Ian Desmond + Coors Field & The Rockie Mountains Equals Monster Home Runs For The Loaded Colorado Rockies!

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Ian Desmond remembers being overwhelmed by the “Tu-lo, Tu-lo” chants that rocked Coors Field for local legend Troy Tulowitzki at the beginning of the decade, when the Rockies were rolling and the expectations were set at 5,280 feet and above. 

Recreating that atmosphere was part of the lure that led Desmond to sign a five-year, $70 million contract with the team this winter, even if it means a second position change in as many years.

That, and the chance to do something special.

“This group of guys, the opportunity to do something that has never been done before,” Desmond said. “Win a division. Win a World Series. Bring that culture back here that they used to have.”

The Rockies have made the playoffs three times in their 24 seasons, all as an NL wild card. They made it as far as the World Series in 2007, when they won 13 of their final 14 regular-season games to force a wild card playoff before such a thing was the norm, won the playoff with San Diego, and then ran off seven straight postseason victories before falling to Boston in the Series. Back then, the noise could be deafening.

“Coming here in 2009, 2010, the crowds were electric,” Desmond said. “It was an exciting and fun place to play, and I want to bring that back. The great thing here is, even if we haven’t been winning the fans still come out. I want them to be proud of their Colorado Rockies.”

Desmond’s signing was met with some questions at the time, but a deeper look reveals it to be a forward-thinking move by general manager Jeff Bridich, beginning his third season.

Desmond, 32, appears to have the athleticism to play first base after an eight-year career spent mostly at shortstop. He certainly has the bat to play anywhere, and Coors Field should be a smooth fit.

Moreover, in the long run the Rockies added an insurance policy in the event they lose right fielder Carlos Gonzalez to free agency next winter. Gonzalez is to earn $20 million in the final year of seven-year, $80 million contract extension signed before the start of the 2011 season.

As much as Gonzalez has said he likes Colorado, and as much as the sides consider another extension, the smallish-market Rockies would seem to have a difficult time re-signing Gonzalez if he hits the market. Yoenis Cespedes signed a four-year deal that averages $27.5 million per year with the Mets this winter, and Dexter Fowler signed a five-year deal averaging $16.1 million with St. Louis. It would be easy to make a case that Gonzalez is worth at least that much, likely more as the premier outfielder on the market.

If Gonzalez leaves, the Rockies would have the flexibility of returning Desmond to the outfield for the final four years of his deal.

For now, Desmond is at first base, and he is the only first baseman on the 40-man roster, although 2016 starter Mark Reynolds is in camp on a minor league contract and appears likely to make the team out of spring.

Desmond has not played an inning of first base in an eight-year career in Washington and Texas, but the move from shortstop to center field in his lone year in Texas in 2016 went off without a hitch. While he is not naive about the intricacies of learning a new spot, his athleticism should make it work.

“I said this last year and I’ll say it again, every position has its intricacies,” Desmond said.

“You can’t hide a player on the field in the big leagues anywhere. Even DH. DH is hard. There are certain guys that just can’t do it. I believe the same thing at first base. It’s a tough position. Everybody I’ve talked to has said the same thing, it is not as easy at it looks. I look forward for the challenge. I’m really excited for the opportunity. I think it is going to be fun.

“I think it is going to be an opportunity for me to get better as a ballplayer, add something else to what I have already done. I think it also is an opportunity to help these guys. Having an athletic first baseman, as a shortstop, that was great. I had Adam LaRoche who was a fantastic first baseman. It is really exciting. I think with enough work I can be good at it and I can be an asset for those guys on the infield.”

He plans to dedicate the spring to learning the nuances of the position. Positioning. Holding runners. Cut-offs.

“Most of all it is going to be the instincts,” Desmond said. “I have no instincts at first base. I’m just trying to get as many reps as I can in spring training and try to work with these guys as much as I can. Obviously understand there are probably going to be some lumps along the way, but accept them and learn from them and move on.”

Offensive production has never been an issue. Desmond has averaged 22 homers and 20 stolen bases the last five seasons and made his second All-Star team last year while tying a career-high with a .335 on-base percentage. He will join a lineup that includes Gonzalez, two-time defending NL homer/RBI leader Nolan Arenado, leadoff man Charlie Blackmon and defending NL batting champion DJ LeMahieu.

“What I like about this group is that on the position-player side, a handful of these guys have solidified themselves as major league players,” manager Bud Black said. “Gonzalez, Blackmon, Arenado, Desmond, LeMahieu. That’s a pretty good group to start with, guys you feel comfortable with where they are in their career.”

For his part, Desmond said he has been impressed by the young starting rotation that offense will support.

“What I’m most excited about us the pitching staff,” Desmond said. “There are a lot of really exciting arms out there.”

If that staff and that lineup can live up to their potential, another Rocktober might just be in the offing.

By Jack Magruger