Rockies finalize deal with first baseman Ian Desmond
DENVER — As a longtime shortstop, Ian Desmond knows all too well the value of a good first baseman.
He’s vowing to be that reliable as the Colorado Rockies convert him to a position he’s never played. He doesn’t even have a first baseman’s glove of his own yet, borrowing one from a buddy until his arrives in the mail.
Although the Rockies’ solution at first base seems out of left field — Desmond did play 29 games in left for Texas last season — it’s really not that farfetched. Or so the Rockies’ are banking on, finalizing a $70 million, five-year contract Tuesday with the two-time All-Star who’s gone from shortstop to outfielder and now back to the infield.
“I have all the faith in the world that Ian’s going to be a good first baseman,” Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich said.
The 31-year-old Desmond will take over for Mark Reynolds, who’s now a free agent. And while Desmond can’t recall ever playing the position, even as a kid, he did prove to be a fast learner last season when he moved from shortstop to the outfield for the Rangers.
“I know what it takes to be prepared every day and that’s what I’m going to do,” said Desmond, who had his wife and young kids sitting in the front row for his introductory news conference.
Desmond played at an All-Star level for the Rangers in 2016, hitting .285 with 22 homers and 86 RBIs as he split time between left and center.
Before that, he was a shortstop for the Washington Nationals.
The Rockies gave him a lucrative deal to learn a new skill set at Coors Field, where he’s a .379 career hitter in 23 games.
“Yes, the ball does fly here. Yes, it is a good place to hit,” Desmond said. “For me, personally, the reason I play well here is because I like coming here. I enjoy coming to Colorado. I enjoy the people in the city. I’m from small town in Florida, where when you put the blinker on to change lanes, the people behind you wave. That’s very common here.”
To hone his fielding skills, he borrowed one of the gloves of Correlle Prime, who just so happens to be a first baseman in the Rockies’ system. Years ago, Desmond took Prime under his wing when Prime worked out at the same hitting facility in the Sarasota, Florida, area.
Little did the friends realize one day they would be in the same organization — playing the same position.
“It’s bittersweet for me,” Desmond said. “Trying to get this young man prepared for the big leagues and he’s a first baseman and I’m proud of how far he’s come and the progress he’s made. Now, I come in and play first base. We’re talking and it’s like, I would rather it be me than anybody else.
“Now I get to go to spring training with him. Now he gets to watch me work during the season. I get to see what he does firsthand and see if there’s anything I can help him with. Just be there to support him.”
One thing’s for sure: Desmond has a talented infield to work with in third baseman and perennial Gold Glover Nolan Arenado, shortstop Trevor Story and second baseman DJ LeMahieu.
Desmond certainly won’t force his way into a leadership dynamic, either. Not his style. He’s more of a quiet leader.
“You can’t come here and expect to be the man,” Desmond said. “I’m going to come in with a lot of respect for those guys, just get in where I fit in.”
He’s not sure where he might bat in a potent lineup that also features outfielders Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez and Gerardo Parra. He’s on board with wherever first-year Colorado manager Bud Black pencils him in.
“I’m going to work as hard as I can right now to be the best first baseman I can be,” Desmond said. “I’ll keep the other tools fresh also, just to try to be as much of a help as I can.
“I think about the opportunity here and I think about how much of a sports town this is, how deserving these fans are. That is what brought me here. First base just happened to be the position I was able to fill. It’s not about the ball flying (at Coors Field) — this is about the opportunity to bring winning back here.”
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Fans, players and coaches on both sides of Stubler Memorial Field seemed to know it would come down just the way it did, regardless of who had the ball at the end.