It’s time to acknowledge an uncomfortable truth: Kris Bryant will never be the face of Colorado Rockies, despite their best efforts.
To be clear, Bryant is a great baseball player, and his accomplishments with the 2016 Chicago Cubs remain historic. But being the face of that franchise will always be his legacy — and he’s earned every bit of it.
In the story of his career, Bryant’s time as a Colorado Rockie will probably earn a paragraph in the afterword, and no seven-year, $182 million contract will change that.
Besides, the face of an MLB team needs to be on the field more than 122 games in two seasons; he needs to hit more than 15 home runs; and he has to be visible to fans. Because of injuries, that hasn’t happened since Bryant signed with the Rockies.
Bud Black has told reporters that Bryant is a key clubhouse presence. That’s good because young teams, like the Rockies, need guidance, and Bryant brings unique experience.
Still, being a good clubhouse guy doesn’t matter when it comes to being the face of a franchise since the job is inherently public-facing. In addition to the injuries, perhaps being that guy just isn’t who Kris Bryant is. That’s okay, too. None of this diminishes his on-field skills or accomplishments.
Look, the Rockies haven’t had a true face of the franchise since Nolan Arenado forced his way out of Colorado.
But in November 2022, that changed because, it turns out, when Bill Schmidt traded Juan Brito to the Cleveland Guardians, in return, he got more than a lefty power bat with some speed.
The Rockies announced today that they have acquired INF/OF Nolan Jones from the Cleveland Guardians in exchange for Minor League INF Juan Brito.— Rockies Club Information (@RockiesClubInfo) November 16, 2022
Colorado currently has 39 players on the 40-man roster.
In Nolan Jones, he got all that plus some intangibles no one saw coming. Schmidt found the new face of the franchise.
It’s a job that requires more than athletic skill; it also involves personality. On both fronts, Jones has not disappointed.
He’s a terrific baseball player
The face of any sports franchise, first, needs to be an exceptional player, and Jones has established he can play. I’m not going to delve into the numbers (because Skyler Timmins will do that in “Ranking the Rockies”), but it’s worth pointing out that Jones is MLB’s first rookie to hit 20 home runs, steal 20 bases, and earn 19 outfield assists. He’s probably going to receive some Rookie of the Year votes, too.
Our guy Nolan is the NL Player of the Week! pic.twitter.com/tJIceVQQkM— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) October 2, 2023
He has personality
This part of his game emerged throughout the season.
For example, ESPN doesn’t just mic up any baseball player for Sunday Night Baseball. But when the Rockies played the San Francisco Giants, they chose to visit with Nolan Jones.
The broadcasters asked about his vantage from the outfield, to which Jones, honest to a fault, held up his glove to shield his eyes and confessed, “Guys, I cannot see a thing.” He had hot takes about football (“Birds are winning the Super Bowl this year”); Charlie Blackmon (“If Chuck wants it, he can have it”): his favorite Philadelphia athlete (Bryce Harper); and his family.
He has charisma and humor, both key characteristics for any face of a franchise.
It feels like he belongs to Rockies fans
Given that Jones came through the Guardians’ system, he’s not truly “homegrown,” but it quickly came to feel like he’d been a Rockie from the start — albeit with some gap years.
It helps that he’d been on the Rockies’ radar for awhile. Back in November, general manager Bill Schmidt told Patrick Saunders, “We liked him when he came out of high school and he’s a good athlete with some power.”
Moreover, he wants to be here, though he didn’t always feel that way.
“To be honest with you, the first day, it was horrible. It was horrible the first day,” Jones said to Rob Bradford’s “Baseball Isn’t Boring” podcast when describing his feelings about being traded. “I was devastated. I played for seven years and became best friends with all the guys I came up through the system with. I was actually on vacation and it ruined my whole day. I was really upset and then I looked at it as a new opportunity.”
It helped that he found a warm welcome in Arizona from Ryan McMahon, Brian Serven, and Randal Grichuk.
“There was a bunch of guys and I remember calling my dad on the way home and I was like ‘This is going to be the best thing that ever happened to me,’” he recalled. “I got to meet a whole new group of people. It was scary for me at first, I didn’t know what to expect, but everything about it has been awesome.”
He’s relatable — and he can’t stop himself from being honest
Jones always seems so straightforward.
Take this passage from an August 2023 story by Thomas Harding, back when folks were beginning to understand Jones’ talent:
“In 2016 I was drafted by [Cleveland], and I got to watch a Rookie of the Year, KB, go win a World Series [with the Cubs],” Jones said. “I told him — I probably shouldn’t have — but I had a picture of him in my room. He was playing third base at the time. He was a superstar. I wanted to be like Kris Bryant.”
Focus on that line when Jones confesses, “I told him — I probably shouldn’t have.” He realizes that he should probably be cool and act like it’s no big deal, being on the same team as his childhood idol. But he can’t help himself: He has to say this to Bryant, even though he risks looking foolish doing it.
And then he can’t keep from telling this potentially embarrassing story to Thomas Harding and, by extension, the world.
All of this suggests to fans that they’ve got the real deal, not a marketing construct.
And that matters when someone is the face of a franchise.
He has leadership
Leadership is hard to measure, but you can see it in Jones’ interactions with his teammates.
When the rookies were going to Starbucks in Chicago to get coffee for the vets, Jones led the procession. When the camera focused on the Rockies’ bench because of a big moment, he was leading the cheers for his teammates. When Elehuris Montero hit a walk-off single, Jones was the first person to get the party started. When praised for his improving outfield defense, he routinely deferred to Brenton Doyle and credited Ezequiel Tovar for being a role model.
And when you saw him at batting practice, he was usually wearing a Justin Lawrence “CAUTION: WATCH FOR SWEEPERS” t-shirt. Maybe he’s just a fan of BreakingT, but he was probably supporting a teammate.
Jones has that in spades.
He’s had a great story since arriving in Colorado
Think about it.
In addition to having a breakout rookie season (and if it weren’t for Corbin Carroll, Jones would be in the thick of the ROY discussion), KB, his childhood idol, offered him a challenge: If Nolan Jones could hit 20 homers or get 60 RBI, Bryant would give him a Rolex.
Then Jones worked hard and met the goal.
Seriously, you can’t script a Hallmark movie like this.
Look for this to be Nolan Jones’ signature move going forward.
In a miserable 2023, Rockies fans had a glimpse of the future.
I don’t know why Rockies fans have a thing for guys named “Nolan.” They just do.
Be of good cheer, Rockies fans. Nolan 2.0 has arrived.
Goodman had a wide-ranging conversation with Nolan Jones when the rookie was en route to Scottsdale for the offseason — and it’s a two part conversation. There’s much for Rockies fans to absorb here. But if nothing else, listen to Part II to get the details of not playing during the Seattle Mariners series, that Kris-Bryant-gifted Rolex, and learning to throw again in 2019.
Trevor May is one of my favorite baseball players, in part because he does such a good job of using social media to explain baseball to fans.
Last week during the NLDS, he took to X/Twitter to outline what goes into approaching a batter — and it’s a lot.
How I would prepare to face Bryce Harper tonight, a thread...— Trevor May (@IamTrevorMay) October 13, 2023
On a different note, yesterday, May opened up on his thoughts about selling the Oakland Athletics, and it’s perfect (WARNING: Profanity):
Trevor, even though you’ve retired, please keep sharing your insights.
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