Last Saturday, RockiesFest returned for the first time since 2019 with players, staff, and Dinger signing autographs and answering questions.
Nolan Jones was one of those players. He participated in an “Outfielders” panel with Charlie Blackmon, Sean Bouchard, and Hunter Goodman that involved taking questions from Jack Corrigan as well as fans. He later spoke with the media.
Below are some of the takeaways from his conversations as Jones described what he learned in 2023 and what he’s preparing for in 2024.
As a kid, his favorite player was David Ortiz
Each panelist was asked to name his favorite player growing up. Most fans assumed Jones would select one of the Phillies, but that wasn’t the case (although he did say he likes Bryce Harper).
“I was actually a Red Sox fan growing up,” Jones explained. “I loved watching David Ortiz, and I thought he had a different kind of swagger to him that I always wanted to have. I couldn’t be further from it in real life, but in my brain, I try and swing like him.”
Jack Corrigan raised a question: “You didn’t spit in your hands between every pitch?”
“Well, he had a lot more time than I have,” Jones answered. “With that pitch clock, you don’t even have time to think.”
About being featured on “MLB: The Show”
During the panel, a young fan asked players about their favorite video games, which led to Corrigan asking Jones about being on “MLB the Show”: Would he be checking out his new virtual self?
“Ummm,” Jones paused. “Yeah.”
“I grew up playing MLB The Show,” Jones continued. “I watched all these guys. I played with Charlie Blackmon, so that’s a dream come true for me to be on a video game.”
Jones also gets some familial pressure: “My little brother loves to play ‘MLB The Show’ and ‘Diamond Dynasty,’ and he’s got my cards and sends me updates. When I’m playing bad, my rating goes down, and he tells me to play better.”
In his first season, he relied on his veteran teammates, especially Charlie Blackmon
Jones thanked his veteran teammates throughout, but it’s difficult to overestimate his praise for Blackmon.
He told fans, “I think I relied a lot on my teammates this year. I’m blessed to be able to be around guys like Chuck, KB, and Mac. Chuck’s faced every guy in the league like 100 times.”
(The jokes about Charlie Blackmon’s age were a panel staple as Chuck Nazty sat between teammates much his junior.)
The crowd laughed, and Jones was quick to clarify the context of his remarks.
“It’s not an old joke!” he explained. “I really came up here and just tried to pick those guys’ brains. I had such a great opportunity to be here, to get a chance to play at Coors Field, but to be in a locker room with these guys that have been around the game for so long and had so much success and done what I’ve always dreamed of.”
He continued, “Every day, I ask Chuck what his plan is. I watch Chuck take outfield reps for two hours before every game. It’s unbelievable. But just to see the work ethic and the approach that he takes every day.”
Jones would elaborate in his comments to the media.
“I was talking to my dad the day after Charlie signed his contract,” Jones said. “I said I would have signed him for 10 more years because having Charlie around changes our clubhouse.”
He’s practicing self-care by journaling and staying off social media
As the 2023 season began to wind down, Jones turned to writing as a way to understand his experience, which had far exceeded his expectations.
“I just wanted to reflect and sit down and write down my thoughts and feelings,” he said.
For him, it serves as an act of reflection as well as an emotional equalizer.
“Baseball is a game where I can come in and go 4-for-4 and it’s the best I’ve ever felt. And then the next day I’m in the batting cage, and I don’t even know what I’m holding in my hands. It feels like a foreign object,” Jones said.
He came to see journaling as a strategy for recovery.
“I think that writing down my thoughts and my feelings helped me get back to the 4-for-4 day feelings and thoughts quicker.”
It’s a reminder to himself that he belongs in the big leagues, something that can be hard for a younger player to believe.
“We fail so much in baseball,” Jones said. “It’s so easy to beat yourself up and get down on yourself. And I think that I did a good job last year of finding small wins.” As examples, he cites a good outing in the batting cage or an effective defensive practice session.
Another part of his self-care routine involves limiting his use of social media.
“Actually, the best thing I ever did was delete Twitter,” Jones said. “I went on Twitter for, like, one week this offseason, but I do my best to stay off that stuff. It kind of floods your brain a little bit.”
He continued, “I think that everybody’s got their opinion. There’s people that think I’m terrible. There’s people think I’m good, and so I think that for me, personally, it helps to stay away from that stuff and just be me, do my thing.”
His offseason focus has been improving defensively
In one of the day’s more interesting moments, Jones discussed his offseason defensive training. That he would work on this part of his game makes sense given that he’s still learning the position.
As he told the press, “This offseason, I’ve worked a lot in the outfield. Something that I talked about all year last year was I needed to be a better outfielder, so that’s something I really prioritized this offseason.”
Getting fit has been key.
“I’m in a good spot,” Jones said. “Again, there’s going to be slip ups. But I think that going into this offseason, my plan was to be the best outfielder I can be. That’s something I’ve attacked every day, and I’m stronger and faster than I was last year.”
Then there’s the matter of repetition and getting his position right.
Jones said, “I’m just constantly going through the throws. I had a lot of success throwing last year, but a lot of those were ground balls. So something I’ve worked on a lot this year is putting my body in the right position to throw on fly balls. And I think that’s going to help me a lot as well.”
He admits he’s still learning.
“I think that I had trouble going back on balls last year,” Jones said. “I am still learning the altitude here. I can’t really practice at altitude because I’m in Arizona, but I’ve worked a lot on going back on the ball and securing it.”
It turns out, elevation skews outfield defense.
“I think that I noticed the altitude more last year defensively than I did offensively,” Jones said.
“Obviously, [it was] pretty much my first time playing the outfield last year, but when I would go on the road and then come back home that first day, I would miss fly balls in the outfield,” he continued.
“The line drive stays up — it does not come down. I dove for line drives last year that hit me in the wrist. It’s learning those small things: the fly ball that looks like it’s going to be a blooper? It doesn’t come down, so I don’t have to take my first three steps in. I can wait, read it, and if it’s over my head, I can go back.
“Naturally, you want to jump and make the great play if you’re the shortstop or second baseman, but [in the outfield], you have a little more time.”
He’s optimistic about 2024
He believes the experience the rookies picked up in 2023 will show in 2024. Plus, he likes Cal Quantrill in the rotation.
“I think we made some additions that are really going to help us,” Jones said. “I got the opportunity to play with Cal in Cleveland a little bit, and I think he’s going to thrive here. He’s got nasty stuff, and he’s unbelievably smart. So I think he’s got to be really good with using his stuff.”
Plus, young players like Elehuris Montero, Ezequiel Tovar, Michael Toglia, and Brenton Doyle “got their feet wet” last season, and if there’s something they don’t want, it’s a 2023 repeat.
“We know what it feels like to go through what we went through last year — nobody wants to go through that, and I think that’s been a motivating factor,” Jones said.
“I think we’re going to do a lot of things this year that surprise people.”
Rockies fans, there’s a new Nolan in LoDo.
RockiesFest was well attended
In case you missed RockiesFest, here are some highlights.
Chris Gilligan does a deep dive on Jones’ mastery of the shadow zone at the plate. That rookie had a remarkable 2023, we knew, but Gilligan finds other areas in which he excelled.
It’s over. The black vest is history. It’s a sad, sad day.
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