Rockies continue to support high school teams

Rockies continue to support high school teams

DENVER -- On June 25, Cardinals left-hander Marco Gonzales made his Major League debut at Coors Field. But having grown up in Fort Collins, Colo., Gonzales was actually making his fifth appearance at Coors Field, thanks to a Rockies program that has supported Colorado high school baseball since 2001.

On Friday, Coors Field will host the last of its 11 dates of prep games -- a doubleheader featuring Pomona against Mountain Range, and Brighton against Centaurus. The finale of this year's prep schedule will be the annual Top 50 Game -- an all-star game featuring the 50 best high school players in Colorado, not just seniors -- on May 28.

The Rockies use the games as an effort to support Colorado high school baseball by giving teams a big league atmosphere and helping them raise needed funds. Bobby DiCroce -- who grew up a Rockies fan, graduated from Pomona High in Arvada, Colo., and now works in the Rockies' season-ticket department -- runs the program. But in a lot of ways, the program doesn't take much running.

"It's a lot of word of mouth that has evolved over time," DiCroce said. "Some schools got in early, like Dakota Ridge, Highlands Ranch, Rocky Mountain, Chaparral, Thunder Ridge and Grandview, and the program just gained momentum. Now a lot of new schools approach us."

Here's how it works:

The Rockies sell tickets to a Rockies game or games to the schools at reduced prices. The schools sell them for full price and keep the difference. Also, fans are admitted for free to the high school games, although all seating must be in the lower bowl behind the screen. The money is put to good use.

"What I hear a lot of times is a school made some kind of renovations to the field, and the other team comes in and asks, 'How did you get your batting cage?'" DiCroce said. "They'd say, 'We sold Rockies tickets.'"

The teams leave with lasting memories.

"We treat it as much a big league game as we can," DiCroce said. "We use the visitors' clubhouse. We've got the scoreboard on, we introduce the starting lineups, the national anthem is sung by students and parents or teachers operate the public-address system and the scoreboard."

Of course, few of these high schoolers come back to Coors as a Major Leaguer, like Gonzales or former Major League infielder Kevin Kouzmanoff, who played for the Rockies in 2011. But for a day, they can feel Major League.

"It's probably the best part of the job for me, knowing what a special day it is," DiCroce said.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page . This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.