How Did the Rockies’ Jake Cave Become a Man of the People?

An MLB journeyman, Jake Cave's baseball path landed him on the Rockies this season, where he has become a fan favorite in Colorado.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JUNE 12: Jake Cave #11 of the Colorado Rockies looks on against the Minnesota Twins on June 12, 2024 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)

DENVER — It’s been quite the week for Jake Cave of the Colorado Rockies.

On June 14, Cave was shagging fly balls during batting practice when he took a ball off the bat of Nolan Jones to the head. He was down on the ground for some time and lose some blood from this accident, but would ultimately be fine after needing four stitches.

Fans on social media grew concerned for Cave in the time between first seeing news of the accident and the update on his condition after the game.

Cave had started the previous nine games and was set to start in the 10th-straight that night. This initially caught the ire of some fans. At a time in which there were less roster spots for some promising players, Cave was acquired by Colorado late in spring training from the Philadelphia Phillies, just four days before Opening Day.

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Fans had no time to learn his backstory or connect with the Virginia native. All many saw was a prospect or player with lesser service time on the bench in favor of a 31-year-old without a future with the franchise.

The stitches made fans more compassionate. Then, a Tuesday night affair against the Los Angeles Dodgers changed it all the more further.

Colorado held a 9-4 lead over L.A. going into the ninth. Even after a pinch-hit grand slam from Jason Heyward, the Dodgers trailed by a run.

Shohei Ohtani reached on a single and Freddie Freeman was intentionally walked. But there were two outs and Victor Vodnik was ahead 1-2 against Teoscar Hernández. 

An elevated fastball out of the zone nearly got a swing out of Hernández who pulled back his bat. The entire ballpark saw the bat break the front plane of home plate, as did several Rockies who celebrated in the nanosecond before first base umpire Lance Barksdale made his call.

No swing.

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Manager Bud Black jumped out of the dugout about as quickly as when he’d hopped off the mound as a pitcher in the 1985 World Series. Immediate ejection. The crowd was on the edge of their seats, figuratively. Because everyone in the building was standing.

On the very next pitch following the no-swing call, Hernández planted a three-run home run into the Rockies bullpen. Cave, watching the ball pass over the Bridich Barrier, became livid. He stomped toward Barksdale and shouted his disapproval for missing the previous call.

It escalated further when Cave came off the field following the final out of the ninth. Alan Trejo had to get between Cave and Barksdale.

“I kind of lost my mind on him a little bit,” he said. “Got a little more mad when he looked at me and told me that it wasn’t even close because then you’re not taking any accountability for basically screwing us over. So, yeah, I was pretty pissed. Still pretty pissed. I think everybody is.”

It didn’t end there. When the Dodgers retired the Rockies in the bottom of the ninth, it was Cave, who represented the go-ahead run, watching helplessly on deck. He wasn’t done sharing his opinion with Barksdale who made his way past Colorado’s dugout to exit the field behind home plate.

“Jake plays with a lot of passion,” Black said after the game. “There’s a high level of care, even for a short time as a Rockie. He’s a major league player with a great deal of competitive fire. And that’s who he is. He was upset. And that’s fine with me, because that’s who he is.”

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The intensity during the post-game media scrum in the clubhouse was still palpable. Thought the more he discussed what transpired, the more Cave’s personality came through.

“I thought I was gonna be able to get a chance to come up and do something about it,” he said of watching the final out from the on-deck circle. “Maybe drive one in the gap and look at Lance running around first or something. I’m just kidding.”

Newfangled Fan Favorite

The groundswell of backing began on social media during the game and continued through the night into the following days. One Rockies’ fan site even organized a giveaway for a Cave shirsey.

Newscasts began devoting segments to the growing legend of Jake Cave for the way he stood up for his teammates, stood against the questionable umpiring and appreciated the magnitude of a Denver team doing battle with one from Los Angeles.

“I’ve seen a decent amount, so it’s pretty cool,” Cave said of the love on social media. “To have a bunch of Colorado people that have kind of had my back and saying a lot of cool things is neat, especially with a team that I haven’t been with for a long time. It’s a good feeling.”

Dodgers fans, however, have not been quiet as nice to the veteran of seven big league seasons.

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“Hopefully people will just see that I want to play baseball,” he said. “I just want to play baseball, play hard and win. So that’s all I really care about.”

For a player who’s bounced around to six organizations since turning professional in 2011, playing the game at a high-level and receiving positive notoriety hasn’t alway been something that’s worked in his favor.

“I get that most everything that happens in this game is — it’s a business. I get that,” Cave shared. “Honestly for most part, whenever I’ve been traded or you know, DFA’d or whatever, I could have played better. (There were) times where it sucks really bad, but I’ve had some really good times come after that just by still working really hard and trying to play to my full potential. And so I’m gonna keep doing that until someone says there’s no jersey for me anymore.”

Becoming the Man

Growing up on the east coast like Cave did can breed a level of intensity. Playing competitive sports adds another level. Then imagine being drafted by the New York Yankees out of high school. Yes, you would be described as fiery, too.

“That’s just kind of how I am anyways, and then you add that when I was coming up young with the Yankees, like there was almost a way that they kind of wanted you to play,” Cave said. “Respect the game and you play hard when you’re in between the lines no matter what… I had to go about the game a certain way or else they would release you.”

Cave was selected in the Rule 5 draft by the Cincinnati Reds ahead of 2016. He was eventually sent back to Yankees at the start of the season and spent parts of three seasons with their Triple-A affiliate, but never got a chance to officially don the pinstripes with the interlocking N-Y.

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His opportunity to debut in the Majors came with the Twins when New York traded him to Minnesota for a 19-year-old who had only played in the Dominican Summer League. 

Luis Gil, who’s 9-2 with a 2.77 ERA for the Yankees and a candidate for the American League Rookie of the Year, was that prospect. 

“It’s funny to make jokes about it,” Cave quipped. “Man, I hope he goes to the Hall of Fame. That’s who I got traded for. This guy’s doing it right now. That’s cool to see.”

On-Field Actually

Since the stitch-inducing incident, Cave has been playing his best baseball of the season. He recorded a career-high tying three hits 24 hours after opening a gash on his hairline and had a base hit in seven of eight games.

In that span of eight contests from June 12-20, Cave led the Rockies with eight runs batted in and had a .920 OPS.

Besides being another left-handed bat at Black’s disposal, Cave has been an asset on defense. He’s supported his pitching brethren with four outfield assists, tied for the seventh-most in the NL and the most among Rockies. His two defensive runs saved is tops among Colorado outfielders.

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Despite this season being one of transition, the Rockies would still like to win as many games as possible with their personnel. Calling on Cave as a pinch-hitter — 3-for-6 –has been a boon for them.

As a player who has never experienced more than 89 losses in a season and has been a part of three postseason clubs, Cave will be viewed as a valued piece at the trade deadline for teams looking to add a strong defender that can contribute late in games from the left side.

Should he find himself playing in October once again, he very well may become a man of the people in yet another city.