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Simmons finds new life in Rockies’ system

The more I see of Kane Simmons, the more I like him.

I like his story even more.

Here’s what I found out so far....

He played college ball at Belmont University (Atlantic Sun Conference) in Nashville, Tenn., hitting .305 in four years with the Bruins, including .343 with 15 homers and 56 RBIs in his senior year.

But Simmons, despite leading the Atlantic Sun Conference in homers and slugging percentage (.661) in 2007, was not selected in the First-Year Player Draft.

That caused the 23-year-old lefthanded slugger to do a bit of soul searching.

“I quit baseball in my mind,” said Simmons, who at that point was much too young to fall completely off the sport’s radar. “But a Kansas City Royals scout told me I needed to keep playing.”

So the 6-foot-1, 187-pounder decided to give the independent leagues a go.

He played a year with the Reno SilverSox of the Golden Baseball League and found that maybe he could, after all, still play the game he loved.

Simmons was named the GBL Rookie of the Year in 2007 after leading the league with 18 home runs and a .628 slugging percentage. He also finished in the top 10 in batting (.328) and RBIs (54) and was tabbed by Baseball America as the fourth-best independent league prospect in the nation.

That’s when Colorado Rockies’ scout Scott Corman swooped in and signed the Chattanooga, Tenn., native to a free-agent contract before the 2008 season, renewing a young man’s dream of playing professional baseball.

“That gave me a lot of confidence,” Simmons said of his first pro contract. “It was a special moment with just me and my wife in the house, signing my first pro contract.

“I didn’t want money. I just wanted a chance.”

And Simmons, whose first name is actually Thomas, but has gone by ‘Kane’ since childhood, got one with the Rockies.

He was first sent to the Rockies’ rookie-league affiliate in Casper, Wyo., to begin the season, hitting .349 with the Ghosts with two home runs, three triples, 22 RBIs and 29 hits in 24 games. It was a good enough start to merit a promotion to Tri-City, where he joined the team on a recent road trip in Eugene.

“It wasn’t awkward for me at all,” he said. “I spent time with them in extended spring training. It was like seeing old friends.”

Now 24, Simmons has paid some big dividends for a Dust Devils team that is hurting for a spark.

He’s played in three games for Tri-City and so far has already driven in five runs.

“He’s a left-handed bat with power,” said Tri-City manager Fred Ocasio. “We lost some pop without Bo Bowman (promoted) and Josh Banda (released).”

The big southpaw has a core of natural strength that he’s used to tame ballparks all around the country. But Simmons has never seen one like Gesa Stadium, a lesson he learned painfully after smashing a long drive to right field during a 6-1 win over Vancouver on Friday night.

The ball jumped off the bat, but died somewhere between second base and the warning track, and a certain three-run homer in any other park in the United States turned into a two-run double off the wall.

“I’ve never been so sure about a ball being out,” Simmons laughed. “I looked up rounding first, saw it hit the wall and thought ‘Oh no.’ ”

But don’t worry about Simmons. I have a feeling he’ll be able to power one out of this park sooner than later.

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