From Rookie ball to Coors Field
It’s the beginning of a journey for the young baseball players out of high school and college.
Many don’t make it to the big leagues, but for those who do, they don’t forget where it starts.
Several current Colorado Rockies players began their professional careers in Rookie ball in Casper, Wyo. That team is now in Grand Junction.
It was a big transition going from amateur ball to playing every day for a living, especially for the Latin American players who didn’t speak English.
“It’s a lot different, especially the language,” said Rockies infielder Jonathan Herrera, who is from Venezuela. “I didn’t know too much (English), just the base words. I didn’t know how to order food.
“There are things you don’t like. Like when we went to McDonald’s, I don’t like pickles, and I don’t know how to say it. I had to take it off or eat it.”
Herrera, like many Latin American players, start in a Dominican League before coming to the United States. He played in Casper in 2003.
It was a transition for the American players as well.
Chris Nelson went from Atlanta, a large metropolitan city, to Casper in 2004. He played with Eric Young Jr.
“I remember (scout) Marc Gustafson drove me up to Casper,” Nelson said. “It was different. I’m used to being in the city, a lot of people everywhere, and it was just cowboys and — what are those things that go across the street? Tumbleweeds? I’ve never seen that before.
“I remember thinking ‘Where are you taking me?’ It was crazy.”
Nelson had to learn how to drive a vehicle with manual transmission in Casper.
“I could practice with nobody on the road,” he said. “It was a good time to practice. I learned how to drive a stick.”
Eric Young Jr. grew up watching his dad play for the Rockies and had an idea about what professional baseball was like, but it was still an adjustment playing every day.
“Obviously there are going to be mistakes made only because it’s everyone’s first year as a professional,” Young said. “You really start to learn how to act as a professional on and off the field and carry about your business.
“There is a lot of young talent. There is a lot of exciting moments and some growing pains, but that’s to be expected.”
It can be a bigger adjustment for the Latin American players, who don’t have high school programs where they are from.
“You face guys that have already played more than you,” Herrera said. “We don’t play that many games (in Venezuela) like they do in college. We don’t play too much. You feel behind.”
Juan Nicasio, who is from the Dominican Republic, had to overcome a shy personality and learn how to communicate. He leaned on fellow Dominican players Wilin Rosario and Jhoulys Chacin in 2007. Jordan Pacheco was also on that team.
“It’s hard,” Nicasio said. “Wilin helped me a lot, and Chacin, too.
“(Rosario) talks with me. I have more confidence in him because he’s known me a long time.”
Nelson said the language barrier was a challenge, but he was excited to get to know the Latin players.
“When I was growing up, I played on a lot of different teams,” Nelson said. “Adapting wasn’t a big deal for me. (There was) the language barrier with the Latin guys, but baseball was our form of communication. What brought us together was a game. It was cool learning their language. It was a cool experience for someone 18 years old.”
Young realized a professional baseball career would involve meeting Latin American players who didn’t speak English and took it upon himself to learn Spanish.
“The biggest learning curveball (is) the amount of Latin players that come from the Latin countries that speak very little English and American players trying to adjust to having those teammates. Fortunately for me, I took some Spanish classes in school, but I learned a majority of my Spanish hanging out with those Latin players on the road trips.
“At the end of the day, you probably don’t realize they’re feeling the exact same way you are. They don’t know how to express it to you and vice versa. Once you get past that gap, you realize everybody’s pretty much the same guy.”