Team approach works for staff
Anthony Sanders acclimated pretty quickly to Rookie baseball last summer.
“It helped me after about the first week of being here, understanding where I was at,” the Grand Junction Rockies manager said. “I played in this league once before in Medicine Hat, Canada. It brought me back to reality really quick with the patience and understanding with young kids.
“They’re excited to be here. It’s their first year of pro ball. Let them enjoy it and have a good time doing it.”
Sanders runs a fairly relaxed system, although his players understand what they’re expected to do every day.
“Check the board!” he calls out as the players leave Suplizio Field for the clubhouse. “Check the board! Enjoy your evening. Check the board!”
“The board” has the next day’s practice schedule, bullpen sessions and any other notices, such as personal appearances the players are required to make. Music plays throughout practice, ranging from oldies to country to classic rock to contemporary to Latin music. The mood is light, but the players also know what they show in practice matters as they compete for playing time. That’s where they get better.
Sanders and his coaching staff bounce ideas off one another daily, and his rapport with Tony Diaz, the club’s development supervisor, is key.
“We rely on the whole staff here and use everybody’s specialties,” Sanders said. “Tony is a great infield guy and manager and (understands) every aspect of the game. All of us here lean on him. It’s great having a guy like him here.
“The biggest thing is we all communicate very well, after, before, during games. We’re all on the same page, and we’re all aware of what’s going on, even if it’s something off the field. If a kid’s having a problem with a host family, or something at home, it’s important to all of us.”
Diaz, the Rockies’ manager the first year in Grand Junction, moved into the supervisor role last season.
When the Rockies are on the field for practice, Diaz is right there, fungo in hand, hitting ground balls to infielders. He takes his turn throwing batting practice.
When the game begins, he changes into slacks and a golf shirt and roams Suplizio Field. Some games he watches from the press box. Others, he’s high above third base or behind home plate.
“Number one, you get to see a lot of things you miss from the dugout. You see them from different vantage points and combine that with what the staff is watching from here,” he said, sitting in his old seat in the first-base dugout.
“The player benefits. The players get better because of that. ... The game is so much faster from here. When you’re in the stands or (press box) it slows down, and you can focus on things more specific.”
It could be anything from defensive alignments to breaking down a second baseman’s footwork turning a double play. He can see how the outfielders read the ball off the bat, and if they’re taking the proper angle to the ball. He can study how catchers set up, get a different view on pitchers’ deliveries.
After every game, he and the coaching staff meet and go over the notes they’ve made during the game.
They meet with players regularly, letting them know the plan for their development and just seeing how things are going on and off the field.
The players from the Dominican Republic face an even bigger adjustment, that of being in the United States for the first time. Many of them speak very little English, and last year Diaz started a program in which they met with an instructor for an hour a day during homestands.
By the end of last season, most of the players were speaking some English. That program will continue this summer.
“I think it worked out last year, and we’ll continue to hopefully make that transition a little smoother every year,” Diaz said.
Diaz is proud that Grand Junction has its first big-league player, pitcher Eddie Butler, calling him “a tangible example from here,” a player the staff can point to that if these players trust the system and work hard, they can play in Coors Field someday.
Emphasis on someday. Sanders and Diaz are both patient men, a must for Rookie baseball.
“The complexion of this ballclub is it’s young,” Diaz said. “We’ll take talent any day. Talent with the right mind frame is a beautiful thing to have, regardless of age. We’re going to have to be patient, and (they’ll) make mistakes, like any young group will, but it’s definitely exciting, because we can dream big with these kids.”