On April 6, when the MLB announced that the All-Star Game was moving to Denver, John F. Kennedy High School baseball and softball coach Ty Ilaoa never could have known what the decision meant for the Commander program. In just a matter of months, he would discover that the Colorado Rockies would be making a long-lasting change at the southwest Denver school.
After completing a successful, albeit COVID-shortened, softball season in the fall, Ilaoa was preparing for the upcoming Commander baseball season, one that had also been postponed and shortened like all Colorado high school athletics because of COVID. He had the added challenge of scheduling all of Kennedy’s home games at away sites because their field at their school had been deemed unplayable in February after years of wear and tear paired with no funds for repair.
“It is just in bad shape. There are rocks in the infield the size of a key fob,” Ilaoa said, adding that players and coaches would try to clear rocks by hand before games for safety. “It is really dated.”
In late April, Ilaoa learned the good news. Kennedy’s baseball and softball fields had been selected for renovation as part of the 2021 All-Star Legacy Initiative. The $5 million annual program is designed for the MLB and All-Star host organizations to pair up with community organizations “to leave a lasting impact throughout the local community,” among other projects.
This means not only new rock-free dirt in the infield, but a massive upgrade to the field where the baseball and softball fields used to share an outfield and manually change the fence for whatever sport was being played. Ilaoa was in shock.
“I found out in late April. I was walking into the office at the school and the [DPS] athletic director John Andrew was talking to the principal [Tiffany Almon] and they told me,” Ilaoa said. “I was shocked and amazed, to say the least. I wanted to tell everyone right away, but we had to stay mum.”
Ilaoa had to wait until the official announcement was made before he could share the good news with his players. That came this week when the Rockies revealed they would be partnering with not only Kennedy, but working on other projects as well with Children’s Hospital Colorado, the J. Churchill Owen Branch of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver, Judi’s House (a bereavement center for children founded by former Denver Broncos quarterback Brian Griese), and military community grants with TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) and Challenge America.
“It really means a lot for the seniors,” Ilaoa said. “They lost their final year of playing at home, but they are excited for the future. When they heard me tell them, their eyes just got so big.”
The project has many parts, including a moved and upgraded softball field so that the two sports won’t have to share outfield and fences anymore. Some of the improvements for the baseball and new softball fields include
• Removing and replacing infield dirt and sod.
• Leveling the fields to remove uneven surfaces and allow for better drainage.
• Improved batting cages and bullpens
• A new shed for the mower
• New scoreboards
• Warning tracks around the entire field, including the outfield.
• Permanent outfield fencing
• Making fields and fan areas ADA compliant
“All of the boys and girls are excited about this opportunity, especially the upperclassmen who have been in the program and trying to build it up. They are really looking forward to it,” Ilaoa said. “It’s going to be a great experience for players, staff, and the community.”
On Tuesday, a group of officials from the MLB, the Rockies, and DPS, as well as workers from two contractors — GreenOne Industries and Golf and Sports Solutions — met at Kennedy to discuss plans for the fields. The project has an ambitious timeline of being completed by July 8, which marks the beginning of All-Star Week.
Jim Kellogg, the Rockies’ vice president of retail and community relations, was out at the field on Tuesday. When it came to deciding what fields and programs to bring into the legacy project, Kellogg said he turned the decision over to the community, opting to ask DPS what would be the most helpful. The answer was Kennedy’s fields varsity baseball and softball fields.
The current project will add to another at JFK that the Rockies completed about 20 years ago. Along the fence along South Lamar Street, just outside of the former softball field that will soon become a practice infield stands a home-plate-shaped red rock with the Colorado Rockies logo on top. It says:
Not Just Baseball Rockies Baseball
Mike Hampton Fields
Those home-plate markers can be seen all over Colorado, Wyoming, and Arizona, totaling 58 Youth Field Program fields the organization built between 1995 and 2009 in parks and schools. This one was constructed during Hampton’s tenure with the Rockies in 2001-02.
Just this week, games started for the DPS RBI Program (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), a summer league for high school and near-high school players. The Legacy initiative is also funding a mission to grow that program 25 percent each of the next four years.
The location connects the past to an even brighter future, aided by a big-league club helping youth and high school programs. The current project is scheduled to start next week and be ready for a ceremony and youth programming during All-Star Week.
“We are crazy excited,” Ilaoa said.
In a season when things aren’t always going great on the field for the Rockies, not including Wednesday’s conclusion to a sweep over the Padres, it’s nice to know that the organization is making a positive impact on another field in Denver.
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Jon Gray, who has been on the 10-day IL list since June 5 with a right forearm flexor strain, may not be returning to the rotation as soon as we thought. Citing MLB.com’s Thomas Harding, Kevin Henry explains that Gray is now slated for another bullpen session on June 17. This is a bummer because he was expected to face live batters, but this seems to be a setback to work on the “timing of his delivery.” With this delay, his return could be pushed back even further because it could now include a minor-league rehab assignment.
Clint Hurdle recently returned to Denver to be part of the opening of McGregor Square last week and he talked with Nick Groke about the former manager's relationship to the game, the challenges and uniqueness of playing at Coors Field, and more. But don’t let the headline fool you. He says he stays in touch with people in the organization, but neither confirms nor denies any thoughts about joining the organization (in any kind of role from the front office to managing) for the upcoming transition.
On The Farm
The Yard Goats played a doubleheader on Wednesday to make up a rained-out game from Tuesday night and took both games, including the nightcap in dramatic fashion. The game was only supposed to go seven innings, but since it was tied at 7-7, the teams needed to play two more innings to settle it. Taylor Synder started on second and advanced to third on a wild pitch before coming home to score the game-winning run on an Elehuris Montero single in the top of the ninth. Reagan Todd closed out the win with 2 2⁄3 scoreless and hitless innings. Willie Abreu started off the game on a positive note with a three-run homer in the first. The Yard Goats blew a 4-0 lead, only to find themselves down 7-4 and scoring three runs in the sixth to tie it again.
In game one, Todd Czinege hit a two-run homer and Melendez went 3-for-4 with one RBI and one run scored. With the score tied 1-1, the Yard Goats posted three runs in the fifth, lead by an RBI single by Matt McLaughlin, a double by Sam Bouchard, and a two-run single by Synder.
Spokane rallied for a 3-run top of the ninth to complete a comeback for the win on Wednesday night. After Cristopher Navarro was hit by a pitch by Dust Devil Chad Sykes, Jack Blomgren then drew a walk. That set the stage for Niko Decolati to hit a triple to right field to put the Indians up by one. Aaron Schunk added an insurance run with a single to bring Decolati home. PJ Poulin threw two scoreless innings to close out the win for Spokane, which also got a great start from Mitchell Kilkenny, who struck out 10 over six scoreless innings and only gave up one hit and no walks.
No. 8 PuRP Drew Romo had another good night, going 3-for-3, including his third homer of the season and a double. No. 2 PuRP Zac Veen also doubled in a two-hit night. However, it wasn’t enough to overcome a 5-0 deficit the Grizzlies faced by the bottom of the third inning. Anderson Amarista took the loss for Fresno, giving up six runs on seven hits in five innings.
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