The Latin experience
Several GJ Rockies going to Dominican to play ball
The past two summers, Correlle Prime watched how Latin American players acclimated to life in the United States.
Now the Grand Junction Rockies’ first baseman will learn firsthand what that’s like.
Prime and some of his teammates will forego instructional ball and instead go to Boca Chica, Dominican Republic, for winter ball.
“I was bugging (Rockies officials) about it in spring training,” Prime said Wednesday night after the Rockies’ season ended with a 5-2 loss to Idaho Falls in Game 3 of the Pioneer League South Division playoffs. “I want to see what those guys go through. It’ll be a great experience.”
Prime said he, pitchers Zach Jemiola, Blake Shouse, Alex Balog and Billy Waltrip, infielder Dom Nunez and outfielder Terry McClure report to the Rockies’ new training facility at Boca Chica in late October.
“I’m gonna go, and whatever I need to improve on, beat it in my head down there,” Prime said. “I’ve got a lot of habits I need to break.”
The players cleaned out their lockers and said their goodbyes Wednesday night, and most boarded planes for home Thursday morning after being shuttled to the airport by their host families or Rockies personnel.
“I’ve learned a lot. I had some great coaches and teammates who helped me grow up through this process,” said third baseman Ryan McMahon, one of the youngest players on a roster that averaged 21 years, 4 months old. McMahon, the Rockies’ second-round draft pick, won’t turn 19 until mid-December.
McClure, drafted in the eighth round this year, is the youngest on the team, still 12 days shy of his 18th birthday.
“Truthfully, I had zero expectations coming in this year,” said McMahon, who led the Rockies in home runs, hitting his 12th of the season Wednesday to account for the Rockies’ two runs in their final game. He also led the Rockies with 52 RBI during the regular season.
He’s hoping a good month in the instructional league, a winter of working out and a solid spring-training showing get him assigned to Class A Asheville next season.
“I had a lot of fun playing this year and learned a lot; that’s all I could really ask for,” he said.
McMahon and several players will report Sept. 22 to Scottsdale, Ariz., for instructional league. Although the young third baseman said he was excited to go home, he wasn’t quite ready for the season to end.
The Rockies ran to the first-half championship and clinched a playoff spot, then nose-dived much of the second half. The final two weeks of the regular season, though, they climbed out of their slump.
“Obviously starting the second half, we had a little bit of a lull, but we started to get our intensity back and our momentum leading into the playoffs,” McMahon said. “We were feeling really good coming in.”
For the second straight year, the Rockies had the Pioneer League batting champion, All-Star center fielder Raimel Tapia, who hit .357 during the regular season and .308 in the three-game playoff series.
Attendance dipped the second year in Grand Junction, though, down 14,060 during the regular season from 2012, when the Rockies drew 101,496. The Pioneer League lists the Rockies’ 2013 attendance at 87,436 in 37 dates, an average of 2,363 per game.
The Rockies had 38 home dates during the regular season last summer and got a boost from Todd Helton’s two-day rehab assignment.
Anthony Sanders, like his players, wanted to get to the championship series and win a title, but he was more than happy with the results in his first year as the club’s manager.
“A lot of positives,” Sanders said after the game. “It’s all about these kids growing up and developing. We probably have the youngest team in the league, and look where we finished. A lot of these kids will play in the Major Leagues one day.
“Me and the coaches were talking before the series even started about how far these kids have come. They’re 17, 18 years old. These kids have grown day by day here. I’m happy for them. There was no quit in these kids all year.”