What can fans expect from Pioneer League?
Jim McCurdy has made the trip from Pioneer League headquarters in Spokane, Wash., to Grand Junction a handful of times.
He was in town in late April to check out renovated Suplizio Field, and he took in a Colorado Mesa University game.
The Pioneer League president came away impressed and happy knowing after a few failed attempts to land a minor league team in western Colorado, it was finally going to happen.
“I was extremely pleased and excited,” McCurdy said. “I had walked the stadium before. I think this is the fourth time we’ve looked seriously at Grand Junction. It’s great to see it finally work out, and I only think the Pioneer League, JUCO and Mesa all working together, I think it can be something very, very special.
“The stadium improvements ... how much was it? Eight-point-three million will do that.”
He’ll be back in Grand Junction this weekend for the first home game in Grand Junction Rockies history and is eager to see the city’s reaction to its first professional sports team.
All of the parent organizations affiliated with the Pioneer League have two Rookie-level teams except Colorado, so the majority of the Pioneer teams feature players in their second tier of professional baseball.
Technically, the Pioneer League is classified as “Rookie Advanced,” with the Arizona Rookie League set up more for true first-year players.
“In Florida and Arizona they play at the spring-training complexes,” McCurdy said. “In Arizona they’ll play in the morning (because of the heat) on the practice diamonds and won’t charge admission. The farm directors see it as a place for that introduction to pro baseball for the younger kids and the Latin players.”
As they progress, they’ll head from Arizona or Florida to the club’s Rookie Advanced or short-season Class A team.
“Some of our clubs will keep three or four players down,” McCurdy said. “Last year we probably had the most experienced group of players across the board.”
When he was in Grand Junction to announce the move from Casper, Colorado Rockies owner Dick Monfort, one of the owners of the Grand Junction Rockies, said the franchise hopes to soon add a Rookie team in Arizona. At that point, Grand Junction would become a true “advanced” Rookie club.
“The Pioneer has the best of both worlds,” McCurdy said. “It’s a great atmosphere to learn, and it introduces them to the revenue-making aspect.”
So what can fans expect from Pioneer League baseball?
“The amazing thing is that in terms of speed of play, skill level and pure God-given ability, this takes it another step even from Division I college baseball,” McCurdy said. “Then as you go up the ladder it just gets faster.
“You’ve got two short-season, two at the full A, one Double-A and one Triple-A. It’s a funnel structure there. The player that makes that Double A cut, you’ve got a shot.
“At the Double-A level, you’ve really got the cream, then the player goes up to Triple-A, and you’ve got players mixed who are coming back down, back and forth who have played at the Major League level. There, you’ve got Major League-caliber players.”
Much like the JUCO World Series, the Pioneer League depends on the social aspect of the games. In-game promotions will keep fans entertained,while making sure the team focuses on baseball.
“Baseball itself is family fun,” McCurdy said. “We provide a reasonably priced entertainment.”
The Rockies will have some in-game promotions, but probably not every inning of every game. And that’s fine, McCurdy said.
“I’m excited about what we think will come forth.”