Valuable lessons: GJ Rockies learn plenty during three-city, 9-game road trip

Grand Junction Rockies shortstop Ryan Vilade fields a throw to second as Matt McCann of the Orem Owlz hits the brakes and tries to return to first during the top of the second inning of Tuesday’s game at Suplizio Field. Vilade, playing in his first home game as a member of the GJ Rockies, tagged McCann out a few seconds later.

Todd Czinege, 18, of the Grand Junction Rockies is greeted by his teammates as he trots across the plate following his three-run home run in the bottom of the fourth inning of Tuesday’s 11-7 loss to the Orem Owlz at Suplizio Field.

If you’ve got to make a three-city, nine-game road trip, you might as well get it out of the way right off the bat.

The Grand Junction Rockies climbed off the bus at 3 a.m. on Tuesday and after a nap, were back at Suplizio Field about 12 hours later.

Neither the Rockies nor the Orem Owlz took batting practice, instead getting in a long stretch, some light running and throwing before taking infield.

After winning four of the nine games, Grand Junction manager Frank Gonzales said the young Rockies got a good indoctrination into Minor League Baseball.

“Amy time you can spend that amount of time with a group of people, good and bad things will take place,” he said before Tuesday night’s game. “The good is you get to know each other. The bad thing is, it’s a lot of things, three cities, three bus rides, three hotels, and you grind it out. It’s a really neat experience for everybody. ... Those things need to happen; it’s part of the process of becoming a minor league player.”

Gonzales said, despite Monday’s 13-5 loss to Orem, the pitching staff especially seemed to settle in.

“We had a really tough inning (Monday night); we win the ballgame after the second inning,” he said. “Maybe sometimes you need to go back to those points to bounce back and find out what you’re made of. These guys really want to be here, they want to play and they want to do it the right way.

“I’ve been really happy with the pitching. We gave up eight unearned (Monday) so I don’t think you can put that on pitching. It was a defensive deal last night. I haven’t looked at the numbers, but we were pretty good. We’ve turned the corner there, so if we can maintain that, I think it’s a positive for us as we move along.

“If we can pair our offense, defense and pitching in a few games in a row we might just find out how good we really are.”

Coming out of extended spring training and knowing he would get several top-line draft picks, Gonzales was a little surprised by the Rockies’ slow start but likes how they’re coming around.

“From a standpoint of bodies and motion and abilities, I thought we’d be way better than a .500 club right now, but I think going through this is the process and it’s good learning for us,” he said.

“At the end of the day, from 2 to 7 p.m. is the best part of the day for us, where we’re learning as baseball players. If something good happens between 7 and 10 o’clock, we’ll take that. If we do a good job preparing for the game, it’s been a good day.”

The club’s top draft picks all made their debuts on the road trip, with shortstop Ryan Vilade going 9 for 25 (.360) and drawing five walks. He hit a pair of home runs, one double and drove in five runs. First baseman Chad Spanberger went 9 for 28 (.321) with three home runs and six RBI. Tommy Doyle made his first appearance out of the bullpen, throwing 2/3 innings and allowing one hit.

“Vilade’s been impressive. We’ve had a couple of high school kids in a row the last couple of years who have showed up nice,” Gonzales said. “He’s playing well. We’ve made sure we haven’t over-played him and he looks like he’s handled it well, two, three four games at a time.

“Spanberger is fine; he’s going to swing the bat. It’s good to have Lee (Stevens) here and Andy (Gonzalez) to work with him on the infield things, but he’s a nice-looking player. They’re a couple of guys who fit nicely in the lineup right in the middle.”

Gonzales climbed on the bus a little more than a week ago not really knowing all of his players. That changed as they traveled from western Colorado to Idaho Falls, Idaho, when back to the Salt Lake area to play at Ogden and Orem, Utah.

“I think you saw a bunch of gung-ho guys here when they get signed and tagged as a June draft,” he said. “They feel like it’s old hat now. They’ve been worn down a little bit and sometimes it’s good to get wore down.

“I personally love to feel this way. It’s where I’m at my best, when I’m worn down and just off the bus. It’s great. These guys are good. They’re good kids and the staff is all about them.”


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