The art and science of preserving Colorado Rockies history

KANSAS CITY, MO - JULY 02: Baseballs on the field before the game between the Cleveland Indians and the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on July 2, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - JULY 02: Baseballs on the field before the game between the Cleveland Indians and the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on July 2, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images) /

Every season, there are new milestones that happen for Colorado Rockies players and for the franchise itself. For Rockies clubhouse manager Mike “Tiny” Pontarelli, preserving those milestones encompasses just one part of his job, but it is a very important piece of what he does every day.

Making sure that the ball that is hit when Trevor Story reaches a milestone, for example, is collected and given back to Story is not always easy. That’s exactly what happened recently in San Diego when Story collected his 30th double of the season in a Colorado Rockies win over the Padres.

For the momentous double (marking the third straight season Story has collected 30 or more doubles), Colorado’s All-Star shortstop hit the ball to Padres left fielder Josh Naylor, who threw the ball in to the catcher, who proceeded to throw it to third base. San Diego’s Manny Machado tossed the ball into the stands as a souvenir opportunity for a fan. Little did any of them know the ball was being tracked the whole time by Pontarelli and his team in an effort to get it back.

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Working with Petco Park support personnel, an usher communicated with the fan who received the souvenir toss from Machado about the significance of the ball. A swap was made and Story had his souvenir waiting for him in a cube when he returned to the clubhouse after the game.

It’s a lot of work for a ball, but Pontarelli believes strongly in the significance of what that ball stands for in a player’s career.

“It’s been an addition to my job over the last few years,” he told me inside the Colorado clubhouse. “It’s great. I completely agree with preserving the history of the game. I love the system and what they do. It’s more for me to watch but I’m completely on board with the program.

“If it helps these guys to preserve their careers and their memories and all of that good stuff, it’s worth it for me.”

Preserving and authenticating history every day takes a team. There are authenticators in each dugout of every game, tracking not only the milestones that are communicated to them before every game by Pontarelli but also ensuring souvenirs are available for fans.

“Their sole purpose is to keep track of what I’m looking for plus mark as many balls getting used as we can so fans can purchase them,” Pontarelli said.

That means that when Nolan Arenado fouls off a ball and it stays within the confines of Coors Field, it will often find its way to one of the authenticators, who tags the ball with an individualized code. After the tagged ball is put in a cube, it’s available for sale to the general public.

Yes, those cubes fans can buy at every game are the same cubes given to players after they reach their milestones. They’re also the same ones reporters often see sitting in the lockers of individual players within the clubhouse.

And what about home runs, like the 100th of Yonder Alonso‘s career that he also hit in San Diego? Pontarelli says the same rules of retrieval apply.

“Once it goes into the stands, the ball can’t be authenticated,” Pontarelli said. “There’s no way of telling if a fan had another ball in his pocket and swapped it out. We have to give good faith to make sure the ball we’re getting back is realistically the ball we’re looking for. And 99.9 percent of the time it is.”

If anyone ever tries to pull a switch, Pontarelli says some CSI-style methods can be employed to see past the shady effort.

“You can compare the mud on the baseball compared to the rest of the bag and you can say, ‘Yes, this is consistent with our tone,'” he explained.

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Arenado said the efforts to give players the cubed balls as a way to remember the individual milestones in their career are much appreciated.

“They mean lot,” Arenado said of the mementos. “I think Tiny is really good about paying attention and having the updates on what is going on. It means a lot. I have some hanging up in my warehouse as well as my house.”