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DNVR Exclusive: Former Rockies bench coach recounts Mile High Stadium and Larry Walker

Patrick Lyons Avatar
February 1, 2022

A group of Greeley’s finest baseball representatives got together in one room to raise money for youth sports on Saturday and instill some wisdom to the next generation of athletes.

Friends of Baseball, a group that has gathered for over 30 years, packed several days worth of activities into one weekend in northern Colorado: a fundraiser breakfast with guest speakers, silent and live auctions for countless pieces of rare and autographed memorabilia, a sports card show with vendors from the region, and a youth clinic run by the likes of former Colorado Rockies shortstop Clint Barmes and current Albuquerque Isotopes’ pitching coach Frank Gonzales.

In the past, a long list of baseball’s elite have come out to the morning’s Breakfast of Champions. Hall of Famers like Juan Marichal, Andre Dawson, Gaylord Perry, Rollie Fingers, Ferguson Jenkins, Steve Carlton and Tommy Lasorda have showed up in recent years, not to mention members of the Rockies organization like managers Walt Weiss and Jim Tracy, General Manager Dan O’Dowd, owner Dick Monfort and players Brad Hawpe, Vinny Castilla, Ryan Spilborghs and Jason Hirsch.

This year, 17-year veteran Eric Davis was the guest speaker for the large crowd at the Island Grove Events Center. 

A 2005 inductee into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame & Museum, Davis was a two-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger Award winner and three-time recipient of Gold Gloves from 1987-1989. He also helped the Reds take home a ring during the 1990 World Series.

Former Red Eric Davis shakes hands with Mr. Red last year. RedsFest Sports Friday December 2, 2011: Former Cincinnati Reds Eric Davis, right shakes hands with the new Mr. Reds Mascot as Davis gets introduced during RedsFest at Duke Energy Convention Center Friday December 2, 2011 in Downtown, Cincinnati. The Enquirer/ Joseph Fuqua II

The first manager the 17-year-old Davis ever had as a professional was Greg Riddoch, a Greeley-born former Reds minor leaguer who had attended the University of Northern Colorado and Colorado State University. (This was before the program was discontinued following the Rams’ 1992 season.)

Riddoch was also on hand to introduce Davis to the crowd comprised of parents and young athletes, offering advice about ignoring the need to perform like those with different skill sets while also remembering that anyone of any size can make it in the diverse sport of baseball.

Other UNC representatives with MLB experience were in attendance for the event as well such as Arizona Diamondbacks bench coach Jeff Banister, who served as the Director of Player Development for Bears baseball this past year, and Greeley native Tom Runnells, who was bench coach for the Rockies from 2009-2016. 

“There’s a picture of (Eric Davis) and myself on one of the trains in downtown Denver,” Runnells added when recounting his playing days with the Denver Zephyrs. “We used to take our team pictures on the train. You got some pretty good players then. Paul O’Neill, Eric Davis, Kal Daniels and Lloyd McClendon. It was fun.”

Davis also had memories with that Triple-A club back in 1985, not to mention the atmosphere in the state capitol a full decade ahead of Coors Field’s debut.

“Center field was huge. Great crowds in Denver at that time. (Then in 1993) Andrés Galarraga used to run me into that blue wall down there where the players came out,” Davis humorously recalled of Mile High Stadium.

Signed as an undrafted free agent by the San Francisco Giants in 1977, Runnells spent seven years in the minors before being given an opportunity to continue his career with the Zephyrs by Riddoch, who was their minor league director of the Reds at the time.

“Playing in Denver with the Zephyrs was awesome because I lived here in Greeley. I actually got to live home and then drive down about 50 minutes and play. It was awesome playing in front of family and friends,” said Runnells, who served as Rockies manager for four games in 2015 when Weiss had an emergency appendectomy. “We were just talking about one of the games that we played on the Fourth of July and there were 80,000 fans. For a Triple-A ballgame. It was amazing.”

Runnells got a chance to appear in the majors with Cincinnati in 1985-86 before transitioning to coaching in 1987. Two years later, he was the manager for the Montreal Expos’ Triple-A affiliate in Indianapolis where his right fielder would be future Rockies’ great Larry Walker.

“Larry and I were very close,” Runnells shared about the Hall of Famer. “We went up together to the big leagues and I lived with him for the month of September in ’89 when I finished my season and went up as an honorary coach with (Expos’ manager) Buck Rogers. Larry and I go way back to when I took him out of a game for not hustling. Got a lot of grief for that, but also helped make him part of who he was, too.”

One thing that has helped provide Colorado with such a great baseball community and rich history is the contributions like Runnels, Riddoch and Banister and the folks of Greeley’s Friends of Baseball.

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