Oxygen was difficult to find for Steve Pastora as he rode in an Uber from his hotel to the Milwaukee Brewers spring training facility in Phoenix in May.
After playing for four colleges and making two stops in independent leagues, the 24-year-old right-handed pitcher knew this was his big shot.
“I couldn’t even breathe,” he said. “There were just so many emotions knowing I was going to have a chance to go throw and be able to fulfill my dream — playing affiliated baseball.”
Pastora impressed enough to sign a contract on Mother’s Day. On Wednesday, he was introduced at UCHealth Park as part of the initial Rocky Mountain Vibes roster.
For Pastora and the other 28 players who will start this season as Colorado Springs begins its first go-round at the Rookie League level, the stakes are high. Some will play their first season in the United States after debuting in international leagues. Others were drafted a week ago and have yet to test themselves against professional competition. And others tasted this level last year but are back to either prove they are ready to advance or face a quiet exit from the game.
“I’m excited to get going,” said catcher Nick Kahle, who was drafted in the fourth round out of the University of Washington on June 4 and left for Colorado Springs on June 5.
In that respect, and many others, there was little difference between the feel of this welcome event and the many that preceded it when the city was home to a Triple-A team. The players are on average a few years younger, but in their baseball uniforms Wednesday they looked no different than the Triple-A players of the past. Even the facial hair was on point.
The desire to prove worthy at this level and advance to the next, that remains.
The on-field product doesn’t figure to be noticeably different either, at least not for the untrained eye. But manager Nestor Corredor said he will place an emphasis on effort.
“We’re going to play every game like it’s the last game of our lives,” said Corredor, who managed the team in Helena, Mont., for the past three seasons. It relocated this year to Colorado Springs as part of a reshuffle within the Elmore Sports Group that saw the Triple-A team that had played here since 1988 move to San Antonio and the Double-A team that had been in San Antonio move to a new facility in Amarillo, Texas. “We’re going to provide you with the best show and the best entertainment possible.
“We are here to provide entertainment. Our job as coaches and players is to provide you with the best show possible.”
Of course, there will be differences, too. The length of the season — about half as long with 38 home games — chief among them.
The rest, from the long bus rides (Triple-A teams fly, Rookie League teams do not) and the life adjustments for players just out of high school, college or foreign countries, some having joined the organization just a week ago, will take place out of view.
For many, if not all, of these players, they’re ready to take the good and bad to start their climb.
“At the end of the day, there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing,” Pastora said.
“I’ll take an eight-hour bus ride over sitting at an office desk.”