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Connor Joe captures hearts of fans with courageous story and outstanding play

Patrick Lyons Avatar
October 28, 2021

Before he entertained on AT&T SportsNet and starred on MLB Network Radio, the player known as Ryan Spilborghs and the man known simply as Spilly has been delighting Rockies fans since the 2007 World Series with his play on the field as well as his antics off the field.

Ryan Spilborghs Award for Fan Favorite

Connor Joe

Heading into the season, the Colorado Rockies boasted four players developed from within their minor league ranks, each one a star in their own right: Charlie Blackmon, Kyle Freeland, Germán Márquez and Trevor Story.

Only Márquez would be an All-Star in 2021, but Story would represent the club proudly during the Home Run Derby. Blackmon continued to climb up the franchise leaderboard in every category, eventually settling in second-place behind Todd Helton in games played, plate appearances and base hits with the team.

Freeland – the only one of the bunch to never be selected for the Midsummer Classic and the only one to finish in the top 4 of the Cy Young Award or MVP – is the epitome of being homegrown. A product of the Centennial State in every fashion, he will forever be loved by those coming to the ballpark every fifth day to see the true Colorado kid pitch his guts out.

It’s for that reason, no one will truly be able to top the boy from Thomas Jefferson High School when it comes to Rockies supporters. But in 2021, there was a special player that captured the hearts of fans in this singular season in a much different way than the hometown hero.  

Connor Joe stood out as a fan favorite in what can only be dubbed The Summer of CJ. (C.J. Cron winning the National League Player of the Month Award certainly aided in raising the temperature during those months, too.)

It began as a feel-good story with Joe signing a minor league deal to join Colorado during Spring Training, following a big league career that never took flight. A first-round pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2014 led to a trade a few years later to Atlanta before another to the Los Angeles Dodgers a month later.

Thanks to the Rule 5 Draft, he had opportunities with the Cincinnati Reds and finally San Francisco Giants where he made his Major League debut on Opening Day 2019. When it became clear he wasn’t quite ready after just 16 plate appearances, he was returned to the Dodgers and spent the entirety of the year in Triple-A.

Then it got even worse. 

Diagnosed with testicular cancer and battling the illness throughout the pandemic, Joe didn’t know if he’d get another chance, especially at 28 years old. Enter Colorado.

Joe began the year with the Albuquerque Isotopes in Triple-A West and quickly made an impact with the bat while playing corner outfield and first base. His first promotion on May 7 was for four weeks while the second was for a little more than two weeks. He had hit .241 (13-for-54) with only two doubles to support his slugging percentage. 

Following his third stint in with the ‘Topes, Joe would never again have to think about returning to the Land of Enchantment. 

On July 20, he was promoted and immediately inserted into the top of the order, batting second ahead of Story and Blackmon. Joe went 2-for-5 that day with a double and his first career home run. It was also the one-year anniversary of being diagnosed cancer-free.

From then until early September, when his season was shortened by a right hamstring strain, Joe was the 10th-best qualified hitter in the NL according to fWAR (1.3) thanks to a .306/.390/.556 slash line.

He started making a habit of homering in big spots. First, in his native San Diego and later as a substitute where he homered twice, becoming only the second player in team history to accomplish such an unlikely feat.

All of it was happening at the leadoff spot by a prized player sporting a stylish mullet. The only thing missing from becoming Blackmon 2.0 was the facial hair. Instead, he had a thousand watt smile.

The Coors Field cranks started to celebrate the newest noble every time he stepped into the batter’s box with chants of his surname – Joe! Joe! Joe! – unlike anything remembered in these parts for a player so quickly without lasting ties to the organization or big league track record.

It was organic and apt for a player who had overcome so much to finally display the potential within. He was deserving of the adoration and the man to bestow the 2021 Ryan Spilborghs Award for Fan Favorite.


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