In the infield dirt before each game, Colorado Rockies prospect Colton Welker always scribbles the same three letters: M-P-P.
Make Pop Proud.
It’s a tradition he started in high school to pay homage to his father, who died of cancer when Colton Welker was nearly 10.
On the cusp of making the Rockies roster, the versatile infielder can’t help but think of his pop.
Or the role played by his mother, who turned into his training partner as she hit deep tennis ball after deep tennis ball with her racket so he could field them.
“It definitely will be pretty emotional for me,” Welker said of potentially making his major-league debut after being picked by Colorado in the fourth-round of the 2016 amateur draft.
“That’ll be very special for us.”
At 225 pounds, Welker has a leaner look this spring (he hovered around 235 a year ago).
He cut out carbs (something he loves) and sprinkled in spinach (something he loathes) in an effort to gain more muscle mass.
The proof is in the pudding: He’s batting right around .345 this spring with a homer and three doubles. He’s also more agile in the field as he plays mostly third base but sometimes first.
With Nolan Arenado traded to St. Louis during the offseason and a recent hamstring injury to Brendan Rodgers (sidelining him for what could be a month), Welker is definitely in the running for a roster spot. If not out of spring training, perhaps a call to the big leagues awaits not long after.
“I think I can perform at that level,” the 23-year-old Welker said. “I feel confident pretty much against anyone right now.”
Rockies manager Bud Black has certainly noticed the sleeker version of Welker.
“What we’re seeing is a natural progression of maturity more than anything,” Black said. “Just a person who’s starting to grow up and realize what it takes to be a major league player. Being in major league camp now for a number of years and rubbing shoulders with a lot of our great veteran players who have been here, seeing their work ethic, seeing their character, I think just naturally rubs off on players.
“He’s really taken that to heart.”
Thoughts of his father are always near Welker’s heart — he has “MPP” tattooed on his chest. Dale Welker was a well-respected professional golfer. He died in 2007.
Colton Welker still occasionally plays golf — he can shoot around his current Rockies uniform number of 79 — but pretty much sticks to baseball.
One of his biggest role models? Mom, of course.
Jennifer Welker knows as much about baseball as he does, he proudly pointed out. She drove him all over for games and practices. To practice fielding, they would venture into the street with a tennis ball so she could hit him grounders and fly balls with her racket.
“It became our routine,” Colton Welker said. “She’s the best.”
As a shortstop growing up, Welker helped lead Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, to the state title in 2016. It was a moment of immense pride for the community, which less than two years later was ravaged by the massacre of 17 students, teachers and staff at that same school. Welker routinely works with Stoneman Douglas players in the offseason.
“Parkland is an awesome city — wouldn’t want to grow up anywhere else,” said Welker, who committed to the University of Miami before signing with the Rockies. “It’s awesome to go back and watch those kids develop and … hopefully be in my shoes here soon.”
Welker hit .252 with 10 homers and 53 RBIs in 2019 with the Hartford Yard Goats, the Double-A affiliate of the Rockies. He was having a solid spring training a year ago before COVID-19 restrictions halted baseball. Welker went back to Florida and treated it like an extended spring training. He got up early, worked out with a trainer and went through constant baseball drills.
He also stuck to a strict meal plan that included spinach.
“That was tough,” Welker cracked.
“When you look in the mirror and you don’t love how you look, that’s the mind’s natural thing to figure out: Why don’t I like this? Why am I not moving right? Why do I feel slow and tired sometimes? I wanted to feel better overall,” Welker said. “My energy level is higher. I wake up easier. I move around the field better. When I step in the box, I feel overall more confident.
“It’s done some dividends to my life and my career.”