Players soak up Suplizio spotlight

Grand Junction Rockies hitting coach Drew Saylor adds his signature to 8-year-old Keeley Clark’s notebook, which is already filled with players’ autographs, before Saturday night’s game at Suplizio Field.

It was a night they will never forget.

The Grand Junction Rockies were introduced like major league players in their inaugural home debut Saturday night in front of 4,850 at Suplizio Field. The Rockies defeated the Idaho Falls Chukars 10-6.

“It was a great experience, I enjoyed it,” outfielder and first-round pick David Dahl said. “Seeing that many fans here supporting our team, it was a fun night.”

For Jeff Popick, who played four years at Suplizio Field for Colorado Mesa University, it was still hard to describe, but he knew it would be there.

“I knew this town would be excited about the Rockies coming here,” Popick said. “The crowd was into it. We fed off their energy. I was pretty proud out there of the community and its support.”

Popick received a little bit louder ovation.

“It was an awesome feeling,” Popick said. “I was still trying to take it all in. I loved it. I’ll never forget it.”

Even Rockies manager Tony Diaz admitted he was a little nervous.

“I’d be lying if I said that I was completely relaxed. I think if you respect the game of baseball and you see the crowd, how excited it was, we all get a little bit of jitters,” Diaz said. “It was exciting. We never had a crowd like this in Casper. To play in front of this tremendous crowd was exciting, and I’m glad it was part of an historic night.”

The Rockies (3-3) kept their nerves under control long enough to settle in and play a clean game, picking up their third consecutive victory.

“I think they handled it extremely well,” Diaz said. “I think they showed, so far, this club has character. They jell together nicely. I’m proud to see how they handled the crowd.

“I told them, just go out there and Little League it. You don’t think about anything in Little League. Whether you have 20,000 fans or nobody in the stands, just go Little League it.”

Dahl was 1 for 5 with a double and one run in the home opener with his father in attendance.

“I was a little more anxious up there and jumpy at the plate,” Dahl said. “I haven’t played in front of that many people except for one time for the USA in Colombia.”

It was a memorable night for Diaz as well.

“It was awesome,” he said. “It was a good feeling, like winter ball in the Dominican and how the crowd gets into the games. It was a special feeling to see the fans with the knowledge of the game.

“We’re not talking about a fan base out there drinking beers and all that. You can tell they know the game, and they appreciate when something good takes place even for the opposing team.”

Diaz expects the team to settle in for today’s 2:05 p.m. game.

“Usually, from my experience, the day you come back the adrenaline is still there,” Diaz said. “The second day (Sunday), we’ll have some kids make their debuts. Usually the second day, you … (settle down). It’s an afternoon ball game, and I think it will help out.”

Three players are likely to play their first game in a Grand Junction Rockies uniform today: outfielder Max White, the Rockies second-round draft pick; catcher Wilfredo Rodriguez, a seventh-round pick, and third baseman Kyle Newton, a 19th round pick.


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