Kyle Freeland never got to experience opening day at Coors Field as a fan of the Colorado Rockies, but today he’ll get to soak in the sights and sounds of a home opener in LoDo as a player for the team he grew up watching.
Freeland, who grew up in Denver and went to Thomas Jefferson High School, will make his major-league debut in the Rockies’ 2:10 p.m. game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I never went to home openers, usually because I had school and couldn’t get out of it,” Freeland said.
Freeland was born in 1993 — the same year the Rockies debuted in Denver. Some of his earliest baseball memories were of The Blake Street Bombers mashing home runs in the pre-humidor era. He counts Larry Walker among his favorite Rockies, along with Todd Helton and fellow southpaw Jeff Francis.
He, his parents and older brother caught games at Coors during the summertime when the boys were off school.
“The sights, the smells,” Freeland said. “I can remember it was like it was yesterday.”
Freeland and his family were overcome with emotion when the Rockies chose him eighth overall in the 2014 MLB draft. He fell into his father Don’s arms after then-commissioner Bud Selig called his name on T.V.
“That’s what he wanted,” said Tory Humphrey, who was Freeland’s high school coach for three years at Thomas Jefferson. “A few of us were siting there like, ‘Is it better for for him to be in the Blue Jays organization, the Phillies organization?’ But when the pick came the house just erupted. It’s exactly what he wanted, and I was so happy for him.”
Now nearly three years later, Freeland will pitch for the first time as a big leaguer.
Freeland split time between Double-A Hartford and and Triple-A Albuquerque in 2016. In 12 games with Albuquerque he recorded a 3.91 ERA, 57 strikeouts and 19 walks across 73 2/3 innings.
It was then that he started to figure out how to effectively throw a changeup. He talked to Tyler Anderson, now the No. 2 starter in Colorado’s rotation, about the pitch as well as then-Isotopes pitching coach Darryl Scott.
“I never needed the pitch in college,” Freeland said. “I could get away with a fastball and slider. With pro ball, I definitely knew I needed to make this step.”
A strong spring (3.48 ERA, 19 strikeouts, six walks) helped Freeland earn a spot in Colorado’s starting rotation. He and 22-year-old Antonio Senzatela, who pitched Thursday, form the back end of a Colorado rotation that had no big-league experience prior to this year.
Freeland is untested, but as Humphrey pointed out, he does have one thing working in his favor: He’s used to pitching at altitude.
“Kyle did it in high school. He did it a little in the collegiate summer,” Humphrey said. “Honestly here, you’re going to give up some shots. The hardest thing with Coors Field is is how darn big that outfield is.”
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