For 18 years, the Colorado Rockies called Tucson their home for spring training. Those day are over.
Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the name of the new Rockies facility, is incredible by any standard. The batting cages seem to go on forever, the bullpens have 10 pitching mounds. The clubhouse amenities are beyond that of most big league stadiums, equipped with a state-of-the-art weight room and even boasting a movie theater large enough for players to review film in comfort. The sheer size of the site is hard to describe.
Yet, with all of the amazing features that go into the Rockies new digs, the most impressive feature might be not what is in the facilities but where it is located.
For the past four Aprils, the Rockies have finished below .500. Instead of bursting onto the scene at the beginning of the season, the Rockies stumble out of the gate. Much of that can be blamed on long bus rides between Tucson and Phoenix.
The drive is only two hours but consider the fact that a bus trip is far longer, plus the time it takes to load and unload, and the trip becomes much longer than that. On many occasions, the Rockies would be boarding a bus to go to Phoenix in the morning, then one back to Tucson that night, only to do the trip over again the next day.
Despite being major leaguers, this trip would take its toll on anyone after a month.
When the games that count began, the Rockies were already weak-legged and mentally worn out. They were trying to get their legs under them while their opponents were well-rested.
Couple that with the fact that when opposing teams made the trip to Tucson, most of the time, they left their veterans in Phoenix, sparing them the long bus rides.
Those two factors combined to be a devastating concoction for the Rockies. Not only were they tired, but they hadn't had a chance to get their timing down against major league pitchers. Sure, they would be getting at-bats, but seeing pitches from a Double-A prospect isn't enough for hitters to be ready to face the likes of Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay when the games that count started.
It may sound like an excuse for some poor play in April but think about the difference a month could make.
In 2010, while the Rockies went on yet another September run, instead of trying to claw their way back into contention, they could have been pulling away from the pack.
In 2007, a run of 14-of-15 to end the season wouldn't have put them one-half inning away from packing up their lockers for the offseason, it would have secured them the top seed in the National League.
In 2008, when the Rockies were doing their best to prove that their run to the World Series was no fluke, the club could have gained confidence early on by sticking with the pack.
In 2009, instead of being 12 games behind the Dodgers in May, only to make the Dodgers sweat out their division championship until the final weekend of the season, the Rockies could have been right in the middle of it, then put the accelerator to the floor when they had a chance to win the division.
The fact is the games in April count just as much as the games in September. When the Rockies take four or five weeks to get into the groove of things, they are forced to play catch-up the rest of the season.
A baseball season is long enough as it is, but when a team feels like they are in a near do-or-die situation in May, not only are their bodies getting tired, but the mental strain begins to take its toll. By the time they are able to overcome the deficit, they are worn out, both physically and mentally.
This Rockies team has no excuse. They will be no more than 30 minutes away from any ballpark they play in all spring. They will be able to play in a game and come home in time to rest and relax and get ready for the next day.
If the Rockies come out of the gate running in April, the best part of the new Scottsdale facilities will not have anything to do with the amenities of the gorgeous new park but rather the location of it.