Denver travelblog: A tour of Coors Field

Brian Jones and I pose in front of Coors Field. (Photo by Tricia Tramel)

Saturday was not a mountain day. Saturday was a Denver day for Trish the Dish and I.

We were planning on mountain exploring, but we got a better offer, and it ended up being a Coors day. A tour of Coors Field. Dinner with part of the Coors family. Colorado, turns out, is more than just the mountains.

ROCKIES’ VIDEO MAN

Brian Jones grew up in Stillwater, great friends with Matt Holliday.

Jones went to OSU, got his management information systems degree in December 2001, found the job market tough because of 9/11 and found his way to Denver. He met some Rockies personnel through Holliday, who still was two years away from making the major league roster, and in 2002 was hired as an assistant video coordinator. Jones had been at student video assistant for the OSU athletic department.

In 2007, Jones was named video coordinator for the Rockies.

Jones remains a big OSU fan and emailed me a few years ago, talking about the Cowboys, and said if I ever came to Denver, to make contact. Well, when Jones read my first Denver travelblog the other day, he emailed and asked if we wanted tickets for one of the games against Atlanta this weekend. The scheduling didn’t work out, but Jones offered a tour of Coors Field, and we were down for that.

I love ballparks. And I love meeting Oklahomans. So Saturday afternoon, the Dish and I were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of Coors Field. And we learned a lot about the job of video coordinator on the major league level.

Jones’ job is fascinating. He’s at every Rockies game, home and away and spring training, and never sees a pitch live. He’s watching on video, constantly logging every pitch and every swing, from a variety of camera angles, so the Rockies can study their performance, sometimes immediately.

Part of his duties also include staying in contact with the dugout when the Rockies see an umpire’s call that might warrant an appeal. Jones is the eye that suggest yea or nay.

For home games, Jones holes up in his new office, clicking software that groups video instantly. On the road, sometimes he’s just in the middle of the clubhouse, since not every stadium is equipped with the most up-to-date technology.

Jones is the prime example of the development of baseball technology and strategy. Only in the last couple of decades has baseball used video study to enhance performance. Only in the last few years has baseball resorted to replay review.

DOWNTOWN DENVER

Turns out, the shirt I packed for our Saturday night dinner had a tiny hole in it. The Dish can snuff out a tiny hole in a shirt. Remember Kramer spotting the dot on the cashmere sweater in Seinfeld? That’s the Dish.

So before we headed to Coors Field, we had to do a little shopping. We didn’t find what we were looking for at a Marshall’s in Golden, so the Dish suggested we go on downtown. I had told her about the 16th Street Mall, a 1.25-mile pedestrian mall downtown.

The mall opened in 1982, and like the downtown pedestrian mall in Boulder, it has traffic on the cross streets. But unlike Boulder, the 16th Street Mall is void of charm. It’s mostly restaurants and discount stores. A few decent stores, I suppose, but largely disappointing for the Dish.

We did grab lunch at Grimaldi’s, the New York pizza place we both love. The Dish really loves it. She thought it was the best pizza we’ve had in Colorado. I’d still go with Beau Jo’s.

We then hurried over to meet Brian Jones by 2 p.m. Traffic was heavy in downtown Denver, even though it was a Saturday. The Rockies had a 6 p.m. game against the Braves – lots of Atlanta fans walking around – but that couldn’t be it. Downtown Denver is just a crowded place.

BASEBALL JEWEL

Coors Field is the third-oldest park in the National League. You can look it up. Wrigley Field (1914), Dodger Stadium (1962) and Coors (1995).

But as it opens its 24th season, Coors Field looks anything but dated. All kinds of renovations and amenities have been added to the jewel of a ballpark in the LoDo (Lower Downtown) section of Denver.

* A giant new scoreboard and video debuted Friday night. A battalion operates the new board, and there’s a big window that allows fans in the club level to look in on the proceedings.

* Renovated club levels surrounding the stadium.

* A barbershop for the players.

* A quiet room, complete with two bunks and two lounge chairs, for players to catch a nap.

* Jones’ new video room.

* New post-game interview room.

Coors Field is a lot like Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, only on a larger scale. The stadium concourse is quite similar. And the whole brick motif carries out – LoDo is a former warehouse district.

Coors Field seeks to keep a connection with old Denver. An original brick building was retained in the right-field corner of the stadium, and it now is the core of the Mountain Ranch Club, an in-stadium restaurant. A row of seats circling the entire stadium are purple, instead of green. That row is 5,280 above sea level. A mile high in the Mile High City. In 2014, a bunch of seats at the top of right field were wiped out and turned into a social pavilion, with a variety of beer gardens and restaurants, where people can hang out and watch the game via televisions or live.

From that right field rooftop you can see the new downtown, a series of skyscrapers that have sprung up apart from the traditional business district. You can even see the snow-capped Rockies in the distance, though visibility wasn’t great Saturday.

My favorite part of Coors Field is the garden in centerfield that mimics Colorado’s natural beauty, with pine trees, waterfalls and fountains.

We even got to the see the famed humidors that house the baseballs. Coors Field has been the most offense-heavy park in baseball since its construction. Researchers have discovered it’s not really the thin air that causes the ball to carry well. It’s the dry air. So balls are kept a little moist, and over the years home runs have come down. In 1995, 303 home runs were hit at Coors Field, a major league stadium record. Since the humidors went into effect, Coors Field home runs are under 200 annually.

But offense still reigns in Denver. The huge dimensions at Coors Field – 347 down the left-field line, 390 to left-center, 415 to center, 375 to right-center and 350 down the right-field line – create huge gaps that turn singles into doubles and doubles into triples.

The tour was fantastic. We even met Rockies owner Dick Monfort. When we poked our head in the new video control room, with more than half a dozen people getting ready for the game, Monfort was chatting with the crew.

Jones had told us that Monfort is a great owner, very hands-on and always in the office, but that he creates a great working culture, and that certainly seemed to be the case. He came out of the control room, and Jones introduced us. We had a nice chat. Seemed like a down to Earth fellow. He made his money in beef, becoming CEO of ConAgra in Greeley, Colorado, and was a minority of the Rockies in the early 1990s before purchasing majority shares of the franchise along with his brother, Charlie.

The Rockies don’t hold Colorado’s interest like the NFL Broncos do, but the Rockies have become a Denver institution. Their first year, in 1993 at old Mile High Stadium, the Rockies drew a major league record 4.5 million fans. In 2017, the Rockies still drew 2.9 million, for an 87-75 team.

They’ve got a great stadium that gets updated instead of torn down. The Rockies are to be commended.

BIRTHDAY DINNER

The reason we were in Denver to begin with was the surprise 80th birthday party for David Fagin, an OU grad and a long-time contributor to OU’s engineering college. Fagin got his OU degree in petroleum engineering. He also was a Big Seven pole vault champion, worked for the legendary Harold Keith in OU’s sports information in the 1950s and is a prince of a man.

Fagin is held in high esteem in the Denver business community, where he’s held a variety of positions. Among the toasters at his dinner was Jeff Coors, past president and CEO of the Adolph Coors Co., who now is president and CEO of Golden Technologies Co. Inc., a Coors company. Adolph Coors, remember, founded Coors Brewing Co. in 1873, over in Golden.

We sat at a table with Jeff Coors’ daughter, Carin, and her husband, Rob Bremer. We also sat with Henrik and Mary Follin. All were delightful. Henrik is from Denmark. He came to America as an exchange student in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and returned in the antiques business. Carin Bremer’s mother is from Denmark. So I learned all kinds of stuff about Denmark. It was a charming night.

The dinner was prepared by renowned chef Hunter Smith of Vail. The dinner itself was good. But the hors d’oeuvres were unbelievable. Pork belly with a Korean glaze. A squash pastry with feta. Stuffed dates with stilton cheese. And a lobster dumpling with lime soy and rocoto chili oil. I know. Sounds a little fancy for me. But they were all fantastic. If you can make squash interesting, you’re doing something, and Hunter Smith did.

The dinner was held in the Dome at AMG Trust Bank in suburban Greenwood Village. It was a glittering third-floor reception hall that is offered to non-profits Mondays through Thursdays. A beautiful place.

Greenwood Village, with a population of about 16,000, is south of downtown Denver and appears to be a corporate mecca. All kinds of companies are headquartered there. Maybe a little like Addison in Dallas.

The speeches were good, the dinner was great and the company was even better.

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