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Woody Paige: Hometown hero Freeland delivers for Rockies

April 7, 2017 Updated: April 8, 2017 at 7:17 am
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Denver Native Kyle Freeland delivers the first pitch of the game in the first inning of the Rockies 2–1 win over the Dodgers in the home opener at Coors Field Friday, April 7, 2017. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

Grape expectations were realized Friday.

On an April afternoon in Denver that was as impeccable as a Raphael painting, the Colorado Rockies were as immaculate as a Michelangelo sculpture.

And Kyle Freeland, Our Own, produced a practically perfect pitching performance of historic proportions.

Thomas Jefferson would understand if the educational facility bearing his name was changed for a week or more to Kyle Freeland High School.

When I drove to the school Friday, TJ was all about KF, its favorite son.

In his major-league debut, on opening day no less, in the city where he was born and raised, against the daunting Dodgers, the 23-year-old Freeland escaped a bases-loaded dilemma in the first inning without permitting a run and advanced to pitch six innings of excellence, giving up only four hits and a lonely run, with just two walks against six strikeouts.

When Kyle, K-King for the day, departed the mound after 95 pitches, 55 for strikes, he received a standing O from the SRO crowd, and manager Bud Black was the first to greet him with a fist-bump in the dugout. Everyone else slapped his back or his butt.

He got a single, too.

Oh, and the Purple Rox won 2-1 over Dodger Blue, and nobody in baseball has more than the four victories the Rox have bagged.

How great was that?

Before the game as Freeland emerged from the dugout, he was welcomed right there by about 100 friends, family and former schoolmates.

A timid young man might have been overwhelmed by the circumstances, especially when it's considered that as a youngster, Kyle wasn't allowed by his parents to miss school for a Rockies opener. This was his first, and it likely will be the best.

2-1? At The Keg? Rockies and Dodgers? 19-17 might have been anticipated, based on previous results between the two over 24 seasons.

The local team is determined not to disappear into thin air in 2017, even against a division opponents that has the loftiest payroll in baseball - approaching the GNP of some third-world countries.

At mid-day, with temperatures in the 70s under a sky that was brilliantly bright blue, I was Near The Maddening Crowd in LoDo with High Times (figuratively and literally) - the aroma at 20th and Blake a blend of brew, brats and the other legalized substance in this state. I walked into the bar called "The Sports Column" because this thing I write is that, and a young man immediately waxed poetically: "Dude, today is a Mardi Gras, New Year's Eve and Super Bowl Sunday rolled into one."

Mile High-perbole?

Then, a young woman wearing a Rockies T-shirt, almost, and a thong passed by. "Perhaps you're right," I said as she attracted a sellout crowd.

Unlike the media types, who cowered like mushrooms in the pressbox, I sat among The People in the ballpark. "What do you think about Kyle, Woody?"

"I think I'll let you know after the first inning."

There was Pomp. And. Ceremony.

"Play ball," the umpired bellowed.

Kid Kyle stared down leadoff batter Logan Forsythe and struck him out swinging. Franklin Gutierrez grounded to Nolan Arenado - who collected enough hardware in a pregame presentation to open his own Ace store - for out two. Justin Turner singled to left. "There goes the perfect game," the smart fellow behind me yelled. Yasiel Puig, who used to be somebody, drew a walk, and Scott Van Slyke another to load the bases.

When Yasmani Grandal approached the plate, 49,169 voices made noises as if he were Mighty Casey At The Bat.

Not-so-Grandal was dismissed on a force out.

Kid Kyle survived with his two-seam fastball, an elusive changeup and a backdoor slider.

The Rox scored in the bottom of the inning on a two-run RBI double by Arenado, of course. The Dodgers touched Freeland for an infield out run in the fourth to tie, but backup catcher Justin Garneau homered in the fifth for the Rockies' second, and triumphant, run.

Rockies Win! Rockies Win! Kid Kyle Wins!

The Dodgers felt the Wrath of Grape.

What a day, a game, a debut in Denver!

And everyone happily would flow into LoDo.

Ah, baseball is back. Rox On.

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