02/25/11 9:15 PM EST
Rox eager to set foot on new field of dreams
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
The Rockies will play the inaugural Cactus League game at the park against the D-backs, who share the complex with them, at 1:10 p.m. MT.
It's almost as if the Rockies saved this gift -- a 7,000-seat stadium with lush grassy hills beyond the outfield fence to accommodate another 4,000 -- for last. The Rockies have been working on several auxiliary fields, training in an elaborate, two-story weight room, and enjoying second-to-none clubhouse, video, dining and other areas. However, they have not set foot on the main-stadium field. Saturday morning -- when they take the field for fundamental work and batting practice -- will be the first time.
It's a complete change of scenery for the Rockies, who trained exclusively at venerable Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, Ariz., from their first Spring Training in 1993 through last year.
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Spring Training Info
Saturday's occasion will be marked with plenty of Opening Day pomp and circumstance, with MLB Commissioner Bud Selig among those scheduled to attend.
At gametime, ace right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, who won 19 games last season and finished third in National League Cy Young Award voting, will start for the Rockies and go two innings, against the D-backs' Aaron Heilman. The lineup behind Jimenez will consist of mostly regulars. Only first baseman Todd Helton, who will be replaced by free-agent acquisition Ty Wigginton, will not be in the lineup.
That means shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and left fielder Carlos Gonzalez, who signed long contracts that signaled they are keys to the present and future of the Rockies, will be out there -- at least in the beginning.
"It's the first game in that ballpark and, obviously, there are a lot of festivities involved, there's a lot of excitement involved," Tracy said. "You have to do the best you can to accommodate the situation. There are a lot of extracurricular activities going on that otherwise would not be going on in the first game of a spring season.
"But look at this facility, and look at what's taking place around here. We're trying to accommodate that situation."
Tracy said on Friday that he had not completed the batting order, but starters would be catcher Chris Iannetta, Wigginton, second baseman Jose Lopez (acquired from the Mariners during the offseason), third baseman Ian Stewart, Tulowitzki, Gonzalez, center fielder Dexter Fowler and right fielder Seth Smith.
Tracy emphasized that the key players will not be in the game long. Most will exit the game after their first plate appearance. That's understandable, considering that the first full-squad workout wasn't until Wednesday.
"We have some guys, no question about it, who are anxious to get involved in some game-type activity," Tracy said. "Obviously, we're going to start [Saturday]. But it's also wise on our part to realize it's only the fourth day of full squad."
However, for as long as it lasts, it will be an occasion for the frontline players.
"It's exciting because it's the first game since Oct. 3, and Oct. 1 was my last game," Gonzalez said. "It's exciting to get back to the grass, and knowing that you're playing for real. Everything starts now."
Pitchers other than Jimenez appearing for the Rockies include: Greg Reynolds, Claudio Vargas and Billy Buckner -- with Bruce Billings, Keith Weiser, and Andrew Johnston as backups, available in case one of the scheduled pitchers has trouble during his time in the game.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.