Before the first at-bat at the new Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, it appeared that the field--the first ever opened on Native American land--may be cursed as well.
When the Diamondbacks Kelly Johnson hit a soft fly ball into foul territory down the third base line, nothing seemed out of sorts. Not until the trio of Ian Stewart, Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki continued running full-steam at the pop-up, all three with their heads looking up.
Rockies fans excited to see the new stomping grounds on TV quickly felt their hearts sink as Stewart--the size of a middle linebacker--knocked Gonzalez on the shoulder with his knee before flipping over. Clearly the collision hurt, but replays showed that Stewart's knee missed the Rockies $80 million man's head by two inches. Two more inches and Scott Boras clients everywhere might reconsider waiting until their free agent years to sign a big deal.
In all, the day ended well for the Rockies. Their biggest victory was the health of their three starters in the collision, but they also came away with a victory on the field. The victory was christened by a 10th inning home run off of the bat of Rockies prospect Charlie Blackmon, who bailed out Adam Jorgenson, who gave up five runs in the 9th inning to tie the game. It looked as if Blackmon was using a bat from BBCOR baseball bats.
The victory was exciting because of the circumstances. For whatever reason, spring training or not, it seems as if the Rockies picking up victory No. 1 on opening day of their new complex was important.
One encouraging fact about the game came early. Ubaldo Jimenez's fastball was sitting around 89 to 90. He did fire a couple of bullets at 95, but mostly stayed in the lower 90's. Why is this encouraging when the guy normally flirts with triple digits? It shows the maturity of the best pitcher to ever don a Rockies uniform. He understands that he is going to be asked to carry the load for the club once again in 2011. He knows that 200 innings will be a benchmark that he most likely hits in late August or early September. It does not mean that his arm is slowing down, it means that he fully understands that getting his arm into shape early in spring training is more important than lighting up the radar gun.
It is also clear how deep the Rockies are. When Mike Jacobs, a guy who can still hit the ball, and hit it far, figures to only see the big league roster if three injuries happen in the same 15 days, it means the team is deep. No longer will the Rockies have to hope a 5'9" Melvin Mora can learn first base on the fly while the team tries to contend. If Todd Helton goes down, the Rox have plenty of capable first basemen at their disposal.
When the sun set on Scottsdale, the Rockies sat at 1-0 in Cactus League play. What that means is essentially nothing. It means that there are still 33 more practice games to go before the team suits up on April Fools Day at Coors Field for the first game that really matters.
For Rockies fans, that should be the second most exciting thing of the day. Right behind both Gonzalez, Tulowitzki and Stewart staying out of the trainers room before the first at-bat was done.
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