Rockies clean out lockers following inaugural season in GJ
Their lockers, for the most part, were cleaned out by midmorning Monday.
The Grand Junction Rockies, less than 24 hours after losing to Ogden in Game 3 of the Pioneer League South Division playoffs, left town by early afternoon, and most of them won’t be back.
On their Twitter accounts, as they waited for flights, they said good-bye to Grand Junction:
“We’ll be seein ya Grand Junction!” wrote catcher Chris Cowell, who posted a photo from his window seat on the plane.
“I have had some great experiences and made some awesome new friends in Grand Junction. I had a blast and will miss everyone,” wrote pitcher Mike Mason.
“It’s been real Junction,” wrote center fielder David Dahl, now listed as No. 5 on the Rockies’ list of top 20 prospects after his Pioneer League MVP season.
Possibly 10 current GJ Rockies will return to Rookie baseball after extended spring training next year, but the majority will start moving up the organizational ladder.
After taking their season-ending physicals, turning in uniforms and packing their belongings, the players were shuttled to the airport from Suplizio Field.
Plenty was left behind — shower shoes, several pairs of cleats and running shoes, T-shirts, black uniform socks and all those “lost” belts to their uniform pants that equipment manager Dennis Publow was snatching up, only to be lost again next season.
A wadded, torn dollar bill was left in one locker, a half-empty container of protein powder in another. Baseballs, a sheet of player trading cards, a Los Angeles Kings cap, a container of baby powder.
Obviously in a hurry to make his flight, Max White left his fully packed Colorado Rockies travel bag and had to come back to get it.
Publow was washing uniforms and arranging for equipment to be shipped this week to Scottsdale, Ariz., in time for instructional league.
Manager Tony Diaz caught a noon flight to Phoenix and 10 days with his son and daughter before reporting to Scottsdale on Sept. 20 for instructional league.
“That’s what I’ve got on my agenda right now, spend some time with the kids, and then instructional league,” he said.
His first year to manage a team into the playoffs is one he won’t forget.
“I think they exceeded the expectations we had based on the youth that we had,” he said as he stuffed the last of the items from his desk into corners of his travel bags. “You don’t see a young ballclub with this type of resiliency too often. That’s what made it even more special.”
Nearly two dozen Rockies will be reunited late next week in Scottsdale.
“Instructional league is a privilege,” Diaz said. “You’re a prospect. It doesn’t mean you’re gonna make it, but it helps.”
The Dominican players will play this winter at the Rockies’ complex in Boca Chica and continue English lessons.
Those who weren’t assigned to instructional league, including left fielder Jeff Popick, will work out on their own.
Popick, who missed the last couple of weeks with Achilles tendonitis, hopes to work out with CMU’s baseball team this fall.
“I’ll come back here and start working out,” he said. “Hopefully Coach Hanks will have me back; I’m sure he will.”
Then it’s on to spring training in February.
“You want to go down there and produce in front of everyone and hopefully have a chance to go to Asheville next year,” said Popick, an honorable mention Pioneer League All-Star.
“You always want to keep working, make sure you’re always wanting to reach that next level. That’s the big thing right there.”
Pitcher Zach Jemiola knows he will be back in Grand Junction next summer. He pitched only 7 2/3 innings before biceps tendonitis and mononucleosis ended his season. Last week, he found out he cracked a rib on his right side, possibly from coughing.
“I’ll come back next year and hopefully get moved up. I’ll work out a lot this offseason, train as much as I can so I can be healthy all next year,” he said.
In a way, for many of the Rockies, this summer was a lot like going away to baseball camp. Camp’s over, and the kids were eager to see Mom and Dad again.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect, if everyone would be out for themselves, but we came here and everybody was here to help me,” Jemiola said. “It was definitely a different experience, but I’m ready to go home.”