- Associated Press - Thursday, April 6, 2017

DENVER (AP) - Kyle Freeland never got to skip school to attend opening day as a youngster growing up in Colorado.

The rookie 23-year-old left-hander will catch his first Rockies home opener Friday afternoon.

Actually, he’ll pitch in it, taking the mound as the Rockies host the Los Angeles Dodgers in the opening of a three-game series.

“It’s going to be really exciting,” Freeland said. “Emotions are definitely going to be running high, but for me it’s just going to be (about) staying focused on my task at hand, not letting any outside factors affect me, control my breathing and take my breaths when I need them.”

Freeland insists he’s not going to let nerves get to him. He’s not going to be overwhelmed by the moment, the pageantry or the sellout crowd that will include family and friends who watched him go from Thomas Jefferson High School to Evansville University to first-round draft pick in 2014 by his hometown team.

Nor is he worried about performing at cavernous Coors Field, where baseballs tend not to break as much but sure can travel far.

“My thoughts on that, I actually had the same thought ever since growing up in Colorado through college and then after I got drafted to the Rockies is you still have to execute pitches,” Freeland said. “You’ve still got to get the ball on the ground and get outs. I think if you have that mentality pitching at Coors Field, you’re going to have success.

“I think people get away from that where sometimes they get a little scared or timid from the fact the ball flies a little bit there but you’ve still got to go out there every day and execute pitches down in the zone.”

Freeland said his parents never let him skip school to go to the Rockies’ home opener. But he attended many other games at the downtown ballpark growing up.

“Coming into the stadium, the sights, the smells, the sounds and everything, I mean I can remember it like it was yesterday,” Freeland said.

Like many a Colorado kid, he has special memories of the “Rocktober” run a decade ago and he counts several Rockies among his favorite players growing up.

“You can go down the list. Helton. Walker. The Blake Street Bombers to name a handful of them,” Freeland said. “Loved watching Jeff Francis pitch, Cook pitch.”

Freeland made the roster because of a strong spring thanks to the rediscovery of his change-up.

Manager Bud Black’s rotation features two rookies on the back end. Antonio Senzatela, a 22-year-old right-hander, pitched five solid innings in his big league debut Thursday at Milwaukee.

“It’s an honor to be able to get called upon to play for your hometown team,” Freeland said. “It’s been a really exciting few days.”

He’s determined not to make his big league debut get the better of him emotionally.

“Doesn’t matter if it’s Double-A, rookie ball, Single-A, or your debut,” Freeland said. “You’ve got to go out there and think it’s just another game and execute your pitches.”


More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball


Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: https://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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