A new era of Rocky Mountain Vibes baseball was hatched Saturday night with the home season opener at UCHealth Park.
But with a twist.
The Mexican League’s Acereros de Monclova, or “Steelers of the North,” suited up in Vibes navy blue, red and white uniforms and hosted the Grand Junction Rockies. The Vibes won 2-0 in front of 3,454 fans in a relatively brisk two hours, 21 minutes.
Monclova, as it turns out, has two levels of teams within its organization. The top-level team that plays in Mexico won the 2019 league championship. This year’s Monclova roster has several ex-major league players, including pitcher Bartolo Colon, and infielders Addison Russell, Chris Carter and Erick Aybar. The field staff consists of former major leaguers Pat Listach (manager), Dave Stewart (pitching coach) and Juan Samuel (bench coach).
The Acereros players in Vibes uniforms are the developmental team who hope to someday play with Colon and Co.
“Our guys are kind of the minor leaguers of the Mexican League and they are members of the Monclova organization,” said Vibes general manager Chris Jones.
The current Vibes team is comparable to the 2019 Vibes squad that was supplied lower-level organizational players by the Milwaukee Brewers who, at the time, were affiliated with the Vibes.
The new Vibes product included opening-night pitcher Angel Camacho, a 17-year-old left-hander, and catcher Griffin Barnes, a 25-year-old born in Fresno, Calif. Four other players on the 25-man roster were born in America — Jacob Barfield (Houston), Manny Olloque (Torrance, Calif.), Alan Garcia (Nogales, Ariz.) and Johny Morel (Riverside, Calif.).
The oldest Vibes player is 34-year-old pitcher Antonio Villaescusa.
The Grand Junction Rockies are not affiliated with the major league team in Denver, but they are owned by the Rockies. The Pioneer League, of which the Vibes and Grand Junction teams are part of, is an independent league whose players are essentially free agents.
Pioneer League president Mike Shapiro and league vice president of baseball Henry Hunter were at the opener. Shapiro said the league, though completely independent, is operating with the same model as the former affiliated league that was in existence before Major League Baseball dissolved it prior to this season.
“The Pioneer League has an experience restriction,” Shapiro said. “You can only have three years or fewer pro experience. The Mexican League doesn’t count in terms of our experience.”
As for the game, the Vibes scored their runs in the bottom of the second inning. Barnes doubled in Olloque and Juan Barboza singled home Barnes.
Camacho toed the rubber to begin the game and worked a strong seven innings. He struck out four and walked two while allowing four hits. Of 99 pitches, 66 were for strikes.
Jaasiel Ochoa and Jhonatan Lopez each worked an inning of scoreless relief.
A fireworks show followed the game.
The Vibes were supposed to be managed by former major league player and current UCCS coach Dave Hajek. Jones said that several weeks ago Hajek informed him he decided not to pursue the Vibes opportunity.
The Vibes are managed by Matias Carrillo, who is employed by Monclova.
Fans at the ballpark were enthusiastic. It was, after all, the first game played at the 33-year-old facility since Sept. 2, 2019 — a span of 628 days.
The last Vibes game before Saturday took place in Grand Junction on Sept. 7, 2019, to close out that season.