The Colorado Rockies’ preseason caravan rolled to a stop in Albuquerque on Friday with two major objectives.
Job one was to drum up fan support in the home city of their Triple-A affiliate, the Albuquerque Isotopes.
Job two, clearly related to job one, was to provide support to a pair of local baseball programs, Lobo Little League and the University of New Mexico baseball team.
Rockies manager Bud Black and players Mike Dunn, Adam Ottovino and Trevor Story started by headlining a luncheon and question-answer session at the Albuquerque Convention Center. More than 400 baseball enthusiasts attended, inquiring about everything from the Rockies’ 2017 outlook to Story’s extensive collection of athletic shoes.
Black, who played in Albuquerque as a visitor for San Diego State University and the Triple-A Phoenix Firebirds (against the Albuquerque Dukes), expressed optimism about his club’s core of young talent. He also called out one inquiring fan for sporting a San Francisco Giants jersey to the luncheon.
“I appreciate your passion,” Black said, “but we need to change the color of your jersey to Colorado Rockies purple.”
All attendees at the luncheon received Rockies T-shirts.
Story, who spent half of the 2015 season with the Isotopes before his breakout, 27-home run rookie campaign in 2016, grinned when asked about his passion for athletic shoes.
“I’ve been collecting them since I was about 8,” Story said. “I’m a sneakerhead for sure. I can’t get enough.”
After the luncheon, Black and his players piled into SUVs and paid visits to Lobo Little League and UNM.
The first visit was designed to help the Albuquerque youth league, located near Carlisle and Menaul, which has been beset by theft and vandalism problems. Lobo Little League president Joshua Price said vagrants have repeatedly broken into the facility, stealing equipment and concessions, setting fires and damaging buildings.
“Truthfully, we had serious concerns about a criminal element here,” Price said. “I found a milk crate full of used syringes and other drug paraphernalia. I certainly understand the homeless problems in our city, but we can’t have drug use going on at a Little League facility.”
Price said Lobo Little League has worked with city officials and the Albuquerque Police Department to get surveillance cameras installed at the park and to have extra patrols in the area. The Rockies chipped in Friday, giving Lobo Little League a check for $5,000. Part of the proceeds from the luncheon also went to the league, as did money raised from an auction. Bats signed by Rockies stars Carlos Gonzalez and Nolan Arrenado brought in a combined $1,500.
“This means the world to us and the kids affiliated with our league,” Price said.
The Rockies’ visit to UNM’s baseball complex was more about moral than financial support. Lobos baseball coach Ray Birmingham showed them around the new R.D. and Joan Dale Hubbard Clubhouse, where UNM’s players met and chatted with the visitors.
Dunn, who grew up in Farmington and played games at Lobo Field “back in the day,” was impressed by the many upgrades.
“When we rolled in I remembered playing at this field,” Dunn said, “but it was nothing like this. Recruits are going to love this place.”
Dunn, who has pitched for the Yankees, Braves and Marlins since his major league debut in 2006, signed a three-year free-agent deal with the Rockies during the offseason. He enjoyed returning to New Mexico for the caravan stop.
“Growing up close to here, it means a lot,” Dunn said. “It’s fun to see where things are going in Albuquerque and to get fans excited about the Rockies. I’ve been on team caravans before, but they always went to places I’d never been. This one was special.”