To start this past October’s win-or-go-home wild-card playoff game, the Colorado Rockies turned to a young pitcher only a few years removed from bleacher bumming at Coors Field with his buddies. Kyle Freeland responded by blanking the mighty Chicago Cubs at storied Wrigley Field. “That moment,” the 25-year-old says, “was exhilarating.” For a kid who grew up slinging fastballs for southeast Denver’s Thomas Jefferson High School, the experience was poetic—as was the fact that the southpaw racked up one of the best seasons ever for a Rox pitcher last year. With opening day at Coors arriving on April 5 (the team’s 2019 campaign began on March 28 in Miami), Freeland reflects on the franchise he grew up watching—one he hopes to lead to greater postseason glory this fall.
Name: Kyle Freeland
Occupation: MLB pitcher
Last Casa Bonita Visit: During his senior year at Thomas Jefferson
5280: Did you grow up wanting to play for the Rockies?
Kyle Freeland: My senior year at Thomas Jefferson, I’d be at Coors Field, sitting in the outfield seats with my friends. I’d be thinking that I was going to do whatever it took to get on that field, whatever it took. I know that’s probably every kid’s dream, but I knew it was up to me to work my butt off.
Did you have a favorite player?
Dante Bichette, Andrés Galarraga, Larry Walker, Matt Holliday. Todd Helton is the greatest Rockie of all time. I think I’d be shunned if I didn’t say that.
What’s it like playing in the city where you grew up?
My first start ever was in 2017, the home opener. I had to get something like 35 to 40 tickets, just for family and friends. I struck out my first batter, but then everything started to snowball. I wound up with the bases loaded and two outs, and I’m saying to myself, Crap, this thing is gonna get blown open. I’m gonna give up a grand slam, and it’s only the first inning. But then I got the third out, and I’m walking off the mound thinking that this is what it feels like to be tested in the majors. It was incredible to know I could do it.
How nervous were you before the playoff game against the Cubs?
I had butterflies right up to the first pitch. Then I threw the ball and that feeling went away. I was ready to go for the team I grew up watching, the one I saw struggle for a long time during my life. I wanted to make my teammates proud. I wanted to make my city proud. Getting that start, in such a meaningful game? The Rockies gave me something special.
It must be tough for you to go unnoticed in Denver nowadays.
I’m not a star. I can still walk down the 16th Street Mall. It’s not like I’m Nolan Arenado or Charlie Blackmon. Still, I’ve gotten random people who recognized me. I don’t even know these people, and they’re telling me they’re proud of what I’ve done and they’re proud of what this team is doing for the city.
A lot of pitchers have complained about the thin air here. Does it bother you?
If critics are going to discount our hitters for having good seasons at Coors Field, then they have to give our pitchers credit for what we’re doing—for this culture of success that we’re creating. We have German Márquez and me, and we know what Jon Gray is capable of. We’re showing the baseball world that good pitching plays wherever, whenever, and you can’t come into Coors with an excuse. If you’re giving an excuse about elevation when you’re pitching here, then that’s just embarrassing. I don’t want to hear it.