Birth of GJ Rockies is top sports story of 2011

Colorado Rockies owner Dick Monfort, left, announces Nov. 15 the arrival of minor league baseball to Grand Junction. The Grand Junction Rockies will be a Rookie affiliate of the Rockies and begin play on June 23. GJ Rockies General Manager Tim Ray is at right.

It wasn’t a well-kept secret, even though no one would publicly comment on what eventually became the newest game in town.

For months this past summer and early fall, negotiations were under way to finally make Grand Junction a professional baseball city.

When it became official in October, the birth of the Grand Junction Rockies became the No. 1 local sports story of 2011.

Within hours of the Grand Junction City Council approving a 10-year lease agreement between the city and GJR LLC, the ownership group of the Grand Junction Rockies, fans were calling about buying season tickets.

The GJ Rockies are the Rookie affiliate to the Colorado Rockies and are owned by a group of investors headed by Dick and Charlie Monfort, the owners of the parent club.

About a month after the City Council approved the deal, Dick Monfort visited Grand Junction to introduce the team logo and talk about the move from Casper, Wyo., which has been the Pioneer League team’s home for 10 years.

“As we look around and we think of our brand, the Colorado Rockies and where we play, it would be nice to have them play closer to Denver,” Monfort said.

“Casper is about the same distance as this, but it’s in Wyoming, it’s a smaller community, and Grand Junction sort of sits out here in no-man’s land. We wanted a tie between Grand Junction and Denver.”

The GJ Rockies’ logo is similar to the big club’s, only with a flat-topped mountain in honor of Grand Mesa, instead of the jagged Rocky Mountains. Keeping the “Rockies” nickname is preferred, Monfort said, to establish the tie between the clubs.

For several years, the team was known as the Casper Rockies after it moved from Butte, Mont., where they were the Copper Kings. Casper eventually got approval to rename the team the Ghosts, after the popular children’s cartoon character, Casper the Friendly Ghost.

Lagging attendance was one reason the ownership group was looking to move the club.

By mid-December, season ticket sales in Grand Junction had topped 500, said General Manager Tim Ray, at $299 each.

The club will play 38 home games, and opens the season in Ogden, Utah. The home opener is at 7:05 p.m. on June 23, and the Rockies will be home July 4, with the city and the club collaborating on an Independence Day celebration at the ballpark.

As is the case with all minor league baseball teams, several promotional nights will be scheduled and between-inning activities will keep fans entertained.

As far as the baseball side of things go, Grand Junction manager Tony Diaz won’t know his roster until after the 2012 amateur draft. Players who sign after the draft will report to Scottsdale, Ariz., for a 10-day minicamp.

Once players sign a contract, they’re on their own for housing, so the Rockies are instituting a “host family” program that was popular in Casper. Families in Grand Junction volunteer to house a player, the only stipulation being the family provides a safe environment and transportation to and from the ballpark. The host family doesn’t have to provide meals, although it can.

Grand Junction will be in the South Division of the Pioneer League, along with Utah clubs in Orem and Ogden, and one in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The North Division is in Montana, with clubs in Billings, Great Falls, Helena and Missoula.

For tickets or other information on the Grand Junction Rockies, call 255-ROCK (255-7625).

If the early interest is any indication, the Rockies could go from the lowest numbers in attendance to the highest — Suplizio is the biggest ballpark in the league.

“My wife and I are both excited,” Grand Junction resident David Boyd said after the move was made official. “She likes watching the local teams. She grew up in Farmington (N.M.) and watched the Connie Mack World Series.

“These guys (in rookie league) play for fun, not just money. They play to play the game. They don’t have multiple-million dollar salaries.”


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