Kyle Freeland has been a leader of the Colorado Rockies since his second year of big-league baseball, when he pitched to clinch a postseason berth and again in the National League Wild Card game, outdueling Jon Lester for an eventual victory.
He has been a leader because of the way he comports himself, bringing a palpable sense of competitive drive and passion that has allowed him to rise to the moment.
In other words, Freeland essentially set the tone for the kind of professionalism of approach that the Rockies would like to see from their entire pitching staff. He never takes a game off. He never takes a pitch off. He may not have the overwhelming “stuff” of other former Cy Young contenders or even his teammate German Marquez, but he knows how to win big games. Or, at least, he has been learning.
There are a lot of different ways to be a leader in a baseball clubhouse. Showing how one ought to behave is arguably the most effective, but Freeland has also gained with experience the confidence to make himself heard and be a dispenser of wisdom to anyone who seeks it out.
“Over the past couple of years, I’ve gotten older in the game and started to log some years in the league,” the 28-year-old says. “I think a lot of guys have started to look at me as more of a leader, as one of the guys they can come to and ask me anything. I’m always open to helping guys out. I’m an open book. I want to get this team where we want to be, and that’s in the playoffs.”
Freeland has always been the type of player to think more broadly about the Rockies. Remember this is a guy with tattoos of the Rocky Mountains and the numbers “5280” scrolled down his bicep.
He is one of the Rockies’ best and most important players of the last half-decade but he has been one of the Rockies’ biggest fans for much longer than that. Nobody wants to see this team win more than him.
And he likes what he has seen so far out of the new front office.
“There’s a lot of guys in this clubhouse who have been with this organization for quite some time but then we’ve got some new faces here of guys who are from the outside and have been a part of winning teams,” he says as he looks around the clubhouse at Salt River Fields. “It’s exciting. It’s nice to have a new outlook on what the season could possibly be with the tools that we have.”
Of course, the biggest new tool in the toolbox is former MVP Kris Bryant who brought a new dynamic to the team the very second he walked through the doors.
“We’ve had guys in the clubhouse before that have been been on winning teams and have been in the playoffs but Kris just hit free agency and signed with us because he wants to be here and he’s going to be here for quite some time, to try to bring a winning culture,” Freeland added.
A “winning culture” could also be pointed to as the reason why Freeland will be starting on Opening Day at Coors Field. He sets the tone. And he’s already chomping at the bit.
“I feel good. The arm is doing really good, the body feels great. Ready for the long haul.”
But thing, he says, that gives him the most optimism about his favorite team, the one he just so happens to play for, is that they are solidifying a core that he, and maybe eventually the fans, can believe in.
When Ryan McMahon signed his deal, that sent a clear message.
“He’s one of those guys that you can build a team around,” Freeland says “He’s been consistently healthy, even through the minor leagues. He wants to win. He wants to stay here. He’s still young. And I’m very happy he was able to get this extension done so he doesn’t have to think about free agency and he can just focus on winning.”
If the Rockies are going to keep this positive momentum and cement the philosophy of building around a core of like-minded players who embrace the challenge of playing in Denver, they better be looking at singing Kyle Freeland to a similar extension as soon as possible.
Until then, though, they and we know that we will get his best effort every time he takes the mound. And his teammates will get his best effort anytime they ask for advice from the leader of the Colorado Rockies.