I have lived in Colorado my whole life and I never tire of her beauty. I sit here in the observation car on the Amtrak from Grand Junction back to Denver/Boulder, reflecting on my time with the bright-eyed young Grand Junction Rockies while looking out across a magnificent tapestry of mountains, still snow-capped but gushing with brilliant green while rivers, wildlife, and old mining towns scroll by in the foreground.
Our state is an awesome state.
And soon I shall be traversing it with some regularity because I have to see these kids play.
On Thursday, June 12, the Grand Junction Rockies held a meet-and-greet event at one of my favorite restaurants in town, "The Ale House." With some fine Breckenridge Brews in toe, my family and I sat on the back patio as some light rain gave way to a live folk band and the players started filing in.
General manager Tim Ray gave a simple announcement that the informal event had begun and that anyone who wished should approach the tables the players were sitting at and introduce themselves, get some autographs, or even ask a few questions.
At the longest table, first-round draft pick Kyle Freeland sat right in the middle, his catcher Dom Nunez to his right, and likely starting outfielder Terry McClure to his left.
Terry and Dom both gave a quick shout my direction and appeared in general to be the most relaxed/engaged players there. Dom Nunez was in especially high spirits and seemed to be acting as team captain in many ways. He has put on 20-30 pounds of muscle since last season for his return to catching.
It will be very interesting to see how this affects his hitting, and as an obvious extension, his power numbers. Dom already had the ability to hit moonshot home runs (though, infrequently last season) with a pretty slender frame. Seeing him in person -- and after talking with assistant GM Mike Ruvolo for a minute -- I get the feeling that he is the player to watch on this team.
Dom's player to watch though, as he told me, is first baseman Henry Garcia. The big righty, who is fresh out of the Rockies' Dominican complex, sat a few seats down. As Nunez told me that he had never seen power like this in batting practice (specifically including Ryan McMahon), I was intrigued.
Garcia doesn't speak much English but boy does he know how to communicate. As Dom sung his praises and I asked questions like, "seriously, more than McMahon?," Garcia smiled and raised his eyebrows in a manner I haven't been able to shake since. The confidence that beamed from his eyes pierced right through me.
And then he got up from the table and I realized who he looked like. I'm not dumb enough to be making player comps on a guy I've never seen play an inning of baseball but he looks a lot like Frank Thomas. Built like a truck, brimming with charisma.
I introduced myself to Kyle Freeland, who seemed pretty comfortable in his new surroundings. He was excited that I was a Colorado kid too and his awareness and intelligence was clear to me both as we chatted and as I observed his interactions with others.
He told me he thinks he is slated to start pitching in early July, and Ruvolo confirms that Freeland should be on a quicker timetable than his predecessor, Jon Gray, due to the fact that he threw fewer innings this season (99) than Gray had last year.
Freeland is every bit the 6'4 he is listed and I was surprised that he doesn't look as skinny in real life as he did to me on film.
No doubt excited to be here, he agreed that perhaps a bit too much as been made about the idea of him being a hometown kid. He loves the Rockies and always has, but he is a professional now and has been working at that his whole life. I suspect Kyle Freeland would be excited to be a Twin or a member of any other organization in baseball.
He has a stern confidence about him and compared to a number of other players in attendance, who at times looked like young children at a video game arcade, Freeland was still, measured, and almost looked as though he was in control of the proceedings with his battery mate as a right-hand man. It was pretty cool.
Ruvolo told me how excited the team is about this year's squad, especially the depth from the DSL and the second- through sixth-round picks who were not in attendance because they had not yet signed. "But Freeland really helped us out there," he told me, referring to the pitcher signing under slot money and allowing the Rockies to allocate those resources to his teammates.
"That's just the kind of guy he is."
Should be a fun year. Also this:
The Grand Junction Rockies announce that local television station; KGJT-TV (My Network) Channel 27 and cable Channel 16 will televise "live" a total of 12 home games during the upcoming 2014 season. All telecasts will be produced and directed by the Mass Communication students of Colorado Mesa University.
Telecast dates include four games during the initial six game home stand (June 20, 21, 24, and 25). Four games will be televised in July (July 4, 5, 25, and 26) as well as four in August (August 12, 13, 15, and 16th).