Passion of Rockies fans excites new manager Black
Bud Black’s done a good bit of traveling.
The new Colorado Rockies manager has been to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and seen people wearing Rockies caps there. The same can be said for Albuquerque, New Mexico, and most of Utah. He sees a fan base that spreads across Colorado and beyond, and that’s something that’s exciting in his first year with the club.
Black’s familiar with the Rockies’ organization as both an opposing manager and player. He pitched for the San Francisco Giants in Coors Field during the Rockies’ early years and pitched in Mile High Stadium as he traveled to face the Triple-A Denver Bears in the ‘80s.
So when Black was introduced in Grand Junction as part of the 2017 Colorado Rockies Caravan, the fans were a big source of his excitement.
“It’s a fan base that cares about their team and their players,” Black said. “You can see it in professional football, you it in basketball and you see it in hockey. The same holds true for baseball.”
Black, along with outfielder David Dahl, pitcher Jon Gray and catcher Tom Murphy, visited with local media, Grand Junction Rockies season ticket holders and VIPs before meeting with fans in the Lincoln Park Barn.
Black has a recent connection to the Grand Junction Rockies, too. Former Grand Junction manager and director of player development Tony Diaz will be Colorado’s first base coach this season.
Diaz was the first manager Dahl and Gray had at the professional level, and Black said he’s excited to work with Diaz.
“Tony’s been awesome,” Black said. “I talked to Tony, initially, on the phone and was really impressed. I flew to Arizona, met with Tony in person, talked again — talked baseball. My takeaway with Tony was that this guy is passionate about baseball, he’s a teacher, and I love the fact that he’s a longtime Rockie and a lot of the players on our roster have come through Tony. Tony’s deserving of a Major League opportunity to coach and he’s been great. I look forward to working with Tony and I think our players will echo the same thing.”
Black inherits a roster with a burgeoning ace in Gray, and several other young, quality starters. The skipper said he’s excited to see pitchers who maybe weren’t in the Majors last season, but are close to breaking through.
The biggest area addressed this offseason, though, was the bullpen. Black said several free agent acquisitions, players coming back from injuries and a young crop of talent could help fix the weakest part of the Rockies’ roster.
Most importantly, Black said, was the signing of former Royals closer Greg Holland, who was an All Star before Tommy John surgery caused him to miss all of last season.
“It’s a big signing,” Black said. “I think you look at what Greg has done in his career, arguably one of the top closers in the game for a period of time up until his injury. Two-time All Star, great internal statistics when you look at the numbers he’s put up. His mentality as a pitcher on the field, the type of teammate he is.
“You combine that with Mike Dunn, who is coming on board to help our ‘pen, a healthy Jake McGee, who had some knee issues last year, (Adam) Ottavino back for a full year, health issues that (Chad) Qualls and (Jason) Motte can overcome. Young arms that I can’t wait to see — (Kyle) Freeland, (German) Marquez, (Antonio) Senzatela, down the line — guys with good stuff and who are getting closer to the big leagues. (Carlos) Estevez, (Jairo) Diaz.
“You can go down the line of talented pitchers that we have that should make a difference in this year’s bullpen. It will not be the same results.”
The other end of the battery matters to Black, too. Although the Rockies’ two primary catchers — Murphy and Tony Wolters — are very young, Black said they can reach his lofty expectations.
“I’ve heard great things about these guys,” Black said. “There’s no doubt my expectation of that position is high. I’ve told that to Tom over the phone, I’ve told that to Tony as well and I will tell that to the rest of our catching group in spring training. There’s no doubt that it’s a very important position. I know from my playing days what that relationship means to the success of a team, but I’ve got all the confidence in the world in our catching. (General Manager) Jeff (Bridich), our baseball operations people, our minor league development people, have high praise for these catchers.
“I think all of us, when we get to spring training, are looking forward to the process of helping these guys grow as young catchers and hopefully they can continue to solidify themselves — they did a little bit last year. It’s been smalls steps, but it’s a process. These guys are up for it.”