Bud Black likes to go with the flow. Let you be you. To a point.
So when Rockies designated hitter/utility man Connor Joe and Joe’s mullet passed by the Colorado skipper during spring training, Black felt compelled to ask:
Just how flow are we going to go?
“Where do we go on the hair?” Black queried his young slugger. “Where are we? How far are we going down?”
Joe just smiled.
“I cut it last week.”
But only a couple of inches.
“I’m going to keep it,” he explained to Black, “because I know where I was before.”
“For me, it reminds me a little bit of where I was,” Joe continued. “And I own that, that I went through this.”
Think of the mullet, he told the Rockies manager, as a remembrance. That the Lord throws a mean curveball. That chemotherapy stinks. And that when you’ve got it — growing hair, a cancer-free bill of health, a chance to play every day in The Show — you’ve got to flaunt it. A little.
“But I’m not going to go crazy,” Joe added. “I’ll keep an eye on it.”
It’s part of the package now, part of the look. Long locks. Short stroke.
The 29-year-old first baseman/outfielder went into this weekend’s series with the Cincinnati Reds with a killer mane and a quick bat that had him among the National League’s top 10 in total bases (38, No. 8), extra base hits (nine, No. 9) and home runs (4, No. 7) while stringing together an 11-game hit streak that ran from April 11-25.
“The hair is more than just letting it grow and trying to be like Charlie (Blackmon),” Joe told The Post recently. “Obviously, going through the chemotherapy, I lost my hair, so I was bald.
“When it started growing back, it was during COVID so because I was going through the chemo I couldn’t even go to barbershops. And it was coming back long and I was asking myself whether or not I wanted to get the shaver out and I’m like, ‘Why not?”
So he kept it. Even when started coming back curly, which was weird.
“It was never curly in my life,” Joe said. “That’s when I started shaving the sides and it started to look like the mullet.
“It’s been fun. And it does have a little meaning, to me, behind it.”
“It’s not OK to quit.”
Meanwhile, the legend of Connor Joe — CoJo for short — luxuriates by the day.
There’s the narrative, of course, one of the best in recent Rockies memory, the kind you can’t help but root for, pure Hollywood stuff. cancer survivor. A journeyman finally getting a shot in the bigs. Veteran of six MLB organizations since 2014, including the Dodgers twice. The comeback kid’s comeback kid.
“Connor went through a lot of injuries growing up — there was a back thing, an arm thing,” recalled Hawaii baseball coach Rich Hill, who was Joe’s head coach at the University of San Diego, where he and past-and-future teammate Kris Bryant were at the heart of one of college baseball’s most dangerous lineups.
“So he kind of learned how to deal with those things, he learned how that it’s not OK to quit, and that you persevere. And that sometimes the worst things in your life end up being the best things in your life. All of this … that he had to go through, from high school all through the minor leagues, have prepared him for this day. And that’s why he’s thriving.”
As cult status goes, it also doesn’t hurt that few men rake at Coors Field the way Joe rakes at Coors right now.
The Rockies slugger went into the weekend with a career .336 batting average and career OPS of 1.013 on Blake Street, with six home runs, 21 RBIs, 15 walks and 23 strikeouts over 35 games and 107 lifetime at-bats.
His compact, quick, upper-cut swing creates the kind of natural launch angle that the scouts have always drooled over. But the secret sauce in the CoJo story, mullet and all? Pitch selection.
The dude is super-selective on pitches on the outer part of the plate. And he absolutely demolishes mistakes, especially ones made from the middle part of the zone and inward.
Going into the weekend, Joe ranked among the top 20% of MLB hitters in chase rate (85th percentile) and whiff rate (88th percentile), according to BaseballSavant.com.
“His strike-zone awareness … It’s remarkable what a good sense of it (he has),” Black observed recently. “It doesn’t matter, really, who the pitcher is. He really has a sense of what the (zone is) and what to let go.”
“They drafted (his) bat, right? And the potential with the bat. There was a thought that, ‘Hey, we can make this guy a catcher, we can make him a third baseman, let’s draft him (and figure it out).’ So that’s in there. The hitter has always been in there. And I think the approach has always been in there. It’s just (that) there wasn’t really a fit, when he came up, the organizations he was with, and then it was slowed by the cancer.
“The pandemic slowed a lot of players in his sort of timeframe … Now that everything’s fairly back to normal, he’s a couple years older, a couple years wiser. There’s a tremendous will and desire.”
“It’s been in my heart”
To make up for lost time. To be a living, thriving example of hard work and perseverance in the face of ridiculous odds. And the cruelest of diseases.
During Cactus League play, Joe met a woman wearing a shirt with the word “Warrior” on it. When he asked about its meaning, she told him it was in honor of her nephew, Kamden, then 5 years old, who was battling brain cancer.
Joe was then introduced to Kamden, who was from Erie and visiting Arizona during a break from treatments. Joe gave the family a jersey and a bat. The family gave him blue “Warrior Kam” bracelets. The Rockies slugger has worn them at the plate and in the field ever since. Another reminder of how blessed he is.
This past Wednesday, Kamden passed away. Joe was working on a personal message to send to the boy for his birthday when he got word that things had taken a turn for the worse.
“I wanted to just let him know how much he’s impacted my life in the short time I’ve known him,” Joe said. “My heart goes out to him and his family and everything they’re going through. But I wanted him to know how many lives he’s impacted. The way he’s fought, his legacy is going to live on.”
“That’s a really tough one, man,” he said. “It’s been in my heart.”
And, at times, it’s broken it.
“Connor is one of those people, when you’re around him, you automatically feel better,” said LSU baseball coach Jay Johnson, who helped recruit Joe to the University of San Diego more than a decade ago as a Toreros assistant.
“There’s not going to be a bad day when Connor Joe is around. I remember, it was during finals in 2013, and guys were studying and they were letting them out one at a time — I’d have Kris for 30 minutes, then Connor for 30 minutes. And I said to myself, ‘I’m a lucky guy to work with these caliber of athletes and these caliber of guys.’ (Joe) was always a clutch performer and a clutch kid. And as good of an athlete as he is, he’s a better person.”
Sometimes, you’ve just got to go with the flow. Not long after Joe’s chemo began in March 2020, he and wife, Kylie, were locking horns in a card game — “Catan or Yahtzee, something like that,” Joe recalled.
When the future Rockies cult hero rubbed his palm through his scalp in frustration, a handful of his dark locks came off.
“I looked at my hands, and there was way too much hair,” Joe said. “(My wife) was just, ‘OK, let’s do it.’
“She was very mellow. She was great. I would’ve freaked out if she would’ve freaked out. She’s like, ‘You’re losing your hair, let’s go out to the garage and shave it.’ And we went in there and shaved it all off. It was a mess.”
A mess and a memory. One of those worst things in life that eventually wound up being one part of the best things.
“(Kylie) always said she likes me clean cut,” Joe laughed. “And that’s how I had my hair before. She’s learning to love it, I guess.”
As for the mullet, well, Kylie’s starting to come around. Like a lot of things in Joe’s world these days, it has a habit of growing on you.