Steady Sanders: New GJ Rockies manager excited for first season
Anthony Sanders isn’t going into the season with a lot of preconceived ideas.
When you’re a manager in Rookie baseball, you can’t. The team changes every year, but one thing is constant — the majority of the players are experiencing professional baseball for the first time.
The new Grand Junction Rockies manager, who spent the past seven years as the hitting coach at Tri-City (Wash.) in the Class A short season Northwest League, knows this: there will be games that his team plays extremely well, and there will be bumps along the way.
“They always say this level is the hardest level,” Sanders said before taking the field for his first workout as a manager. “The higher levels, the guys are a little more polished and they know what they have to do each day. Down here it’s teaching these guys to be young men and teaching them to be a pro as well. You never know what you’re going to get out of the draft. It’s going to be interesting.”
Grand Junction is the first stop in the Colorado Rockies’ organization. The Pioneer League is classified as Rookie Advanced, with most organizations starting in the Arizona Rookie League. The Rockies don’t have a club in Arizona, so the majority of the GJ club is made up of players straight out of the draft or brought up from the Dominican Summer League.
“Not having an Arizona Rookie team it’s a little bit harder,” Sanders said. “Some of the Latin guys have never played under the lights before. Imagine that. But that could be a good thing, under the lights, fans in the stands, that might bring out something a little bit more. Hopefully not too much, where it’s out of control.”
That first night game could be a bit of a shock to a lot of the GJ Rockies, especially at Suplizio Field, which drew more than 5,000 fans last year for the home opener. Early last season, pitcher Johendi Jiminian had trouble calming himself down because it was his first experience playing in front of big crowds in his first year in the United States.
“He’s been lights-out for us in extended spring,” said Sanders, earning Jiminian a roster spot in Tri-City this season.
Sanders not only got to know several of his players during extended spring training, but spent much of the winter in the Dominican Republic, so he’s worked with the players coming to the United States for the first time.
Much like the approach Tony Diaz took with the GJ Rockies last season, Sanders wants to form a close-knit team and hopes that translates to winning games.
“That’s what we’re going to try to do again. The college guys get that all the time and the Latin guys, in the Dominican they have that,” Sanders said. “It shouldn’t be a hard transition to bring everybody in on that. We’re going to do some different activities. At home you might see us out there doing things that are totally off the wall, but it’s to build relationships. On the road, rooming different guys together, team outings. We’re going to keep it light and pretty soon all of these guys are going to know something about each other as well as us.”
Sanders was an outfielder, playing three seasons in the majors with Toronto (1999) and Seattle (2000-2001) and played parts of 14 seasons in the minor leagues, so he knows what his players are going through as they try to make it to the bigs. He played for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox in 2004.
He lives in Tucson with his family, and said he knows not to take for granted what his wife, Claudia, and three children, Logan, Marcus and Troy, go through with him living the nomadic life of a minor league coach.
“It’s tough. I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my wife back home,” he said. “All of us who have families back home, it’s unbelievable what our families put up with to let us have the opportunity to come out and play baseball with the guys every night. I don’t take it for granted, and no one on the rest of the staff does, either.”
His family will come to Grand Junction whenever possible this summer, and, like Diaz’s children, Gabriella and Anthony, will be well-outfitted in GJ Rockies attire.
Sanders and Diaz, who was elevated to the Rookie club’s development supervisor, are working together to run the team this summer.
“It’s priceless to have a guy like Tony around,” said Sanders, who will be on the field, with Diaz planning to be in the stands most games, studying the game from a different perspective. “With the way we’ve structured the organization this year, to have an extra coach is huge.”
They’ll meet after every game, with Diaz giving his perspective, and Sanders is looking forward to those meetings.
“Sometimes we get caught up in the game and the game’s going fast and we’re in the dugout,” he said. “To have a guy like Tony in the stands, having a different perspective of the game…afterwards we’ll sit down and go over the game and (Diaz could say), ‘Hey, Anthony, did you see that tonight?’ Maybe not, maybe I need to look out for something like that.
“Tony’s a helpful guy; it’s not like he’s a drill sergeant overlooking everything. He’s there to help out and be that fourth coach.”
Sanders said he and Diaz remember what longtime Casper manager P.J. Carey taught them:
“One thing P.J. always said, ‘Always do what’s right for the kids. Keep the kids in mind and you can’t go wrong.’ ‘’