41’s Inside Pitch: Playing Centerfield at Coors Field is no easy task


Four summers ago a bunch of us old geezers got a nice invite from the Colorado Rockies to participate in the team’s 25th Anniversary celebration at Coors Field. While guys like Todd Helton, Larry Walker, Garrett Atkins and Aaron Cook got a chance to take a victory lap of sorts, the rest of us got to act semi-important for part of a day. That included an “Alumni Batting Practice” session that was – not surprisingly – dominated by Vinny Castilla.

For my part, when the BP began I took my customary spot tucked safely behind a net place behind second base, where the balls shagged in the outfield are thrown in and gathered up to return to the BP pitcher. It’s a task pitchers typically do the day after they’ve started a professional game, and it’s deemed, “doing the bucket.” It’s not a popular gig and most pitchers try to get out of doing it, but on this special occasion, it seemed like the right place for me to be. No way I was going to embarrass myself in the batting cage.

I never played an actual game at Coors Field (we were at old Mile High Stadium in the beginning years) so it was the first time I had actually gone out beyond the pitchers mound at 20th and Blake. The first thing that struck me was how enormous the space was. I know during my playing career I’d never been on any field anywhere with such a vast space between the infield and the center field fences. There’s no doubt you could pick Fenway Park up and drop in inside Coors Field with room to spare.

It’s ‘Uge,’ as they’d say in Beantown.

Keep that in mind when you’re evaluating centerfielders that have played or are currently playing for the Rockies. It’s the most difficult outfield to cover in all of baseball.

The Rockies have had several very good centerfielders in their almost 30 years in existence. Ellis Burks, Dexter Fowler and others. But if you think about it, it’s not a shock that standout defenders like Walker and Carlos Gonzales wanted no part of playing the position, even though they could have been excellent at it. The toll is just too great.

See Blackmon, Charlie.

In his early days, Blackmon was an above average defender, but as time went on the toll on his legs became obvious, and his last few years in centerfield were an adventure. Still, overall, he ranks right up there, mostly due to longevity.

Longevity is the only thing that keeps Preston Wilson’s name off the list of great Rockies centerfielders. He only wore purple pinstripes for two seasons, one of those an All-Star year in 2003. He belted 36 homers and drove in a ridiculous 144 runs that season, but he also played outstanding defense before getting traded way the following season.

“The first thing you realize,” Wilson told us this week on The Park Adjusted Rockies Podcast, “Is that you feel like there are no boundaries. The gap in left center is 400 feet, and then over here on this (right field) side it’s just as wide until you get to straight away right, then it starts to break in a little bit. So you feel like there’s absolutely no way you’re ever going to run out of space. The only time you run out of space is when the ball is out of the ballpark.”

Wilson made it a point to study and contrast the way the ball carried at Coors Field and on the road and was astute enough to change his approach to tracking fly balls accordingly. He changed the way he took angles to fly balls, knowing they’d carry more at home. He also developed an appreciation for guys who played the position in Denver for extended periods of time.

“You have so much responsibility as an outfielder – especially a centerfielder – I don’t know how Charlie Blackmon played centerfield for that long in that environment,” Wilson marveled. “It takes such a toll on your body. My hats off to him.”

Wilson also praised his final organization, the St. Louis Cardinals, for employing an outfield coach, something the Rockies – who have a hitting coach at two assistant hitting coaches – don’t have. Seems like given the challenges that playing outfield here poses, it might be time to bring in someone like Wilson to help coach ‘em up and shore things up in those wide open spaces.

Be sure to catch Mark Knudson and Manny Randhawa on the Park Adjusted Rockies Podcast each week, available on all major Podcast platforms.

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