When I first met Ryan McMahon, he was a bright-eyed rookie baller straight out of high school who had just hit a walk-off singe the night before to secure a win for his Grand Junction Rockies.

He wanted to show me all the dings on his bat from a myriad of foul balls he hit to stay alive before delivering the line drive back up the middle. His enthusiasm, professionalism, and engagement in the conversation made it easy to forget he was still just 18 years old.

Nearly a decade later, the McBoy became a McMahon. He showed he could hang at the MLB level; earned a Gold Glove nomination, and signed a six-year, $70 million contract that cemented him as a part of the core for the Colorado Rockies future.

“Obviously it feels good,” McMahon told me in the clubhouse at Salt River fields just days after pressing pen to paper. “These are the people I’ve grown up with. They know how I feel about this organization. To feel that love back from them? It’s just a really good feeling and I’m really excited about it.”

They don’t put the “C” on baseball uniforms anymore, but McMahon is sure acting like a captain.

For whatever else anyone else may think about this franchise, it is the team that believed in him and drafted McMahon back in 2013 and now the man who was in charge of that oftentimes very personal process is in charge of the whole show.

Maybe that is a big reason why McMahon might have a bit more faith in Bill Schmidt and his team right now than most. 

He points to the Kris Bryant acquisition as a way of signaling a new feeling in the clubhouse and a renewed optimism for a club that hasn’t felt much of that over the last three years.

“It’s an all-around good feeling,” he said. “The front office is doing their thing. KB’s here. He chose us. I think the core that’s here is just coming into their own. Should be pretty exciting.”

McMahon is not alone in this assessment. “There’s definitely a mix of old and new,” says Opening Day starter Kyle Freeland. “We’ve got some new faces in here. Guys who have been a part of winning teams. It’s exciting. It’s nice to have a new outlook on what the season could be with the tools that we have. I think everyone’s done a good job coming into camp ready to go.”

Carlos Estevez adds to the conversation, “Everyone here wants to be here. Everyone here wants to help the Rockies win games.”

It is an unspoken understanding among both the guys in the clubhouse and even most fans and media who are being honest with themselves.

Nolan Arenado is the greatest third baseman who ever lived and it is completely unacceptable that the organization alienated him to the extent he felt it necessary to demand a trade.

That said, no objective observer would tell you the Rockies have had good chemistry or vibes since the moment he publicly called the team “disrespectful” in texts to journalists.

Baseball is hard enough without the explicit knowledge that your leader and best player doesn’t want to be there. Similarly, with Trevor Story on his way out and not playing at all like himself a year ago, it has been since 2018 that this club has gone into a season feeling good about itself.

The change is palpable and McMahon, as a central piece of a new group, is setting a decidedly different tone.

“It’s a good time for us, everyone’s excited for this season,” he explained. “The goal is to keep this with us, even through the tough stretches, remind ourselves of who we are and how we feel about each other.”

Of course, vibes and chemistry can only take you so far. It certainly helps not to have a constant dark cloud hanging over the team, but they still need to have the ability to go out there and compete with the best players in the world.

McMahon feels like they stack up better than most people realize, though.

“You look at it and at any point, anyone in this lineup can take over a game, right? Anyone could throw up five or six RBI or hit two homers in a game. I think you need that because not everyone is always going to be clicking. But if you put up good team at-bats, you might only need one or two guys who are doing their thing. I think it’s a scary lineup.”

He also added, “People don’t realize how good our pitching is.”

It’s that time of year. Guys are healthy and happy and haven’t lost a single game yet. But it is easy to see why there is optimism for this team where there hasn’t been before.

For the first time in years, it feels like a team. A team moving in the same direction.

“As long as we show up and feel good about playing baseball with each other I don’t think there’s gonna be any problems,” said the new captain. “I think the good stuff is gonna come out and we’re gonna win a lot of games.”

The Rockies start their season tomorrow, Friday, April 8 with a 2:10 p.m. MDT first pitch against the dreaded Los Angeles Dodgers.