DENVER -- With any injury to a star player comes opportunity for another, a steel-trap door cracking open to allow another, often much less heralded, player to sneak in.
So when Carlos Gonzalez finally landed on the disabled list Aug. 7 after grinding through a sprained middle finger for nearly a month, Charlie Blackmon was the next man up. It's not as if the biggest stage in baseball was new to Blackmon -- he played 69 games for the Rockies over the two previous seasons -- but it presented the opportunity to show he could thrive as an every day player.
Blackmon has demonstrated the talent in the outfield and the batter's box to be a regular piece of the lineup. The barrier comes in the competition, where two of Colorado's three starting outfielders -- Gonzalez and right fielder Michael Cuddyer -- are All-Stars. The third, center fielder Dexter Fowler, is outstanding defensively and has showed flashes of being a dangerous leadoff hitter.
"There's a lot of guys that can do what I do," said Blackmon, the Rockies' second-round selection out of Georgia Tech in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. "There's not too many guys that can be a Carlos Gonzalez or be a Dexter Fowler or Michael Cuddyer. And that's the truth of it."
Blackmon prefers not to think about how his role might differ with another club, one with an outfield that isn't overflowing with offensive production.
"I think you could roll those thoughts over in your head all day and get nowhere except for frustrated," he said.
Sure, Blackmon isn't Gonzalez. He can't match the two-time All-Star's explosive power or rocket arm in left field.
But Blackmon has supplied impressive offensive numbers in the starter's absence, starting eight of nine games on Colorado's last homestand while hitting .333 with three doubles, a home run, three RBIs and five runs. In 27 games in August, he hit .316 with 24 hits filling in for Gonzalez and Fowler, similar to the numbers he posted last September.
Blackmon offers a simple but logical explanation for his offensive growth: experience. His at-bats have not only been more frequent, but they have come on a more consistent basis. That, Blackmon said, has allowed him to adjust to pitchers more precisely and calculated than in Triple-A, where he played 68 games for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.
"It always helps when you get consistent at-bats, no matter who you are," manager Walt Weiss said. "It's a little easier to hit that way, find a groove, find a rhythm, and Charlie's done that.
"Charlie's done a really nice job. Not only the fact that he's getting hits and contributing that way, but there's some tools there that can help you win a game in a variety of ways."
Weiss said he believes the left-handed-hitting Blackmon has the power to become an everyday player. That power was on vivid display in a Aug. 16 win over the Orioles, when he smashed a ball beyond the right-field seats and onto Eutaw Street at Camden Yards. The Georgia native became just the seventh player to do it this season, and the 73rd in the park's 22-year history.
Blackmon knows all too well, however, that nabbing a starting spot in this lineup is a steeply uphill climb.
"The worst day of my baseball career every year," he said, "is the day Carlos Gonzalez shows up at camp and starts hitting balls three times harder than me."
If there's an advantage to being surrounded by such talent, it's that observation alone can teach Blackmon the intricacies of becoming a standout talent in this league.
As if that wasn't enough competition, the Rockies have another offensively gifted left-handed outfielder in rookie Corey Dickerson. Dickerson, 24, has taken off since his second stay with Colorado started July 27, hitting .330 with three homers, nine RBIs, seven doubles and three triples.
Their baseball cards may project similar roles, but Weiss sees room for both in the already-crowded Rockies outfield.
"I think both guys can be a factor with our club," Weiss said. "Who knows -- going into an offseason, you never know what your club's going to look like sometimes from day to day, let alone one year to the next. But both of those guys have shown that they can play here."
So will this stretch be remembered as the turning point of Blackmon's career, the one that makes him stick in the Majors? He's playing on a one-year deal and has one option left, meaning the club could send him back to the Minors once more without placing him on the waiver wire.
The harsh reality of this league dictates that every club selects its most 25 valuable players. Blackmon's future is largely in the hands of Colorado's front office, a position familiar to the handful of players with the talent to make it in the Majors in all 30 organizations who float between the Minors and Majors.
"I think any time you come here and do well against this competition level, you want that to be something you can build on," Blackmon said. "Moving forward in the future, I would be disappointed to have to go back to the Minor Leagues and kind of start all over again -- which is a possibility. It can happen to anybody."
Perhaps it's that situation that has encouraged Blackmon's lighthearted, friendly presence in the clubhouse. Utility man Jordan Pacheco, who first played with Blackmon in 2008 for the Rockies' short-season Class A affiliate in Tri-City, said the outsider perception of Blackmon as the goofy jokester is just one shade of his personality.
Pacheco is quick to note his teammate approaches his work seriously, describing him as inquisitive and always hungry to deepen his knowledge of the game.
But Blackmon understands he can only control so much.
"To be honest, if you've prepared and you've got the right attitude, there's not a whole lot else you can do," Blackmon said.
"So I don't get worked up over small stuff. I know that I'm going to be OK and somebody's taking care of me, and I'm just going to trust in that."
And so Blackmon keeps chugging away, the remainder of September an extended opportunity to show the Rockies why they need him. He waits patiently, hoping he's done enough to make the critical leap to full-time big leaguer.
"I know he's worked hard on his outfield skills as [well as] his hitting, and I think he's turned himself into a complete player," Pacheco said.
"I think now it's just waiting to get his chance."
Ian McCue is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less