The good “Vibes-rations” are over — for now — at UCHealth Park.
The summer-long S’moresfest ended last Saturday when the Rocky Mountain Vibes’ minor league baseball team closed out its season at home against the Grand Junction Rockies. There was hardly a dry eye in the house when the final curtain came down on the 7,000-plus fans, players and staff.
“I give us a B+,” Vibes General Manager Chris Phillips said of the organization’s first season at the Rookie Pioneer League level. “There were a lot of positives. After things settle down we will have our retreat and go over the good, bad and ugly and plan for the future.”
The Vibes are as much a creation of Phillips’ imaginative mind as they are a product of circumstance. About 18 months ago, the Elmore Sports Group — owners Dave Elmore and his sons DG and Doug — decided to relocate the city’s Triple-A Colorado Springs Sky Sox to San Antonio for the 2019 season. The family decided to move their Pioneer League Helena Brewers team to Colorado Springs to keep professional baseball alive in the Pikes Peak region.
It was then up to Phillips and his crack crew to come up with the way to market the new team, an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. Rather than spend the bulk of their time trying to educate the average fan on the differences between Triple-A, where players are typically major league ready — and Rookie League, where players are wet behind the ears — Phillips and his staff decided to rebrand the team in such a way that the overall fan experience was similar to a day at the Magic Kingdom.
A team name and mascot change — Toasty the S’more has become a national sensation — were the most obvious changes to the rebrand. The other major change was marketing a 38-game home schedule — down from 70 – during the summer months when weather in our area is considerably more predictable.
“From a business standpoint, it was a no-brainer,” Phillips said. “We lost only three openings this season. Normally we lost around 10 (due to weather) because playing in April and May is tough in Colorado.”
Vibes attendance figures show a favorable comparison with last year’s Sky Sox. The Vibes averaged about 4,000 fans per game, which ranked second in the league. In 2019, the Sky Sox drew 4,100 fans per contest, 15th out of 16 clubs in the Pacific Coast League.
The rebrand also meant a new interest in merchandise sales.
“A lot of our merchandise orders are coming from Milwaukee,” Phillips said.
Toasty, by the way, is featured in full-page spread in the most recent issue of ESPN the Magazine.
My observations of the team were limited to about a dozen or so games this year. So I rely heavily on friends and colleagues like longtime Sly Sox/Vibes team photographer Paat Kelly, crack official scorer Marty Grantz, and team historian Chris Moyer for further insight into the day-in and day-out happenings with the club.
“Working with the players is like heaven compared to working with the Triple-A guys,” Kelly told me.
Kelly was on the field last week taking team photos of Vibes players and their host families.
“You could see a genuine joy in their faces,” Kelly said. “That was definitely unique.”
Grantz, the official scorer since the Sky Sox’s inaugural season in 1988, told me it’s been a pleasure, for the most part, for him to work with the Brewers’ organization the past five seasons. The Colorado Rockies ended their player development contract with the Sky Sox after the 2014 campaign.
“You can tell the Brewers care about winning at every level,” Grantz said. “That wasn’t always the case with the Rockies.”
It seems a shame that the summer of fun is over at UCHealth Park without a postseason game or two. But don’t fret. The Vibes will be back in about nine months and the fun will begin all over again.
Just in case you were wondering, the San Antonio Missions did not qualify for the playoffs this year. They went 80-60 and finished second in the PCL American Southern Division, four games behind Round Rock.
Danny Summers has been covering sports at all levels in the Pikes Peak region since 2001. Send your story ideas and feedback to email@example.com.