Burks, Castilla to speak at 19th annual SABR banquet

Former All-Stars see familiar signs of success in current club

Burks, Castilla to speak at 19th annual SABR banquet

DENVER -- Former Rockies' All-Stars and special assistants to the general manager, Ellis Burks and Vinny Castilla, believe the team's time is about to arrive.

Burks and Castilla will spread that word among Rockies' fans at the 19th annual Rocky Mountain SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) banquet at Coors Field on Saturday, with a silent auction at 6 p.m. MT and dinner at 7. Jason Hirsh, a starting pitcher on the 2007 Rockies team that made it to the World Series, is master of ceremonies, and Bob Gebhard, the Rockies' original general manager, will receive the chapter's award for lifetime achievement in baseball.

Burks and Castilla will share their thoughts with fans at the banquet. They took time this week to discuss several subjects with MLB.com.

On the feeling the team had going into '95, when the Rockies became the quickest expansion franchise at that time to make the postseason ... 

Burks: We had the inaugural season and the next year at Mile High, where we had big crowds, and all of a sudden we were going into a new stadium, so there was all sorts of excitement. The town was so excited, and we just piggybacked that feeling right into the season and pulled together.

Castilla: That was a special feeling and we had the best fans in baseball. We had already seen we were going to be good -- look at our lineup -- and we were moving out of Mile High Stadium and into one of the best ballparks in America.

Vinny Castilla jokes with members of the New York Mets prior to a game on May 3, 2014. (AP)

On the parallels and differences between the teams then (when the Rockies went from an expansion team that posted sub-.500 records in 1993 and '94, to a playoff team in in '95) and now (when the club has confidence in the lineup and rotation, despite six straight sub-.500 years) ... 

Burks: To me, there are a lot of similarities, but one thing I like about this particular team is it has the potential to have a better starting rotation than the '95 staff. I was happy and surprised with the guys who stepped up this year -- Chad Bettis, Tyler Anderson, the guy I call 'Big Jon from Oklahoma,' Jon Gray. We're pretty eager to get started, maybe add a little to the bullpen, and be a very good team.

Castilla: We are just a few pieces away from being a playoff team. I think the fans who have stuck with us through the down years are starting to see that. We have to get a couple of pieces and get back to the old attitude. We knew Coors Field was our house and nobody was going to come in here and beat us. The guys we have here can do that and become a very good team.

On whether today's Rockies can reach their goals even though they have fewer players who have succeeded elsewhere ...

Burks: Back then, we had a group of veteran players who had success in the Major Leagues -- Larry Walker, Andres Galarraga, Dante Bichette, Walt Weiss, myself. So when we struggled, that team knew it was a matter of time before we could run off 11 or 12 in a row, which we did. This team is young, yet some of the young people are veterans, like Nolan Arenado and DJ LeMahieu, and Carlos Gonzalez is just 30, and he's a young veteran, same with Charlie Blackmon.

Castilla: We had a great lineup that could outslug teams and run, too, so we started out believing we were contenders. And I was young. [Manager] Don Baylor and Bob Gebhard had confidence in me. They had just let go of Charlie Hayes and gave me the chance to play every day, and I was able to take off. No doubt this team is similar.

Look at Trevor Story -- He's going to be that much better with a year's experience. We lost some close games last year that could have easily gone the other way. And we've got to get better in the bullpen, but those young guys we used are going to be better because they got a chance this year.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.