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“Be careful what you wish for” is a common idiom with a second half generally forgotten.
At the ballpark, the baseball idiom by which we should all remember and abide is “Careful what you talk about, lest it come true.” I nearly learned the hard way this week.
The first pitch on most nights may be 6:40 pm, but most of the folks covering the Colorado Rockies enter through the media gates a good four hours before the likes of German Márquez or Jon Gray take their place on the pitcher’s plate to herald in the start of another nine innings at Coors Field.
The media gets into the clubhouse to talk with players and confer with respected colleagues about various ideas hoping those seeds of thought can fully bloom over the course of the night. Manager Bud Black invariably steps into his home away from home inside the Rockies dugout and numerous topics of the day pertaining to the Rockies are discussed.
Once this bit of reporting is complete, many amble about looking for conversation, dragging their feet before watching a round of batting practice and listening to baseballs bang into the left field stands from the first batting practice group before heading back upstairs to the press box to begin work in their proverbial office.
One such pregame conversation on Thursday broke out between AT&T Sportsnet’s Cory Sullivan, Drew Creasman and myself regarding a notably nasty collision between outfielders over a decade ago. After several minutes of one upmanship, we took to the internet to settle the debate.
The particular pileup of our fancy involved New York Mets outfielders Carlos Beltran and Mike Cameron in 2005. Cameron signed as a free agent with the Mets in 2004 after making a name for himself with the Seattle Mariners as a key piece of the Ken Griffey, Jr. trade. Just 12 months later, the Mets found themselves signing another center fielder in the highly-coveted Carlos Beltran. His seven-year, $119MM contract was a franchise record and only the 10th contract over $100MM in baseball at the time.
The signing of Beltran required Cameron, a two-time Gold Glove Award winner, to move to right field. This situation struck me as problematic at the time; sadly, my fears would come to an unfortunate fruition on August 11, 2005 at Petco Park in San Diego.
Padres’ David Ross lofted a well-placed fly ball shallow in the right-center gap. Well, it’s at this point, you might be interested in searching out this clip; not sure if brave is the right adjective for watching this horrific highlight, but if you’re up for it, by all means, have a Google.
With Beltran in center and Cameron in right, the two converged, neither one calling for the ball, neither one backing off. As they simultaneously hurtled their bodies through the air in pursuit of the out, they smashed head-first and body-second in one of the most gruesome plays ever captured on film during a major league game. The head-to-head collision resulted in a broken nose and cheekbones for Cameron while Beltran had facial cuts. Both men suffered concussions.
The video was viewed twice before we decided to put away the tragic visions and prepare for a game between Colorado and San Diego. As fate would have it, a similar shallow fly ball to right-center field would be hit between two Rockies’ center fielders: Charlie Blackmon and Ian Desmond.
Blackmon, now in right field, has never won a Gold Glove for his play, but he does carry with him a center fielder’s mentality of aggressiveness from nearly 6,000 innings at the position in the majors. So when Austin Allen lofted a fly ball to the right-center gap in the sixth inning, a mere few hours after the conversation of that catastrophic collision, a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach developed quickly in the half-second the ball left the bat.
To hear Blackmon tell it, the situation wasn’t nearly as dire as it could have been. But one detail stands out from his description of that play Thursday night:
No one called for the ball.
“I thought I was going to get it, but I wasn’t that sure. I felt like Ian was kind of doing the same thing and I saw him taking a deep route. So, I just went shallow and if I was going to get there, I was going get there. And if not, then at least we pass each other and he gets to make the play. I was aware that we weren’t going to collide. But, I really don’t think anyone said anything. We just knew, had a sense. We have a nonverbal communication.” Blackmon continued, “I didn’t know that I was going to get there until the last second. I think he probably makes that play if I don’t make it. He’s got good speed.”
Desmond seconded the nonverbal communication as well as the unspoken rules of their routes taken by him and Blackmon. “It just kind of worked out. There was no real communication, like he said. Just worked out. He was able to get to it…. I just knew I was going to be behind him. It’s a touch instinct, more than anything.”
Blackmon’s first season in right field appears to be going well thus far. After an uncharacteristic two-error game against the Dodgers on April 7, which gave him three through the first ten games of the season, he’s battled back to provide solid defense, some of which has been reflected in various defensive metrics that evaluate such performance.
Before 2019, Blackmon was the center fielder and his counterpart in right field was Carlos Gonzalez for many years. To some extent, the familiarity between the two was akin to what Desmond and Blackmon have already built. When the situation calls for it, one player will go deep and the other will go shallow, all without the mention of a single word.
“Yeah, Me and CarGo, (would do that) a lot, because we played with each other quite a bit. Center field and right field always feel like we’re kind of bumping into each other or getting close enough to where we need to communicate the most. Left field, not as much. I feel left field is more bigger and spaced further apart,” Blackmon said.
Though having more than one center field caliber athlete was not particularly an asset for the Mets that fateful day in 2005, it has been one for the team that plays half its games in the largest outfield in all of baseball.
“Ideally, yeah. You don’t want the left fielder to call the ball and think that he’s going to catch it and then the center fielder calls him off, but the left fielder still thinks he’s going to catch it. But, we don’t really have that problem. It seems like we’ve done a pretty good job. Usually, you want as much speed as you can get, especially at Coors Field,” Blackmon said of the rangy capabilities of himself, Desmond, David Dahl and Raimel Tapia.
For those of us who discussed collisions in the outfield before the game, it may have been a case of “no harm, no foul” for what became an uneventful night. But, if your superstitious nature is anything like the players on the field, you may want to take a page out of my book and reconsider the topics you discuss at the park.