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New Grand Junction Rockies president Joe Kubly brings energy, people skills to rookie ball

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Joe Kubly has been on the job for just over a month as the Grand Junction Rockies' new president, but he's already hit the ground running.

The Grand Junction Rockies have found quite the president in new hire Joe Kubly.
The Grand Junction Rockies have found quite the president in new hire Joe Kubly.
Drew Creasman

Mid-January brings uncertainty in minor league baseball, and especially so at the rookie level. Across the minors, player assignments are far from finalized—rookie clubs won't know their rosters until after June's MLB Draft—and promotional schedules, season ticket packages, and more are up in the air.

Things are no different for the Grand Junction Rockies, who are slowly releasing season ticket packages this month with many more business decisions coming soon. With games that won't start for another five months, though, the Colorado Rockies' rookie-level affiliate isn't behind the curve—it just means new team president Joe Kubly has a lot of work to do as he gets up to speed on the Western Slope.

"We’re going to dive into [promotions and specials] pretty quick here," Kubly told me this week. "If I were talking to you a month from now, I’d have a whole list of stuff we are going to dive into this year. We are going to try some new stuff, some different stuff."

Spend just a few minutes talking to Kubly, who arrived in Grand Junction on December 14, and you get the impression he's not lying about a whole list of stuff. The 29-year-old entering his first season at the helm of a minor league team isn't short on energy or ideas. Add his readily apparent people skills and you've got a recipe for success at the lowest—and most community-oriented—level of minor league baseball.

"I knew I always wanted to work with people somehow, it was just finding that right fit," Kubly said of his decision to take the job in Grand Junction. "And I’m happy to say every day I wake up, I’m happy coming to the ballpark. I don’t think there’s a better feeling in the world than waking up, wanting to go to work, and obviously here we are putting on entertainment for thousands of people."

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Of course, Grand Junction wasn't exactly hurting before they hired Kubly and on-field manager Frank Gonzales earlier this month.

The club had just won Baseball America's Bob Freitas Award this offseason, recognizing them as the best short-season affiliate in pro baseball in 2015. For Kubly, at least, that was part of the draw in coming to Grand Junction.

"These guys got an award here last year for being the best short-season team," he volunteered to me several times throughout our interview, crediting his predecessors more than his own work. "I would really love to continue to grow that, and really continue to fill this place."

The more you speak to Kubly—I was planning on a fifteen-minute conversation that quickly stretched into nearly an hour-long talk about the business of baseball—the more you realize how outwardly-focused he is, and why that might be the perfect fit for a rookie-ball franchise tasked with entrenching themselves in their community.

Kubly credited his former organization, the Houston Astros (he's spent time in the front offices of Triple-A Oklahoma City and Low-A Quad Cities), as well as his original job in professional sports with the NBA's Atlanta Hawks. He talked up his current front office staff, including general manager Tim Ray and assistant general manager Mick Ritter. And he spoke very highly of Gonzales, who will run things on the field this summer.

"He’s a good baseball mind, and obviously he has a lot of experience, so I think he’ll bring that here," Kubly said of Gonzales. "Obviously being somebody from the Colorado area, that’s always a bonus as well. People really like to see people in their own state, their own organizations kind of move along, and things like that."

Kubly's only regret with Gonzales thus far? The two were so busy meeting fans, season ticket holders, and sponsors the day their hires were publicly announced, they didn't get much time to connect with each other.

"It was actually kind of funny, I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with him," Kubly said of Gonzales. "I got to spend 20 minutes with him when he arrived here, a little bit after we calmed everything down. But I was trying to meet as many people as I could up there, and he was trying to meet as many people as he could up there. The good thing is, he and I were trying to do the same thing."

Building a franchise in Grand Junction

Meeting people seems to be the name of Kubly's game, especially for the next several months as he puts together a baseball product on the Western Slope. If Gonzales and the rest of the organization are as publicly-focused, it'll bode well for the club.

Something tells me that won't be a problem for Kubly, though. He used the word "community" with me eleven different times over the course of our interview.

"It’s really just coming in and finding out how we can get more involved in the community," he said, "and how we can get more people who maybe aren’t full-out baseball fans to come down here for the entertainment aspects of it."

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Of course, Grand Junction has one advantage over the rest of the Pioneer League: their Major League affiliate is just a few hours away in Denver, and thus, Rockies fans already dot the population of people the rookie club hopes to pull to Suplizio Field this summer.

"It helps when your affiliate is four hours away and you can drive there," Kubly said of the big league club in Denver. "I think we’ll be more involved with [the Rockies]. I would love to get with them more, and get out into the community more, if they have opportunities to do that. That just helps build our brand, our image, and the Rockies’ image."

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Speaking of the big leaguers, on Kubly's to-do list this winter is getting up to speed on everything Rockies-related, even if his job duties revolve around the business side of the game for just one specific affiliate.

"I think when you work in the minor leagues, you have to really understand the entire organization from top to bottom," he told me, citing Carlos Correa and George Springer as two players that stood out from his time in the Astros' organization.

"In my role it’s just knowing top to bottom who’s part of the organization, who was here last year," Kubly said. "Right now, I’m learning about the three draft picks that were here last year. I don’t really know the Rockies in and out, but once the season gets here I will know them from top to bottom, from Grand Junction to Albuquerque."

That general baseball knowledge and approachability is critical when it comes to interacting with local fans, especially those who follow the big league club's other affiliates, too.

"It’s really just about being knowledgeable," Kubly said, "Whether it’s somebody you bump into at the grocery store, or at lunch somewhere, where they say, 'oh, somebody got moved to Hartford, or somebody got moved to Asheville,' and I can say, ‘yeah, they were here, and they made that move because this person is batting .350 or something like that.’"

And while general baseball knowledge has to be part of the repertoire for anybody in a minor league front office, when you have a full-time staff of less than five people, as Grand Junction does, don't count on Kubly to be able to watch every game—or anything close to that.

"That’s the thing that people don’t realize," Kubly told me as he joked about how it's probably a good idea he won't be setting the team's lineups. "On a game day when you’re working at a Low-A affiliate, or in rookie ball, your hands are in a lot."

"When I was in Atlanta, or when I was in Oklahoma City, being a bigger staff sometimes you got to catch a couple innings here and there. But the entire time I’ve worked in sports, I’ve never sat down and watched a whole game when I worked for a team unless it was a road game."

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Don't feel too bad for Kubly, though, because he seems to have found his fit in Grand Junction. Despite having a long-term hope of eventually running a Triple-A franchise, the new president told me he achieved what has thus far been his biggest career goal by taking the job on the Western Slope, and he expects to spend at least the next four or five years building the ball club.

"I’m able to put my love and passion of sports and baseball together with my passion for dealing with people—sponsors, season ticket holders, things like that," Kubly gushed. "It’s really kind of married together, and I’m the happiest guy in the world."

With a difficult work schedule often far away from home, the minor leagues are not for everybody, of course. But high energy, a positive attitude, and those people skills that pop out immediately make Kubly the perfect person to lead the way in a short-season environment.

"I think I'll always work in minor league baseball," Kubly said. "I started in the NBA, and that’s a more fast paced environment. I really liked being a part of it, but I feel like I have more meaning here, and my actions here have more impact on the bigger picture."

From here, besides the countless hours of work the new leader is about to put in over the next five months, there's only one thing left to do: get some players to Grand Junction, and start playing baseball games. For the ever-optimistic Joe Kubly, the result there is already a foregone conclusion.

"We’ll all shake hands when [the players and coaches] come in here, and I’m sure at the end of the year we will all shake hands, and give each other a hug on the way out," Kubly said. "We’ll probably be friends for the rest of our lives."