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Spokane Indians

In the groove: Spokane Indians utility player Colin Simpson heats up with regular playing time

Colin Simpson is on a tear.

The 26-year-old Spokane Indians utility player has hit safely in his past 14 games, the second-longest streak in the Northwest League this season.

His recent success – probably not coincidentally – has come with more playing time , a product of several higher-profile teammates being promoted to Double-A Hartford over the past few weeks.

Simpson found playing time scarce earlier this season with Grant Lavigne, then Hunter Goodman taking the lion’s share of starts at first base. Earlier this season, Goodman would play a couple of times a week, sometimes getting a rare start in left field, while the others got the bulk of the playing time at first.

But with Lavigne’s promotion, and Drew Romo’s injury forcing Goodman behind the plate the past several weeks, Simpson has flourished, finally getting regular at-bats this season.

Simpson, 26, understands the role given him by the Colorado Rockies this season as a part-time player and team leader, but that doesn’t mean he has set his personal dreams aside.

“I think playing every day helps you get into a groove more,” he said last week. “And I think if you fall out of that groove and you’re playing every day, it’s easier to get back into the groove to get out of that slump when you’re playing every day. It’s a little easier.

“But being a utility guy, not playing every day, it helps a little bit with your body staying fresh and not being so tired this late in the year. But I think I’d still rather play every day.”

For the season, Simpson is hitting .288/.358/.513 with a team-leading 13 home runs and 44 RBIs. Over the 14-game hitting streak, he’s hitting .453 (24 for 53) with two homers and 11 RBIs.

Simpson means more to the Indians than just his play on the field. Since he’s a couple of years older than most of his teammates, and a good-natured guy , he’s looked up to as a leader.

He came into the season with the nickname “Tank,” due to his 5-foot-9, 225-pound frame. But his younger teammates have come up with a new moniker for him.

“Oh jeez,” Simpson said. “They think I know everything. So basically, I only talk about stuff that I know. And if I don’t know anything about it, I’m not going to talk about it. So, they call me ‘The Oracle.’

“If I don’t know something, I’ll Google it and read all the answers and figure out what it means. So, the next time we talk about it, I know what it is. And so, they call me ‘The Oracle’ like I know everything, but I just use Google to my advantage.”

With age comes wisdom.

Simpson may be a little older for High-A, but he was a four-year college player at Oklahoma State and is in just his third season of professional baseball.

He understands, though, that time is ticking and the best way he can prove his worth to the organization is to persevere and put out the effort.

“You know, I just show up and just try and bring my best energy every day. I don’t lead by words. I’ve never been able to do that. I can’t get on to somebody for being lazy. So, the way I go about it is I just go out and I play hard.

“I have fun. Yeah, I goof off, but I also get my stuff done and have fun doing it. And I just hope that other people see the way that I play and the way I go about my business and they just kind of go ‘Oh, that’s how it’s supposed to be done.’ ”

His compact, solid stature sometimes hides the natural athletic ability Simpson possesses. He played several sports growing up and was a competitive gymnast from an early age until middle school.

“My mom was a coach at the gym when me and my sister were 3 and 4,” he said. “She’d take us there after school or day care or whatever and when she was working, she just let us run around and we were playing on all the equipment and messing around, and she thought that me and my sister would enjoy gymnastics.”

Simpson competed in gymnastics from age 6 until he was 10, as well as playing baseball and football. He took a year off after the family moved and tried to get back into the sport, but after a brief “comeback” at 12, he decided to give up the sport.

“I was just kind of over it,” he said. But he believes the training he received in gymnastics helped him flourish in other sports.

“Just based off of flexibility alone and my body control – when I was that young learning how to balance and control my body and control my muscles and the explosiveness and all that, it’s helped me a lot through sports in my opinion through the years.”

He also thinks kids shouldn’t specialize in one sport too early.

“I think you should play as many sports as you can for as long as you can,” Simpson said. “I mean, it only helps you in the long run with athleticism and being able to move your body and know your body.”

Simpson occasionally still shows off his gymnastics training.

As part of the preseason fanfest at Avista Stadium in April, each player introduced himself and performed a “hidden talent.” Some sang, some danced.

Simpson did a backflip.