Owen Taylor still gets the same goosebumps walking under the archway, past the giant Casey at the Bat statue at Suplizio Field that he did when he was a kid.
Only now, Suplizio doesn't seem quite so enormous.
"It's a really weird feeling. Obviously four or five years ago I was playing high school ball here and I remember how excited I was every time walking into the stadium," Taylor said Tuesday, only a few hours before his first game back at Suplizio since 2014.
"I get that exact same feeling when I walk into it now just because of the memories I have and the memories I have watching games at Suplizio Field, watching my dad (Tony) coach and watching the guys play for the GJ Tigers that I looked up to as a kid.
"Now I get to walk out there as a professional baseball player in my hometown. It's pretty special."
Taylor, who was drafted by Toronto in 2014 out of high school, opted to go to college at the University of Kansas instead of signing, and said it's a decision he'd make again.
But after his senior season in 2018, he wasn't drafted again, and couldn't catch on as a free agent anywhere, so he finished up his sport management degree this past fall with his internship and realized he wanted one more shot.
"I was working with a lot of professional baseball players and I was evaluating these athletes and just got a spark in my heart that I could still compete with these guys," Taylor said.
He put his degree to work, making phone calls on behalf of his client — himself — to arrange a tryout. He reached out to Marc Gustafson, the Rockies' senior director of scouting operations, who agreed to take a look.
"I drove over to Denver and put everything I had into this one workout and it ended up working out in my favor," he said. "A year ago today I was sitting at home not knowing what I was going to do with my life. It's just a total flip and I'm so happy to keep playing the game."
Gustafson signed Taylor, who reported to Scottsdale, Arizona, and during the final days of extended spring training, the lists for Boise and Grand Junction were posted.
"I checked the Boise roster first and when I didn't see my name there, I peeked over at Grand Junction and saw my name and gave my mom (Shelly) a call. She was super excited," Taylor said. "We'd been talking about it but at the same time trying not to get our hopes up. It was definitely a relief and exciting when I saw my name on the GJ Rockies' roster."
The whole family was in attendance Tuesday night to see Taylor make his home debut as a pro ballplayer. His first game was Saturday in Ogden and he wasted no time, hitting the first pitch he saw over the fence for a two-run home run. It was the first home run of the season for the Rockies.
"It was a really good feeling, honestly," he said. "I went into my first game hoping to come through and get some momentum moving forward and I said I was going to look for my pitch and if it was there I was going to swing nice and easy and sure enough, I got a down-and-in fastball and let it fly a little bit. It was an awesome moment."
At Kansas, Taylor moved across the diamond from third to first base as a freshman, and the position stuck. A three-time Academic All-Big 12 player, he started 42 of 56 games as a senior, hitting eight doubles, six home runs and driving in 34 runs.
"It's special for him," GJ manager Jake Opitz said of Taylor's first professional hit. "Obviously the team needed it, too, but for him to get a first-ball fastball first professional at-bat of his career, hits a two-run homer, I was happy for him. It was a big moment for him and hopefully he can do it again (Tuesday) in front of his family and home crowd, hopefully he'll do something special.
"He's a big left-handed bat in the lineup."
Taylor's also learning how to catch, playing into the Rockies' belief that the more positions you can play, the better it is for the player and the club.
In his professional home debut, Taylor went 1 for 4 with two strikeouts. His one hit was a home run, which drove in the first run for the Rockies in a 7-5 loss to the Rocky Mountain Vibes.
Since he grew up on the diamond at Suplizio — his grandfather, Gene, owned Gene Taylor's Sporting Goods and the American Legion team named for him, and has his name emblazoned on one of the baseballs in Home Run Alley atop the outfield bleachers — Owen Taylor is lending his local knowledge to his new teammates, especially on how to play the outfield. He's reminded the outfielders about how the ball flies off the bat, that their first step needs to be back, and it's important to know how to play the ball off the left-field wall.
He can also give his teammates a personalized tour of town, and when they head to their host families' houses after the game, Taylor just points his car to home, since he's living with his parents.
"Best host family I've ever had," he said, grinning.
He grew up dreaming of playing for the Colorado Rockies, and when the Rookie team moved to Grand Junction, even wondered about starting his career in his own backyard. His perseverance paid off.
"It's definitely not the journey I pictured in my head getting drafted by the Blue Jays out of high school and making the decision to go to college," he said. "It's a decision I would never take back; I love what I did and loved the University of Kansas, and winding back up here so many years later, I never thought it would be like this.
"It's so special and special for my family. I wouldn't change a thing."