Thrilled to be here
GJ Rockies manager Tony Diaz excited to be a part of community
Before this week, Tony Diaz had met one person from Grand Junction.
“My first dealings with people from Grand Junction was managing (Central High School graduate) Kiel Roling, a player from here,” the Grand Junction Rockies manager said Thursday during his first visit to town.
“Kiel was a great kid, still is, and I remember asking him, ‘Is everybody from Grand Junction like you?’ He said, ‘Not everybody, but most people are.’ That’s good enough.”
Diaz, 35, met a man named Matt on the flight Wednesday night from Salt Lake to Grand Junction. By the end of the short flight, Diaz said he felt they’d known each other 20 years.
Thursday morning, he met Lisa, his server at Main Street Cafe, who kidded him about being in town only 14 hours and getting all kinds of media attention.
“I’m going to make sure to give Lisa a shout-out,” Diaz said. “Last year, she grew the biggest potato in Mesa County, so Lisa, there you go.”
He got a quick look at Suplizio Field before his press conference, then got the full tour later.
“This is big-league right here,” he said, settling into the manager’s elevated bench in the first-base dugout before talking with The Daily Sentinel.
“The catcher’s looking for the sign, boom, direct contact. To watch the game without having a fence in the way ... I’m not going to be this relaxed in the game, though.”
He equated the facilities at Suplizio with going from “a high school field to a major league field,” he said. “From Casper, that’s how much different it is.”
Even before he got a good look at the ballpark where the Rockies will begin practicing June 8 and playing June 23, he said his club has gone from the worst facility in the Rookie Advanced classification’s Pioneer League to the best. Now he can’t wait to see how the field plays.
Even more than the field, Diaz is eager to be in a community that knows baseball and has a rich tradition in the sport.
“I look at the fan base, the reputation of the community and its values, the outdoor activities, knowing baseball, knowing the game,” he said.
“When you put it in perspective, the support that the JUCO World Series has, and you don’t even have a team in there. Now you can identify with a team, your local team, it’s definitely exciting. It would reinvigorate anybody. I’m pumped.”
Diaz, a native of the Dominican Republic, has been in the Rockies’ organization since 2001, spending six years as the hitting coach in Casper, Wyo. In 2007, he was promoted to manager, replacing P.J. Carey.
He lives in Tucson, Ariz., and took a quick break from working in the Rockies’ extended spring training camp to visit Grand Junction.
Once the Rockies sign the players from the June 4-6 draft, they’re assigned to a club.
Those assigned to Rookie ball report to Grand Junction, and 10 days after their first practice, they’ll play their season opener in Ogden, Utah.
The Rockies’ home opener is June 23 at Suplizio Field.
With the majority of his roster turning over every year, Diaz relies on second-year Rookie level players to help the new guys, who will range in age from 17-23 and could come from anywhere. Last season, the Ghosts had players from five countries on the roster.
” ‘Remember when you came here and didn’t know anybody. ... Open up and make them feel comfortable right away, get to know them. Go back to the time you came in,’ ” Diaz said of his instructions to his “veterans.”
“That’s what makes it more challenging, the new kids on the block. They don’t know where they fit in.’ “
Diaz, though, quickly got the feeling he’ll fit in on the Western Slope.
“I can already tell I feel very comfortable with the people,” he said, “and my gosh, what a facility.”