February 23, 2013
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Here at Salt River Fields, the spring training home for the Rockies, it is easy to separate the locals from the baseball tourists.
Locals arrive with tanned toes and caps honoring the Diamondbacks, Cardinals or Suns.
Visitors exit the ballpark in one of three shades: pink, red and fried.
But it is tougher to say who left the ballpark Saturday with a better outlook on life:
Was it the sellout crowd of 11,576 eager fans who packed Salt River Fields on spring training's opening day?
Or was it Walt Weiss? The Rockies manager played it cool. Chilled out in a comfy chair inside the manager’s office, Weiss hid a smile and downplayed his managerial debut.
"For me, I don't really get caught up too much in managing my first game," Weiss said, box score in hand. "I just wanted to see our guys play."
Can’t fool us, Mr. Manager. Big-league managerial debuts — in spring training or otherwise — are a big-league deal.
“It’s Game 1 of spring training. You don’t want to get too carried away.”
OK, I won’t. That would be easy to do at a place like Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.
Sliding into their 21st season of ball, the Rockies haven’t identified their organizational philosophy. Is it spending big money on free-agent pitching? Is it loading the lineup with bombers? Is it employing a mascot that frightens children and doubles as Barney?
But the Rockies sure can identify a proper home for spring training.
Salt River Fields is a spring oasis, down to the outfield lawn (Tickets: $8) to the 100-seat theater (for CarGo and Co.) to the three party decks that turn water into margaritas.
Salt River Fields was built on land that belongs to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indians. Allow me to be next in line to thank them.
In the sixth inning, Rockies infielder Ryan Wheeler rocketed a home run over the right-field fence. It was a deep shot and brought Weiss out of his seat. With a dark backdrop of red hills, the baseball was easy to follow against the bumps that Arizona calls mountains.
Can’t fool us, Arizona. We know what mountains look like.
As far as good baseball, still learning.
When a team finishes 30 games behind first place, as the Rockies did last season, the convenient approach is to fill this space with negatives.
Miserable starting pitching. Injury-prone stars. Ownership with a worse public image than Dinger, the poor mascot.
Hey, there are seven more months and 193 more games (spring and real) for all that. The Rockies have a healthier lineup (hello Tulo) and an undefeated record in 2013 (1-0).
Too often, Rockies spring training has been about promise that isn’t kept. Saturday's spring opener was about 65 degrees and promise, again.
"I thought all of our pitchers threw the ball well," Weiss said.
Ten Rockies collected hits. Eleven Rockies scored. No Rockies error-ed.
“I thought our focus was on the right things,” Weiss said.
One manager debuted, in spring training, so I guess it doesn’t count the same.
Playing it cool in the fancy manager's office, at least Weiss admitted this much: "I haven't looked ahead of today, to be honest with you."
Oh, and the Rockies beat the Diamondbacks, 11-2.
At Salt River Fields, they keep score, too.
Paul Klee is the Denver sports columnist for The Gazette. He can be reached via email (email@example.com) or on Twitter (@Klee_Gazette).