A Pitcher List Conversation with Connor Joe

He discusses—among other things—playing behind an exciting rotation.

Pitcher List Conversations are transcripts of interviews with professional baseball players—and sometimes, players discuss topics other than baseball. This has been lightly edited for clarity. Some discussion of the Pirates-Cardinals series has been edited out.

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When a player returns to a stadium they called home for a stretch of their career, the situation can be a bit unusual. While, clearly, the player has moved on, a homecoming can be complicated depending on the circumstances under which the player left.

Such was the case when Pittsburgh Pirate Connor Joe returned to Coors Field (June 14-16, 2024). Joe spent 2021 and 2022 with the Rockies. In 2022, he had an outstanding first half before cooling off in the second. Ultimately, he was traded to the Pirates, the team that had drafted him back in 2014. However, the route back to his first team was circuitous. In 2017, he was traded to Atlanta and then spent time with a number of organizations before signing with Colorado.

For Joe, the homecoming was meaningful because the Rockies had given him a chance to return to baseball after he had completed successful treatment for testicular cancer. (Actually, that was the reason for his long hair — and a Charlie Blackmon-esque mullet during his time as a Rockie.)

Joe was a fan favorite during his time in Colorado. Broadcaster Ryan Spilborghs dubbed him “the Greatest Rockie Ever,” and fans are always eager to see him back at Coors Field.


One afternoon, he answered questions from me as well as Hannah Mears, a reporter for SportsNet Pittsburgh, and Patrick Lyons of Just Baseball.

Joe addressed returning to Colorado, learning to play the outfield, and being the emergency catcher on a team with two of the hardest-throwing pitchers in MLB.

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Hannah Mears: When you come back here, what does it mean?

Connor Joe: Colorado’s a very special place for me. I’m really grateful for the Rockies. They were the team that signed me after I went through all my cancer treatments in 2020. And they gave me a shot to get some at-bats. I actually had a good chance to make the team out of Spring Training. Unfortunately, I didn’t, but I’m really grateful for them.

I called Coors Field home for a couple of seasons, so a really special place. The fans were great. They embraced me. The staff, the team over there [nods toward the Rockies clubhouse] really embraced me as well. So it’s always really cool coming back and seeing those guys.

HM: Do you feel like you transformed as a person then? I know you were saying they were the first to really give you a shot after all your treatments. So to just go through all that and then try to be a major league player again, do you feel like you transformed as a person?

CJ: Yeah, I do. I felt like I grew a lot. I learned a lot about myself. You know, obviously going through the treatments transformed me as a person, and then kind of finding baseball after that journey also transformed me, and I kind of saw baseball in a different light, and I enjoyed it more. I had more fun.

So looking back at those two years with the Rockies, it’s a lot of really fun memories — enjoying the game, enjoying the little things about baseball. So yeah, a lot of good memories here.

HM: When you come into the stadium, what’s one memory — a baseball memory — that you just automatically think of that makes you smile?

CJ: There’s a couple. My first home run was here, and that just so happened to be the one-year anniversary of being cancer-free. So that’s pretty special, pretty unique.

Commentary courtesy of Blake Street Banter.

I hit a home run on my birthday here. That was cool [smiles]. Those are two that come to mind right away.

HM: What did you do with that home run ball?

CJ: They’re both at home. I think I give one to my dad, and then one’s at my house.

HM: What is it like being able to be back here now with the Pirates and being at this point in the season when you guys are trying to bounce back after losing that series in St. Louis?

CJ: After you see some guys and you get to talk to them and be excited to be back in Denver, it’s about business, right?

This is a crucial part of the season for us. The division is still very winnable. I feel like we’re not playing our best baseball, and we still have a shot, and that says a lot about this team — like, we’re really close. We are coming off a tough series loss against the Cardinals, but before that we were playing really good baseball. So I think wash that one off, and come back, bounce back, play some good baseball against the Rockies. Then we’ve got a home series against the Reds, and we can get back on track.

Renee Dechert: It’s great to see you back at Coors Field

CJ: Yeah, it’s good to be back.

RD: I have a few totally unrelated questions. What do you notice now that you’ve been out of elevation for a while? What do you notice when you come back here?

CJ: I mean, not much so far. We’ve only been in for one night and the morning.  Can’t say all that much.

Sleep’s always a little tougher here. That was something that I was working through when I was playing here. So usually the first sleep back in elevation stuff. Other than that, we’ll see. Going out there for BP, and obviously get some reps off the machine, and see how balls are moving and stuff like that.

RD: Thoughts on this rotation that you all have put together this year?

CJ: It’s special, really exciting. A bunch of young arms that are fun to play defense behind. And then consistent veterans, so it’s a really good mix of a lot of different things.

We’ve got two really young arms in Jared Jones and Paul Skenes who are lighting the world on fire right now, and I don’t think it’s lightning in a bottle. I think they’re real arms, and they’re here to stay, so really fun. It makes playing behind them awesome.

RD: Are you still an emergency catcher?

CJ: [Laughs.] A couple of times this year, yes.

RD: What would it be like to catch these guys?

CJ: Not fun, honestly. [Laughs.] I’d do it happily if the team needed it, but I can’t say it’d be fun.

RD: Just two more for me. What do you find the difference between playing in the infield and playing in the outfield? When you move back and forth like that, what’s it like in terms of socialization and that kind of thing?

CJ: The infield’s a lot closer. You’re a lot closer to all the action. In the outfield, you’re kind of isolated to yourself. You don’t have someone to talk to next to you. But I think it’s all about the angles, right? Like, you just know off-the-bat angles at first base versus angles in playing right or left field. Reads off the bat and stuff like that and just the amount of time that you have to react to a baseball.

RD: When you’re standing out there in the outfield by yourself, and nothing’s happening, what do you do?

CJ: Man [laughs], I try to check in with the centerfielder to see where he’s playing. Try to check in with our outfield coach, Terrik Brock, and make sure I’m in the right spot first and foremost and then just try to visualize different scenarios I could get in that opportunity.

Patrick Lyons: Have you had any good quips with each other, like, “So would you want to do this inning?”

RD: Cory Sullivan told us that’s what goes on out there.

CJ: Really?

RD: Yes.

CJ: Like talking to yourself?

RD: They give each other a hard time. They make plans for dinner.

CJ: Not so much plans for dinner. I’m not good enough in the outfield to be messing around.

But no, I think visualizing situations that can happen and trying to play that out in your mind, like checking the flags for the wind and the elements and stuff like that. It’s hard to be completely locked in for the full nine innings you’re out on defense, but there’s a soft focus where, in between pitches, you obviously go through your checklist, and then that allows you to be ready for the actual pitch.

RD: Last one for me. Do you do any yoga or Pilates?

CJ: I actually do yoga, yeah.

RD: Tell me about your practice.

CJ: It’s occasional in the offseason. I enjoy it. It clears my mind. I do it with my wife sometimes, and we really enjoy it. It’s nice. It’s kind of a good reset for your mind, and it has helped with mobilization and stuff like that.

RD: Your favorite pose?

CJ: Pigeon pose.

RD: And your least favorite pose?

CJ: Side Crow is really hard for me.

PL: Oh, yes.

CJ: Side Crow is, like, impossible.

RD: Thank you for answering my questions. The mullet looks awesome.

CJ: I’m not sure it’s a mullet anymore [laughs]. It’s just kind of long.

PL: With Skenes, as you said, how much of a pleasure it is, what is it like knowing he’s 21 years old? It’s one thing to be a star, be that dominant immediately, but to be that young, too.

CJ: I didn’t even know that in Spring Training. I found that out, like, a week after he got called up.

I just don’t think it surprised me because I would have never guessed that, the way he carries himself in the clubhouse, goes about his work. He’s a pro. Thinking back, he’s 10 years younger than me, and to think about where I was when I was 21, I wasn’t ready to be in a big league clubhouse with grown men. So that’s what’s really impressive about Paul — how he carries himself. He’s 21. He doesn’t act like he’s 21.

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Additional Reading

Renee Dechert

Renee Dechert writes about baseball and fandom, often with a focus on the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks. (She's also an English professor, but the baseball is more interesting.) Follow her on Twitter (@ReneeDechert) or Bluesky (@ReneeDechert.com).

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