WASHINGTON -- Rockies rookie relief pitcher Tommy Kahnle preferred football over soccer while growing up in Latham, N.Y. But he has been all-in with the U.S. Men's National Soccer team from the runup to the World Cup to Tuesday afternoon's 2-1 loss to Belgium in extra time in the Round of 16.
Moments before the match, Kahnle was dressed in a red and blue jersey. But when he saw the U.S. come out in white, he quickly switched his attire.
"Soccer is awesome," Kahnle said. "It's just fun to watch, keeps you on edge all the time. They don't really score that many goals, usually, so when they do, it's a big thrill.
"I like all kinds of sports."
Kahnle's passion for the U.S. and Germany, the other team he follows, and the spirit of other Rockies soccer converts provided levity in the clubhouse as the team struggled through June.
At Coors Field last week, special front-office assistant Vinny Castilla and pitcher Jorge De La Rosa were in front of the screen for every kick of their native Mexico. Veteran Michael Cuddyer has been seen in the jersey of Neymar Jr. of Brazil, his pick to win, and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez has personal friendships with some of the world's top international stars.
But just as the U.S.-Belgium game was taking shape on Tuesday, there was a break in the levity.
Catching coach and defensive coordinator Rene Lachemann called for a pitcher-catcher meeting not long after players settled in front of television sets to watch the match. Lachemann and veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins, neither of whom have caught soccer fever, ordered all television sets switched off so that the players could concentrate on pitching plans for the game against the Nationals.
When the Rockies took the field for stretching, the soccer game was being shown on the large scoreboard in center field. Fans and players alike took in the scoreless regulation play and the wild action of extra time.
Of course, Kahnle's rooting interests go beyond soccer. If football's Philadelphia Eagles or hockey's Buffalo Sabres were going for a title, he'd break out even more team-oriented gear. But Kahnle is having a good time with the game the rest of the world calls football.
"It's a big national pride thing, so it's pretty cool to see all the people like this," Kahnle said.
Stubbs' self-awareness at plate leading to success
WASHINGTON -- Before joining the Rockies in an offseason trade, outfielder Drew Stubbs spent five Major League seasons alternately succeeding and struggling as he tried to learn himself as a hitter. It looks like he has a good idea now.
Stubbs went into his start against the Nationals on Tuesday night with a .299 batting average, six home runs and 20 RBIs 66 games, and his playing time has increased during the season. He also went into the game 8-for-23 (.348) with two home runs, three RBIs and two doubles in his last eight games.
With the Reds (2009-12) and Indians ('13), Stubbs hit at various spots in the order and tinkered with his setup. But immediately after the trade, Stubbs said he had a better idea of what he needed to do, and he has put that into action.
"For the most part, this year, I feel better than the last couple of years. I've been able to avoid some habits that have gotten me in trouble," Stubbs said. "I've been on time [with the startup and swing] a lot more consistently. I've been on my back side more consistently, which has kept me in better position to hit. When I've had pitches to drive, I've done it more frequently this year."
Experience allowed Stubbs to take greater control of his hitting program than in the past, when he tried suggestions that turned out to not be right for him. Stubbs communicated with Rockies hitting coach Blake Doyle about the keys to straightening him out when he falls into ruts.
While Stubbs had a high strikeout rate -- a team-high 56 in 187 at-bats going into Tuesday -- he carried a .340 on-base percentage. He entered the year with a .310 career OBP. Manager Walt Weiss sees a maturing hitter who can be dangerous. Injuries to left fielder Carlos Gonzalez and right fielder Michael Cuddyer have given Stubbs more opportunities to play. Stubbs has played center, while Charlie Blackmon has been a corner guy as much as a center fielder.
"The first month was probably difficult for him, because for the most part, he was an everyday player and Blackmon got off to his great start [in center field], so I was trying to find time for all six outfielders," said Weiss, who rested shortstop Troy Tulowitzki on Tuesday and gave Stubbs the cleanup assignment. "[Stubbs] didn't get consistent playing time, but I've been running him out there almost every day now and he's done a nice job. He's got a lot of raw power.
"He's a supremely talented athlete. If you test his athleticism in some of those tests we run these guys through, he's off the charts."
Stubbs said the next step is making the inevitable adjustments that come when pitchers catch on to what he's doing. Part of it is understanding himself better than anyone, but part of it is also seeking new information when necessary.
"It's a fine line you have to walk -- being confident in yourself, yet being open to criticism and making changes," Stubbs said. "Look at Tiger Woods. He was at the peak of his golf game and he decided to tear his swing down and rebuild from nothing. Look at it in the long run."