Modesto, Calif. -- Though they may not have the longest-tenured affiliate relationship with the Colorado Rockies, the Modesto Nuts aren't doing too badly with the big league organization in their own right. Decent facilities, good people, strong community relationships, and more tend to do that for a minor league affiliate.
Then, when it comes time to re-sign a player development contract or part ways, a big league club's biggest compliment to its minor league counterpart is to continue the relationship. For 12 years, the Rockies and Nuts have done just that—and from both what it sounds like, and how the Nuts are viewed regionally, that ought to continue as time moves on.
"There's always been a general understanding; we know what they expect, they know what we expect, and we've never had to start from scratch, which is nice," says Mike Gorrasi, the Executive Vice President of HWS Baseball, who is also tasked with running the Nuts on a day-to-day basis. "We're proud to have the second longest affiliation in the Rockies' system, and our communication and consistency are two reasons why we've had a successful partnership."
Communication between a big league player development arm and a minor league team's front office isn't as technical or all-encompassing as people might think; because the big league club exclusively deals with minor league player movement, and the minor league front office only with business development in the affiliate's city, the two verticals function independently while occasionally crossing paths to cross-promote something within the farm team's community.
"Our communication with the Rockies is not that frequent, to be perfectly honest with you," Gorrasi notes, pointing out that his years-long building of relationships with front office members in Denver has made daily communication far less necessary over time.
"We certainly check in," he adds. "Most of the conversations are player movements, and they'll let us know this guy's going this place, and this guy's coming in, and we help coordinate the travel for that. But once we do that, it's kind of more about maintenance than anything else."
For the Rockies, that idea of not needing constant communication with the Nuts, considering they are a known entity and familiar to the organization, is a very welcome situation. After all, that's just one less variable the big league's player development arm has to encounter during what is always a very difficult, busy summer.
"Everything is kind of status quo," says Chris Forbes, the Rockies' player development manager, about the team's current status with the Nuts. "We have a unique relationship with all the affiliates and we communicate extremely well, both sides, and that's key. Mike is phenomenal at communicating, and it's really critical, because there's a lot of stuff that comes up in the season that you don't want to have to really worry about an affiliate front office, and Modesto is one of them we don't worry about."
And while the Rockies' focus on players and the Nuts' focus on business development may not seem to always fit perfectly, Gorrasi has found that the big league club's values go hand in hand with what he pushes for the Nuts to do during the summer.
"The Rockies are great at encouraging players to be active in the community," Gorrasi says. "And that's part of it, you put on a uniform and people look forward to that. I think the Rockies' biggest encouragement is interacting with fans, signing autographs, going to schools, and that's a big part of the relationship, and big for us."
From there, the Nuts and Rockies will get down to business soon; the two organizations are scheduled to renegotiate their player development contract (PDC) after this season, and Gorrasi isn't hesitant in the least to go on the record with his preference moving forward.
"When I have a good thing, I don't like to change, and there's no desire on my side to go out and see, ‘well, I wonder who's going to be open,'" Gorrasi says, noting the Rockies have given him the nicest thing he's ever received from working in professional sports—a National League Championship ring from the team's run to the World Series in 2007.
"Before the end of this year, we'll start talking about extending and stuff like that here in the next couple of months," he adds, "but the Rockies have been great, and we'd love to extend."
While the PDC extension dance can get tricky, like a game of musical chairs as teams either extend quickly or rush to see what newly-open affiliate fits best for their needs, the Rockies' player development executives haven't given any indication they are interested in anything other than a continued relationship with the Nuts.
"It's one of those front offices that you look forward to going in there, to see those guys and check in with them," Forbes says. "We've got great relationships, and that's critical."
"Really," he adds, "we've been very fortunate right now with all of our affiliates."
Gorrasi, too, has been fortunate, after seeing some of the other teams around the California League deal in more of a procedural nature with their big league affiliates, void of the personal connection between clubs like that of the Rockies and Nuts.
"I believe the Rockies truly care about our success," Gorassi says. "That success doesn't necessarily equate to player development success, and vice versa, but we both genuinely care about each other's well-being and being successful. It might sound like that's how it should be, but there are some teams' relationships out there that are more transactional, like ‘you get these guys, you do this, we'll do this, and that's it.'"
"I get the feeling the Rockies are willing to help out any way they can at the extent they can," he adds, "and we want to provide a good environment for them, too."
Seeing the communication and good relationship talk going both ways is great, but the fact that the Rockies and Nuts are now going on 12 seasons together tells you all you need to know about the priorities of each organization—and it should be full steam ahead on a new PDC very soon.
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Editor’s Note: This is one piece of a special seven-part feature series Purple Row is doing today to celebrate the beginning of another season of Modesto Nuts baseball. Below are all the other parts of the series about the Rockies’ High-A affiliate in the California League.
Click here to read more about the California League itself, a unique outpost in minor league baseball that's celebrating its 75th anniversary this summer.
Click here to learn more about the Nuts' host families, and the story of one specific family that has hosted the likes of Trevor Story and Dustin Garneau.
Click here to read more about Mike Gorrasi, the man behind the Nuts' success in the community for the last 15 years.
Click here to read more about the city of Modesto, and how a community like that impacts what the Nuts do on and off the field.
Click here to read more about John Thurman Field, the Nuts' home ballpark that sits on a site that has hosted baseball in Modesto for a century.
Click here to see more pictures from Modesto’s John Thurman Field, to get a better sense of the ballpark the Nuts call home.
Unless otherwise noted, all images produced by and copyright of Jen Mac Ramos and Purple Row, and may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission. All rights reserved.
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