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Saturday, April 15, 2006

Rocky Mountain SABR News and Notes

Spent a great day with Rocky Mountain SABR today. The day started with a business meeting in the press box lounge at Coors Field. The most interesting item discussed is a plaque that the chapter is having created and that will be installed near Invesco Field pointing out the previous location of Bears Stadium (old Mile High) where the Denver Bears were for a long time the presence of professional baseball in Denver. Looks like the ceremony may be sometime in May of this year, perhaps on the 19th.

The keynote speaker was Rockies first base coach Dave Collins. Collins is in his fourth season as the Rockies first base coach and is also the team’s outfield and baserunning instructor. This is his fourth organization as a coach having worked for the Cardinals in 1991-92, the Reds from 1999-2000, and the Brewers in 2002. He’s also down everything from working as an advanced scout, a baserunning and bunting coach for the Tigers in 1996, and managed the Rockies high-A affiliate in Salem in 2001 (where he had Garrett Atkins, Matt Holliday, Clint Barmes, Aaron Cook, and Choo Freeman).

What I found most interesting about his talk was how amazingly candid he was in all areas including his assessment of his own skills, feelings about former teammates and managers, and especially his thoughts about the young players the Rockies are now grooming.

He began by relating the story of how he was drafted. He grew up in South Dakota and at that time they didn't even have high school baseball. They did a legion level baseball in what was known as the Basin League. It turned out that a scout attended one of those games and happened to sit next to a guy who had attended the state track meet who had seen Collins win multiple events. He had also heard that Collins played baseball and so the scout made a trip up to see Collins three days before the draft. After pitching to Collins and watching him run and throw he discussed it with him and told Collins that he would draft him. Sure enough the Angels then selected him in first round (6th pick) of the 1972 amateur draft (Secondary Phase). Although he didn't have the skills scouts generally look for, Collins feels that he was drafted because the scout saw in him an attitude of "must have" instead of "want to have" and it was that heart and determination that allowed him to succeed thereafter.

When he got to rookie ball he was intimidated by the talent (except running) of the other players but he says what he learned is that the "talent" you need can be developed if you get the right teaching and instruction. What can't be taught is how bad to want it - so called makeup. Turns out he was the only player who made it to the bigs from that rookie league team and he attributes that to the fact that he always believed he was going to make it.

He then went on to describe his playing career and was emphatic in stating that the turning point for him came when he was traded to the Reds following the 1978 season. He obviously reveres his teammates from those days and made a special point of noting that Pete Rose was like no one else. His enthusiasm, intensity, and work-ethic were second to none, and that enabled him to raise the level everyone around him.

Later when he was asked the inevitable question about Rose and the Hall of Fame he not surprisingly said that Rose should be inducted as a player because of his great accomplishments. However, and on this I certainly agree, Rose does not deserve to make any money from the game today because of what he's done. In Collins' words "actions have consequences" and Pete must pay for his. His view is one that clearly delineates Rose's playing career from his managing career - something that not everyone is able or willing to do. As I've said before, if it can't be shown that Rose bet on baseball during his playing days, then he deserves induction as a player. However, I'd heard in the past that his betting may not have been relegated to his managing days in Cincinnati.

As a way of illustrating the attitude of Rose Collins related this anecdote. When Pete was going for his 4,000th hit he was 13 away but had 6 games to go before getting back to Cincinnati. When asked by a reporter if he thought he'd break the record before the home fans, Rose immediately said no, he would break the record in the last game of the current series or the first game of the next. His reasoning was that he'd get 13 at bats by then and his mindset was that he'd get 13 hits in a row. To emphasize the point Collins said with a straight face - "that's the way Pete Rose thought".

From there his remarks turned to the current crop of Rockies. His attitude is that the Rox will win the division if they develop that winning attitude. He was quick to add that a division title will be possible because there is no 100 win team in the division. In his view, this season will show who among the young players is the heart of the team and who are the true teammates - who are the "victors" and who are the "victims".

He holds Clint Barmes in very high regard as a winner, leader, a player with heart, and although not the most skilled, a player who will find a way to beat you. If you challenge him he'll respond. In his view there is a big difference between stats and what it takes to help a team win. In Barmes' case I hope that's true since statistically I simply don't see how he helps the team win hitting at the top of the order.

Well, he had lots more to say, from the effects of expansion, the impact of Marvin Miller, and especially regarding positioning of outfielders and baserunning given the Rockies array of blunders over the past two weeks but I'll have to save those for later.

I came away from the talk (which lasted almost 90 minutes with questions) with a great deal of respect for Collins despite our likely differing views on a variety of topics related to baseball strategy in particular. He seems like a man of high character and as he says himself, he views his role as that of mentor and not coach which I admire. Although I know our chapter president Neal Williams will extend the official thank-you I know I certainly appreciated Collins' giving his time and insight to our group.

After a nice lunch at a local pub our SABR group then headed back to the ballpark for a prviate tour of Coors Field. Finally, I'm here in the press box getting ready to score tonight's Phillies/Rockies game for And I'd be remiss if I didn't note that these kinds of experiences are normative for SABR members so of course I'd encourage anyone with a passion for baseball to sign up.

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