One pitcher already loving GJ
Kyle Roliard looked out the window of the airplane Sunday as it was approaching Grand Junction and couldn’t help but smile.
“I love this place,” said Roliard, one of the pitchers for the Grand Junction Rockies, before the club’s first practice Monday afternoon. “Looking out the window on the plane, I thought, ‘Aw, this is better than Casper already.’ “
“A lot bigger stadium, bigger town, a lot more to do,” outfielder Carl Thomore said. “I could keep going on and on, but I don’t think we have time.”
Most of the players had only been in town about 24 hours when practice began, but Grand Junction was quickly starting to feel like home.
They were met at the airport by their host families and most got a sneak peek at Suplizio Field on Sunday before reporting Monday morning.
“It was awesome getting settled into a house instead of a hotel like the last three months,” said Thomore, from East Brunswick, N.J., who had been living in a hotel at extended spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Pitcher Brian Rike not only got acquainted with his host parents, but his new best friend.
“They both work, but if I get lonely, they’ve got a golden retriever I can play with,” he said. “If I get bored, she’ll sit on the couch with me; I’ve got the remote…”
Even the Rockies’ skipper, Tony Diaz, got settled in quickly with his host family, which led to something managers rarely experience.
“I got a really good night’s sleep last night,” Diaz said as his latest club met with the media and got to know one another before practice at Suplizio Field.
Possibly another half-dozen players will make their way to Grand Junction in the next few days as they sign contracts and are assigned to play either at Grand Junction, the Rockies’ Rookie Advanced affiliate, or Tri-City, the short-season Class A team.
The Rockies signed seven players Sunday and sent them to Tri-City in Pasco, Wash.
Their first-round pick, outfielder David Dahl, posted on his Twitter account late last week that he was flying to Denver on Monday to sign and expected to be sent to Grand Junction. The Rockies had not announced his signing as of Monday evening.
Nine players listed on the GJ Rockies roster were not at practice Monday — most were still en route, including outfielder Ryan Garvey, the son of longtime Dodger great Steve Garvey, and are expected to report today or Wednesday.
Once the formalities of physicals, equipment checkout and media day were dispatched, the club got down to its first practice.
Their first round of batting practice, where the players who figured Suplizio would be a hitters’ park got to see if it truly is.
Several balls left the yard, rattling into the left-field bleachers, some well beyond the wall in left-center.
The one player who knows all about playing at Suplizio, former Colorado Mesa University outfielder Jeff Popick, hit one out to straight-away center. He’ll undoubtedly pass along his knowledge of playing Suplizio’s unique outfield dimensions to his new teammates, as well as being one of the club’s tour guides.
Colorado Mesa assistant baseball coach Sean McKinney has signed on as a volunteer assistant coach, providing more local knowledge of the field and the city while expanding his coaching resume.
With everything from the gray practice jerseys with the purple “Junction” on the front to the batting cage and infield screens to the ball bags being brand-new, even the players returning to the Rookie level for a second year feel like it’s a new club, a new season.
“I feel like it’s a fresh start for me,” Thomore said. “I didn’t do too hot in Casper last year. I’ve improved a lot in my game from last year. I’m looking to have a good year, win a lot of games and maybe win that championship.”
Although they started practice at 2:45 p.m. and went into the heat of the afternoon, the new Rockies, especially those who came in from Scottsdale, were loving temperatures in the low 80s.
“This is great, a little breeze,” Roliard said. “One night it was 9:30 and still 101 in Scottsdale.”
They’ve got one week to become a team — the season opener is June 18 in Ogden, Utah. The home opener is June 23 against Idaho Falls.
“I’m ready for games,” Roliard said. “It’s going to be a long week ahead, but I cannot wait for games.”