For a team that didn’t play a game in 2020, it was certainly an eventful year for the Grand Junction Rockies.
With Major League Baseball talking about contracting more than 40 Minor League Baseball teams after the entities’ agreement expired in September of 2020, the entire Pioneer League was on the cut list in January. Contraction meant losing affiliation with big-league teams — the GJ Rockies would no longer be the Rookie club for the Colorado Rockies, even though Dick Monfort is one of the principle owners of both teams.
As talks dragged on, with members of Congress going to bat to save MiLB, the COVID-19 pandemic put all of that on the shelf. Major League Baseball’s spring training was shut down, and eventually, a shorter season was agreed upon.
Meanwhile, MiLB players waited for word if their season would begin at all.
For the GJ Rockies, June 19, opening day, came and went without a peep. Two weeks later, on June 30, the Minor League Baseball season was canceled.
“I’m going to miss it, I really am,” said Jerry Wilds, who was 17th in line to buy GJ Rockies season tickets when they went on sale during the inaugural season in 2012. “We enjoyed it. We became friends with people around us. A lot of them were families (of players) that we got to know. To me, it was a perfect short season.”
As the summer without baseball dragged into fall, there was still no announcement about the future of the GJ Rockies or the Pioneer League.
On Nov. 31, the Pioneer League announced it had reached an agreement with MLB to form the “Major League Baseball Partner League.” The eight cities (Orem is relocating to Windsor) will keep their teams, but they’ll become independent clubs in 2021.
When the big-league clubs extended invitations to their four affiliates (Low A, High A, Double A, Triple A) in early December, the Boise Hawks, who were the Rockies’ short-season A club, joined the Pioneer League, bringing membership to nine teams.
Plans are for a 92-game season beginning around the Memorial Day holiday. The rosters will be made up of undrafted college players, players who have been released by MLB teams and other free agents.
“It came upon us pretty quickly,” GJ Rockies President Mick Ritter said. “At one point the negotiations were going south and all of a sudden it was boom, here we go.
“From here on out, we should be gearing up for baseball in 2021.”