There are roughly 1,900 miles between Denver and Hartford, Connecticut.
For Jake Opitz, a Denver native, that made connecting with family and friends during his time on the Hartford Yard Goats' coaching staff tough. Travel from the Centennial State to the Colorado Rockies' Double-A affiliate isn't easy.
Opitz graduated from Heritage High School in Littleton, which makes being selected the manager for the Grand Junction Rockies a homecoming.
It's also the realization of a dream.
"There are probably two dream jobs," Opitz said. "One would be in Denver with the Rockies. Two would probably be in Grand Junction. People will probably laugh at that — it may be Rookie ball or whatever — but this is great for me. I'm excited to be here and my family can come up and see me. My fiancée is actually coming into town right now. I was in Hartford last year and that's a little bit tougher travel to bring family and friends out.
"It's honestly a dream job for me. I'm excited to be here and excited to be back in Colorado."
Opitz, 31, attended the University of Nebraska and was drafted in the 12th round of the 2008 draft. He was an infielder and spent five seasons as a farmhand for the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies. He was originally slated to be the hitting coach in Grand Junction, but made such a good impression that he was announced as the Grand Junction Rockies' manager in February.
He joins Doug Jones, who returns as pitching coach, and developmental supervisor Andy Gonzalez, who is back for his second season in Grand Junction. The organization selected 28-year-old Zach Osborne as hitting coach. The former shortstop played briefly in Grand Junction in 2012 and returned for most of the season in 2013.
Opitz is quick to point out that nothing in baseball is easy, but on-field coaching comes naturally. That's his element. His biggest adjustment to managing is all the organization that comes with it.
"It's a lot of scheduling. Is it enjoyable? I don't know yet," Opitz said with a laugh. "As a hitting coach, or really any coach, you're here, you have your guys, you go off the schedule. When you're the manager, you have to set that schedule. This has really been my first time doing that and honestly that was the biggest adjustment. The on-field stuff, I enjoy that. I'm not going to say it's easy, but I enjoy it and I know what I'm doing out there. When you're setting a schedule and meeting times, all the stuff that comes before you're on the field, that's stuff I'm working on getting better at."
As each player has arrived in Grand Junction, Opitz and the other coaches have met with each player individually. The manager said meeting the players was a way to learn more about each player than just what it on a scouting report.
Being a young manager and a former minor leaguer, Opitz treads a line between relatability and responsibility. He's youthful enough to connect with players on a personal level, but has to maintain the respect of the dugout.
Luckily, Opitz's brothers keep him in check. Shane, 26, plays for Triple-A Colorado Springs and Casey, 19, just finished his freshman season with the University of Arkansas.
"I'm comfortable with those age groups, I guess you could say," Opitz said. "I feel like I've been coaching my whole life. I don't know if I'm still cool — I always joke with my 19-year-old brother that I still know the lingo. The age gap between myself and the players is slight, but at the same time, they respect me and I respect the players. Any relationship, if you have that, there's something to build on."
As for the facilities in Grand Junction, Opitz said he'd frequently hear stories about Grand Junction, but had never visited.
The rookie-level facilities got a glowing review from former manager Frank Gonzales — who's now the supervisor of development for Class A Lancaster — which prepared Opitz for a strong first impression.
"You hear nothing but great things," Opitz said. "I'm from Denver, but I had never been over. Frank, when he left last year, said nothing but great things. I had a lot of good vibes coming into this place and I haven't been disappointed."