing a five-year turnaround from worst to best like the Colorado Avalanche. As long as the Monforts collect top-10 attendance revenue every season, and seemingly without an innate desire to win, nothing seems likely to change.

But while Colorado sports fans get to see what winning at the highest level looks like on the ice, I couldn’t help but notice another, albeit minor, difference between the Rockies and the Avs. As I joyfully watched the Avalanche players hug and celebrate with either other, they have a magical piece that binds and drives this team: a team captain. Not just any team captain either, but Gabe Landeskog, a leader so special that he took the reins of the C on his sweater when he was only 19 years old, entering his second year with the team. Nine years later, he’s hoisting the Stanely Cup.

Currently in MLB, no teams have a captain, but there have been captains on a few teams over the past 40 years. David Wright appears to be the last captain, but that ended when he retired with the Mets in 2018. Two years after his six-year stint as manager for Colorado, Don Baylor instituted captains as manager of the Cubs. He named one outfielder (Sammy Sosa), one infielder (Mark Grace), one starter (Kevin Tapani), and one reliever (Rick Aguilera). It clearly didn’t translate to winning the World Series, a feat that came in 2016, but they did make it to the playoffs three years later and it’s a noteworthy move nonetheless. The Mets, Reds, Red Sox, Royals, and Astros have all occasionally had captains from the 1980s through Wright’s role.

The only time a Colorado Rockie wore a captain’s C was in the 2014 Home Run Derby when Troy Tulowitzki donned one on his National League All-Star uniform (along with future Rockie Matt Kemp).

When it comes to captains in baseball, it seems like most of the time they aren’t deemed necessary. Perhaps it’s because baseball is viewed as more of an individual sport or because they don’t have an official role like calling a coin toss or taking grievances to referees. However, the Rockies need a captain. They need one to rally the troops in hard times, which are the majority of the times, and to guide young and veteran players alike without feeling like they are out of place. There are things that a captain can do that a regular player or even season veteran just can’t do. They call for team meetings, coordinate team gatherings, and, since we are dreaming, take grievances to coaches and the front office.

In other words, the Rockies need their own Gabe Landeskog. They need an official leader, or a handful of them like the NHL does with assistant captains or how the NFL does with co-captains, who bears the great responsibility of trying to guide the team.

When the Avs won the Stanley Cup, Landeskog was the first to hoist it. He earned that privilege. He’s the undeniable leader. He’s helped the team end a 21-year title drought. As a nine-year captain of the squad, he’s studied leadership. He’s read books about leadership, like those by John Wooden. He told The Score one of his favorites is “It Takes What It Takes,” which is by Denver Broncos new QB Russell Wilson’s mental conditioning coach, Trevor Moawad, a famed sports psychologist who sadly died of cancer in 2021. Landy meets with CEOs, business leaders, and other athletes to learn more about leadership. He works at it and takes it seriously.

Landy is respected by coaches and players alike. Head coach Jared Bednar said, “It’s become clear over the last few years that it’s about winning, not just about being a good team and getting into the playoffs. As our team has progressed, I think Landy’s been the guy pushing that forward and really trying to hold our team to a new standard.”

Cale Makar told The Athletic, “He’s the captain for a reason,” while MacKinnon calls him “the perfect captain” and former teammate Greg Zanon says, “I think he was born for the job.”

In that same The Score article by John Matisz from 2021, Matisz writes that Landeskog is “certainly not shy or quiet, or someone who leads solely by example, yet he isn’t naturally as emotional or fiery as [Nate] MacKinnon.”

People with Landy’s unique personality and mature-at-19 mindset are not common, but the Rockies need one. With some talented prospects arriving in the coming years, like Elehuris Montero, Ezequiel Tovar, Zac Veen, and Drew Romo, the Rockies need to be looking for a captain-like player to guide the team.

It can’t just be someone who silently leads by example, which the Rockies seem to have in spades. It shouldn’t just be someone that’s a longtime veteran just because they have been around for so long. It needs to be someone who wants an active leadership role and can thrive in pushing the team to a new level.

Charlie Blackmon is a talented vet with good experience to share, but he’s not born to be captain. Trevor Story seemed like he was trying to step up to take the role, but it also didn’t fit his personality. Even if Kris Bryant seems to want to be the new torch bearer, and he has the World Series Championship experience, we just haven’t seen enough of him yet to trust him with the role. Kyle Freeland seems like the Rockie with the most emotion and competitiveness. He could be a co-captain, but it also seems like the main leader to get more wins has to be an everyday position player.

Baseball is still a team sport. One superstar can’t win the NL West, let alone the World Series. The Rockies need a captain to help them navigate the challenging environment of a new GM and a lacking analytics department to try to cultivate a winning culture that seems to shrink more and more with every day that passes since the back-to-back playoff appearances in 2017 and 2018.

I hope one day the Rockies will have the baseball version of Landy and if the team was smart, they’d put a C on his jersey.

★ ★ ★

Rockies, led by Daniel Bard and Chad Kuhl, have five viable trade candidates | Denver Post ($)

‘Tis the season to write articles about the Rockies making trades. With another losing season in the works, Rockies reporters and fans alike wonder if this will be the year the Rockies decide to make plans for the future and trade players of value for future prospects. As Patrick Saunders writes, they didn’t last year. The same Bill Schmidt will be involved this year, just with the interim removed from his GM title. So while it would be going against probability to imagine the Rockies changing, Saunders suggests Daniel Bard, Chad Kuhl, José Iglesias, Alex Colomé, and C.J. Cron could all net good returns for the organization.

★ ★ ★

On The Farm

Triple-A: Sugar Land Space Cowboys 15, Albuquerque Isotopes 0

An eight-run third inning and 16 hits on the night for Sugar Land compared to only three hits for the Isotopes resulted in a long game in Alburquerque on Thursday night. Jonathan Morales got two of those hits, while Wynton Bernard also added a single on a night when the Isotopes combined to strike out 12 times. Riley Smith had a rough start, giving up seven earned runs (eight total) in 2 13 innings, but the bullpen also struggled. Nate Griep pitched a scoreless 1 13 to close out the game and Dennis only gave up one run in 2 23 innings, but Health Holder and Nick Kennedy combined to give up six runs in 2 23 innings.

Double-A: Hartford Yard Goats 14, Binghamton Rumble Ponies 4

The Yard Goats (45-27) set a franchise-best mark with a 16-10 record in the month of June after a lopsided victory on Thursday night, highlighted by a grand slam by Brenton Doyle. After Aaron Shunk hit a two-run double in the first inning, the game was tied at 2-all. That’s when Hartford exploded for an eight-run second inning. Outside of Doyle’s slam, Daniel Cope hit a solo homer, Jimmy Herron hit a two-run single, and Daniel Montano got an RBI by drawing a bases-loaded walk. The Yard Goats added insurance with an RBI double from Michael Toglia, a solo shot from Kyle Datres, an RBI single from Montano, and a sac grounder by Herron. Every Yard Goat in the lineup either drove in at least one run or scored at least one run. Parker native Michael Baird got the win to improve to 2-1, despite giving up four runs in five innings.

High-A: Vancouver Canadians 8, Spokane Indians 4

After finding themselves down 7-1 after two innings, the Indians didn’t have enough to come back on Thursday night. Grant Lavigne led the way with two RBI singles, Zac Veen added one of his own, and Nic Kent hit a sac grounder to account for Spokane’s scoring. The Indians totaled 10 hits, one fewer than Vancouver, but went 4-for-15 with runners in scoring position and left nine runners on base. Bladimir Restituyo and Julio Carreras each added two runs. Evan Shawver gave up three runs and left before the first inning was over in taking the loss, but Austin Kitchen also struggled, surrendering four runs over the next 3 23 innings.

Low-A: Fresno Grizzlies 14, Stockton Ports 0

The runs came in bunches and they came often in a 19-hit night for Fresno led by two home runs from Hunter Goodman and one homer each from Adael Amador and Zac Kokoska. Goodman went 4-for-5 with three RBI and three runs scored and Kokoska totaled four hits and three runs. Juan Guerrero, Braxton Fulford, and Yanquiel Fernandez all chipped in RBI doubles. Every Grizzley in the starting lineup either scored at least one run, drove in at least one run, or recorded at least one hit, while Stockton managed only four hits total. McCade Brown pitched a gem, giving up only one hit while striking out eight in six shutout innings. Tyler Ras added two innings of scoreless relief, giving up two hits while striking out two. Feilx Ramires closed out the game by giving up one hit, one walk, and one strikeout in a scoreless ninth inning.

★ ★ ★

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