25 Years Ago: Rockies 1st Spring Training Began
It was 25 years ago Sunday – Feb. 18, 1993 – that the Rockies welcomed the first influx of players for the first roster in the expansion team’s existence with the arrival of 36 pitchers and six catchers who were extended invitations to the first spring training held at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson.
The remainder of 63-player spring roster – the biggest among the 26 teams in Major League Baseball that spring – was scheduled to arrive for full drills six days later. And by that April 5 afternoon in New York’s Shea Stadium when “play ball” is yelled officially for the first time in Rockies history that group will be whittled to 25 opening day survivors.
Spring training is an annual rite in baseball, but this was something new for the Rockies, who included four pitchers from their initial amateur draft in June of 1992 on their spring roster. It was the first official step on a playing field for both the Rockies and their expansion cousin Florida Marlins.
“It’s like moving into a new house,” said Bob Gebhard, the original general manager. “It’s going to take a little shuffling of the furniture before everybody starts to feel comfortable at home. There are certain people we feel are on the club and will have to pitch or play their way off, but we also have room for a lot more surprises than other teams. It’s not like we have any incumbents. We don’t have anything etched in stone.”
And the Rockies wanted to make sure they didn’t leave stones unturned in their search to mold a team from players who a year ago were parts of 21 different organizations into what manager Don Baylor envisions as the Rockies’ way to play baseball.
It was a blob of clay that the organization wanted to mold into a team. The projected Opening Day lineup had nine players from nine different organizations:
Catcher Joe Girardi, Cubs
First baseman Andres Galarraga, Cardinals
Second baseman Eric Young, Dodgers
Third baseman Charlie Hayes, Yankees
Left Fielder Jerald Clark, Padres
Center Fielder Alex Cole, Pirates
Right fielder Dante Bichette, Brewers
Pitcher David Nied, Braves
But on that day they were all Rockies.
Now it was up to Baylor and his staff to mold the group into a team.
“I put together a booklet, a compilation of ides I collected over the years on how we want things done throughout the organization,” explained Baylor, who died last summer after a lengthy battle with cancer. “Each coach, big league and minor league will have a check list on how we want to run cutoff players, what to do on bunt plays, pickoff plays . . . the basics of the game. I had everybody in the organization from Geb to P.J. Carey (who managed the rookie league team in Chandler that summer) go over it and make suggestions. It was going to be the bible for the organization.
“When we moved a player from one level to the next we wanted him to know how things should be done. We didn’t want to have guys running all over the place, looking like an expansion team.”
And Baylor was going to make sure strong work habits developed. The start of workouts was moved up from the original plan by half hour to 9:30 a.m., to accommodate extra work Baylor planned. There was an emphasis on conditioning, a concession Baylor felt important because of the Mile High altitude in Denver, which he embraced as a potential asset for the Rockies.
It was a challenge.
“We had 63 players to evaluate and come up with a 25-man roster,” said Gebhard. “We had to decide who would be sent to Triple-A, and who would be released. And we knew we had to pay attention to who might be available in a trade and who was placed on waiver wires, and how they compared with the players we had in camp.
“We knew there would be confusion with so many new faces in a new complex, and no tangible past to build off.”
And the Rockies welcomed the challenge.
That First Spring Roster
Pitchers on roster: LHP Scott Aldred, RHP Andy Ashby, RHP Willie Blair, RHP Doug Bochtler, LHP Denis Boucher, RHP Travis Buckley, RHP Scott Fredrickson, RHP Ryan Hawblitzel, LHP Butcher Henry, RHP Darren Holmes, RHP Calvin Jones, RHP Curtis Leskanic, RHP Brett Merriman, RHP Marcus Moore, RHP David Nied, LHP Lance Painter, RHP Jeff Parrett, RHP Steve Reed, RHP Armando Reynoso, RHP Kevin Ritz, RHP Mo Sanford, RHP Rudy Seanez and RHP Keith Shepherd.
Non-roster pitchers: RHP Roger Bailey, RHP John Burke, RHP Balvino Galvez, LHP Scott Holcomb, RHP Mark Knudson, RHP Ramon Manon, RHP Jim Neidlinger, RHP Lloyd Peever, RHP Dana Ridenour, LHP Bruce Ruffin, RHP Bryn Smith, RHP Mark Thompson and RHP Clint Zavares.
Catchers on roster: Brad Ausmus, Joe Girardi, Jayhawk Owens and Eric Wedge.
Non-roster catchers: Gilberto Reyes and Danny Sheaffer.
Infielders on roster: SS Freddie Benavides, 3B Pedro Castellano, SS Vinny Castilla, 1B Andres Galarraga, 3B Charlie Hayes, 2B Roberto Mejia, 1B Jim Tatum, and 2B Eric Young.
Non-roster infielders: 2B Trent Hubbard, SS Nelson Liriano, 3B Elvin Paulino.
Outfielders on roster: Dante Bichette, Darryl Boston, Braulio Castillo, Jerald Clark and Alex Cole.
Non-roster outfielders: Chris Jones, Patrick Lennon, Jim Olander, Troy Ricker and Gerald Young.