Blackmon relishes challenge of center field

But vast outfield of Coors Field can take a physical toll

Blackmon relishes challenge of center field

DENVER -- The expansive center field at Coors is hard to cover in real time, and taxing over the long haul. And Charlie Blackmon loves chasing balls through every square foot of it, and wants to cover it "as long as I can."

Never mind that the place can lead to pain. Chase Utley's two-run, second-inning triple in Friday night's 6-2 loss to the Dodgers, when Blackmon tried to make a sliding catch and didn't realize until too late he didn't have a play, certainly hurt.

"It's awful," Blackmon said. "It's a big momentum shift. I'd rather strike out with the bases loaded."

Utley's two-run triple

But quite often there is joy. Blackmon made a diving play in the same game on a liner by Yasmani Grandal in the fifth.

"It can save runs," Blackmon said. "High risk, high reward right there."

Blackmon, 30, lives for center field, despite the wear of his home park, where it seems he is constantly on a dead sprint for balls his corner outfielders might handle in other ballparks. Listed 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Blackmon wears the force on the knees, feet and ankles while running, and impact when he hits the wall.

Blackmon's 394 games in center are second-most in Rockies history to Dexter Fowler's 554 (2008-13). Blackmon, who debuted in 2011, became the regular in center in 2014.

For Blackmon, being the center fielder goes beyond the play when he's chasing the ball or the three hours of the game.

"It really becomes a lifestyle," he said. "I spend a lot of time working on my body. I focus on recovery quite a bit, especially at home. That's a lot before the game, after the game. Sleep.

"Recovery is nutrition. It's knowing my body -- knowing what's tight, how to make things not tight. It's what my body needs to work right. Hydration, planned rest, cold tank, training room stuff. All that comes together."

Blackmon also must factor self-preservation. Advanced tools such as Statcast™ measure catch probability but don't account for presence of the wall, much less the bruises -- or worse.

"The hardest thing is you're naturally going to feel the wall be closer than it actually is," Blackmon said. "The toughest part about playing the wall is to just push that to the back of your mind and know that you have an extra sept or two more than you actually think you do. That way, you need to stay focused on catching the ball as opposed to bracing."

"But then again you don't want to go diving headfirst into the wall. One out is not worth breaking your neck."

It's all worth it for Blackmon.

"I like playing center field," he said. "I'm trying to stay healthy and do my best to recover so fatigue doesn't get me."

Worth noting

Mark Reynolds' emergence at first base means manager Bud Black has to play Ian Desmond in left field, meaning Black has to sit one of his regulars. On Saturday, he didn't start Blackmon (his second non-start this season). That allowed Gerardo Parra, who has lost time in left, to play center. Carlos Gonzalez in right has sat to allow Parra to play on some occasions.

"Players know these things," Black said. "Take Mark Reynolds. He's playing well, right? Gonzalez, Desmond, Parra, Blackmon know that Reynolds is playing well. When you're playing well, you know what happens? You play."

"We can't sit down Mark Reynolds. Sometimes when I'm not playing, I feel a little bit down for 10 minutes. Then I get back to work. The manager may need me to help the team. There is only one plan here: to make the playoffs," Parra said.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.