A little known fact about Colorado Avalanche defenseman Francois Beauchemin is that he grew up a fan of both hockey and baseball.
In fact, Beauchemin played both sports until he had to make a decision on which one he would pursue exclusively. The rest is hockey history.
"I played baseball until I was 12-13, and then I couldn't keep up both sports anymore because hockey was taking too much time," he said, reflecting on a major life decision of his youth. "Baseball started before hockey was finished, so I decided to let baseball go and play hockey."
Just because he went the other direction doesn't mean that his love for baseball, or his ability to play the game, has diminished. Although he admitted that he doesn't watch ballgames very often, he relishes the chance to get out on the diamond.
The Sorel, Quebec, native was one of four Avs players invited to the second-to-last Colorado Rockies batting practice of the season last Saturday at Coors Field. Although he'd been out to a major-league ballpark before, it was his first time swinging a bat at home plate.
"I did it once in Anaheim, but it was just batting cages, not actually on the field," the 36-year-old blueliner said. "So that was a little different. It was more real getting to hit on the field and to hit some real home runs."
Video: The Avs take in batting practice at Coors Field
You heard him right. The hard-hitting defenseman was blasting dingers during his time at Coors Field, the familiar pop of the leather orb colliding with wood echoing throughout the stadium the way a slap shot reverberates through a hockey rink.
"It's like that slap shot sound, or whenever you hit a driver well off the tee. You know it's a good one. That sound off the bat is the same thing," said Beauchemin. "We hit a couple of solid ones. Going in, I was hoping to hit a home run. I hit three, so I was pretty happy with that.
"All you hear is the sound of the ball hitting the bat. You know when you hit it well, and it was just a great time, great experience for us."
With a bit of a baseball background, Beauchemin admitted he thought about betting with Gabriel Landeskog, Tyson Barrie and Nathan MacKinnon on who could hit the most homers.
"We were going to do bets, but I didn't force it because I knew I probably had the best chance to do it," Beauchemin said. "I probably should have, but I don't think any of these guys played baseball growing up. So it wasn't fair.
"Landy and Mack, they were hitting some good ones too, but let's say I had the most experience out there."
All in all, it was a great day for the rear guard, who also shared the good time with one of his two sons.
"It was actually a beautiful day on Saturday. It was just a great experience to go out there," said Beauchemin. "I brought my youngest son. My oldest had a hockey practice. My youngest, Cedric, came with me, and he really had fun as well."
It also wasn't his first time in the sun out at Coors Field; the NHL veteran played in his second Coors Light NHL Stadium Series Game at the ballpark on Saturday, Feb. 27, when the Avs faced the Detroit Red Wings. His first experience was the inaugural iteration of the event at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles when his Anaheim Ducks took on the Kings in January 2014.
"Growing up, I was a baseball fan, and just to have a chance to play at Dodgers Stadium was great. That was my first time in the stadium," Beauchemin recalled of the game he played in the Southern California air. "Being outdoors for the first time and to hear the crowd, that was pretty cool."
The morning before the contest between the Avalanche and the Red Wings, the team took the stadium series ice for practice to see how it felt to skate in the similarly warm Colorado sun and to become more accustomed to what the ice could feel like during the game.
"A couple years ago at Dodgers Stadium, we practiced at night. So the sun was down and we practiced in the shade," he said, comparing his experiences. "Obviously, Coors Field was a warmer day with the sun hitting us, but it was a really good, cool atmosphere."
Before his second outdoor game, Beauchemin was hopeful that the unpredictable Denver weather would offer a colder, more hockey-like environment.
"I would like it to snow to have a different atmosphere than what I had in L.A., but you know we never know," he said a few weeks before the game. "I would personally like it to get colder and a little bit of snow would be fun."
It did not turn out that way. The game-time temperature was 65 degrees Fahrenheit, the warmest ever for an NHL regular-season outdoor game. The previous high was 62 degrees when the puck dropped in Beauchemin's first outdoor game.
Video: Go inside the 2016 NHL Stadium Series
"Obviously, you don't feel like it's February weather right now," said Beauchemin at the time. "But just being outside and in the stadium, and seeing the nice job that they did, it's pretty cool."
Having spent his life playing a game that features a tiny rubber disc flying around a frozen pond at an incredible rate of speed, whether inside or outside, the skill required to hit a ball with a bat isn't lost on him.
"I would say it's harder to hit a baseball. Maybe because I didn't do it the last 20-something years, but the ball is coming fast," Beauchemin said. "We knew he was just throwing it right out there for us and we only had to swing the bat, but it must be a big difference when they're coming at 90-95 miles an hour, when they throw change-ups and curve balls."