By: Brian Frank
It’s no coincidence that this year’s Bisons team is currently in first place in the Northeast Division with Christian Colón as one of the team's leaders. Colón’s career has been defined by winning, being a leader, and performing in big situations. The veteran infielder has come through in the clutch on the game’s biggest stage, won a World Series, and is now helping to lead the Bisons on their quest for their first division title in 16 seasons.
Colón was the fourth overall pick by the Kansas City Royals in the 2010 Draft. He worked his way up through the Royals system and made his major-league debut as a pinch-hitter against the Minnesota Twins on July 1, 2014. He went 0-for-2 in his debut. However, three days later, on Independence Day, he was back in the Royals lineup in Cleveland, this time starting at second base.
“I wasn't playing and then Omar Infante got scratched from the lineup,” Colón said during a recent interview with The Herd Chronicles. “I remember Ned Yost telling me I had to get ready. So I didn't have time to think about it, which is a good thing.”
Colón went 3-for-4 with a triple and a double in his first major-league start. The triple off Cleveland starter Josh Tomlin was Colón’s first big-league hit.
“I just went in and I was trying to get a good pitch to hit,” said the ever-modest Colón. “And I found some holes. So it was a good night.”
The Royals hosted the 2014 Wild Card Game against the Oakland A’s. After trailing in the game 7-3, the Royals battled back, scoring three runs in the eighth inning and one in the ninth to send the game to extra innings.
“We got down early,” Colón recalled. “I remember the stadium – it was electric. A lot of people, a lot of fans. They knew what was at stake. Just a great baseball town. So, we came back and slowly we ended up tying the game.”
Colón was called on to pinch-hit in the bottom of the 10th with the game tied 7-7. He laid down a successful sacrifice bunt. However, the Royals were unable to score and Colón came up again in the 12th inning. This time, the Royals were trailing 8-7 and Eric Hosmer was at third base after stroking a one-out triple. Facing reliever Dan Otero, Colón chopped a ball off home plate. Hosmer scored the tying run as Colón raced to first with an infield single. After Alex Gordon popped out, Colón stole second. Salvador Perez doubled down the left-field line and brought Colón home with the run that sent the Royals to the ALDS, as Kaufman Stadium exploded.
“It all just happened so fast,” Colón said. “I remember scoring on Salvador's hit and I just really couldn't believe that we were going on. After that we were rolling. That game was really what unlocked our team to a point where we gained the confidence to really play with the big boys in the postseason.”
Colon scores to win the 2014 A.L. Wild Card game and send Kaufman Stadium into a frenzy.
The Royals swept the Angels in the ALDS and then swept the Orioles in the ALCS, before falling to the Giants in seven games in the World Series. The next season, Kansas City once again made it back to the Fall Classic, this time against the New York Mets.
“That year was a little different just because we felt like we belong now,” Colón said. “We were the team to beat. So there was just a different feeling to that. We came from being the underdogs to making something happen to now being the team that was hunted. So, we had our challenges, but everybody stayed healthy.”
The Royals went into Game 5 of the 2015 World Series with a chance to win their first championship since 1985. Colón, who hadn’t had an at-bat in the post season, was called on to pinch-hit in a crucial situation. He came to bat with the game tied 2-2 in the 12th inning with one out and Jarrod Dyson at third. Just as he had in the previous postseason, Colón delivered – lining a single into left field to bring home the winning run.
“I mean, you obviously get nervous, but you try to step back and understand that you've been doing this for a while and this is something that all you’ve got to do is what you can do,” Colon said of his mindset in the crucial situation. “That's what I'm known for is to put good at bats together and compete. So that's all I really tried to focus on.”
Colón became the first player in history to deliver the series-winning hit of a World Series in his first postseason at-bat.
“Yeah, I mean, being in Citi Field and being able to contribute, get a hit and have the whole stadium be quiet was pretty fun,” Colón remembered.
Colon's game-winning hit in the 12th inning of Game 5 of the 2015 World Series.
Colón came around to score on Alcides Escobar’s double as part of a five-run rally. Wade Davis came in to retire the Mets in the bottom of the inning and the Royals were once again World Champions.
Despite being asked about his hit in the World Series regularly by media, teammates, and fans, Colón said he never gets tired of talking about the moment.
“No, I don't get tired of it because it was a special moment,” he said. “Not only in my career but in Royals history. I'm glad to be part of it.”
He often talks about his World Series experience with his teammates.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “We talk about a lot. And you know, how I felt at the moment. And they’re willing to listen – so it's fun, it makes it fun.”
He also treasures his World Series ring. He keeps it in a safe, but gets it out to share with the next generation of talent when speaking with young players.
“Usually when I do lessons back home, or I talk to kids or a team, I bring it and I talk about it,” he said. “I let them hold it and take pictures with it.”
After spending last season in the Reds organization, Colón was planning on playing this season with the Kansas City Monarchs, an unaffiliated minor-league team playing in the American Association of Professional Baseball.
“It was close to home and it was the best program really in independent baseball that I'd been hearing about,” Colón said. “I really wanted to keep playing, I wasn't ready to hang it up yet and just feel like I’ve still got a lot of years left.”
However, his plans changed when the Blue Jays came calling late in the spring. He signed with the Toronto organization on April 24. Two weeks later, on May 6, Colón made his Bisons debut in a game against Worcestor in Trenton. In a sign of things to come, the Bisons new infielder had a big day, going 3-for-4 with a home run, double, and 3 RBI.
Colon has been one of the leaders on and off the field for the 2021 Bisons. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles
“You always want to get off to a good start, especially with a new team,” Colon said. “But that's just credit to the coaches for making you feel welcome and the organization itself for making you feel comfortable. So yeah, I’ve got to give them credit for that. I felt comfortable from day one here.”
One of the many highlights of Colón’s season came on his birthday on May 14. His wife contacted the Bisons and asked if she could have a video message of Colón’s two daughters singing Happy Birthday played on the scoreboard. The Bisons passed the message on to Trenton, and – to Colón’s surprise – the video message played on the scoreboard as he was taking his position at shortstop prior to the top of the fourth inning.
“It's tough, you know, this life is tough when you're away from your house and your kids and your wife,” Colón said. “She does an amazing job trying to allow me to come fulfill my dream and just to see that video and see them so happy…”
In the bottom of the inning, Colón came to the plate with runners at first and second and drilled the ball deep over the left-field wall for a three-run home run.
“It just really made me feel like nothing could go wrong,” Colón said of the video. ”And if it did, I wasn't really going to care much. It seems like in this sport, when you care less you do better. It was a special night for sure.”
Colón shares a laugh with the home plate umpire. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles.
Colón views himself as one of the veteran leaders on one of the best Bisons teams in decades.
“I feel like I’ve been around I’ve been through a lot of experiences,” he said. “And they're willing to listen, and they've always made me feel welcome and made me feel good. I'm just excited. I'm excited to be here and if they have any questions, I'm always here for them in any way I can be.
Bisons manager Casey Candaele praised Colón when asked recently about what he’s meant to this year’s Bisons squad.
“He's brought in cohesiveness and caring about things that were going on,” Candaele said. “He’s very respectful to the game and a fierce competitor. He cares about the success on the field as a group – a lot of times in Triple-A you don't get that. Him getting here kind of solidified a good group that we had. It brought them together. And you know, he's a leader and is instrumental in bringing the clubhouse together. You need that. There’s a few guys here that have helped, but he was a big part of it.”
“He's got the experience,” Candaele continued. “He’s got knowledge. Players go to talk to him. To win a World Series, people talk to you about that experience, and when you’re competitive and when you want to win, it only lights to fire under players that are trying to reach that ultimate goal as a team and win championships. So it's just good to have that kind of influence around and let people know what it's like and what it felt like and what it was about.”
Colón has been a winner throughout his career. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles.
Colón is excited to be on the Herd, and is ecstatic to be able to come to Buffalo and play at the newly renovated stadium, with all its major-league upgrades.
“Big league,” he said when asked his thoughts on Sahlen Field. “I mean, this is the best of the best. Hopefully, I can continue my career here. I would love to sign back here. It's a great facility, great people, and I'm just excited to be able to enjoy it for a couple months.”
At this point in his career, even after playing a key part in a World Series championship, Colón is still motivated by the same thing that has always driven him.
“Winning,” he said without hesitation. “It's always been winning. Everywhere I've been I consider myself a winner. So that's it. I go out there every day to try to win the game. That’s my motivation.”