The scene no doubt was a welcome one for local sports fans eager to gather outside and enjoy summer traditions.
And although the night also offered an unfortunate reminder that Boulder remains a community in mourning, opening night for the new-look Boulder Collegians signaled that baseball is back at Scott Carpenter Park.
For the first time since the college summer program was revived in 2013, the Collegians are operating under new management with a program headed by former Major League pitcher Mark Knudson, who is serving as the general manager and pitching coach, and new manager Tony Rouco. Before the Friday night opener dubbed a #BoulderStrong evening against the Denver Browns, the Collegians honored the 10 victims of the King Soopers mass shooting on March 22.
The Collegians hit the field with caps adorned on the back with a replica of badge number 295 from officer Eric Talley, who was killed after he responded to the scene at Kings Soopers. The ceremonial first pitch was handled by Boulder Detective Aaron Brunn, who was surrounded at the mound by several of his uniformed comrades.
The real first pitch was thrown by the Collegians’ Grayson Gifford, a graduate of Denver South who is set to resume his collegiate career after the summer at Azusa Pacific University in California following a one-year, coronavirus-sparked hiatus. The Collegians pulled away late for a lopsided 15-4 win.
“I’m excited to have the fans out,” Gifford said. “But we need to also think about what happened in Boulder not too long ago. It’s important to be a part of it and let everyone know we’re here to support them. Boulder is one big family whether you’re from here or not. I think it’s going to be a fun summer, for the fans and players.”
Gifford spent much of the past year working as a volunteer assistant at Denver South, eventually taking over the JV team with a possible eye on a coaching career some day. Gifford helped his own cause on Friday with an RBI single in the second inning. That was part of a four-run frame for the Collegians that saw the home club take advantage of an error and a balk by the Browns.
Gifford is one of several Collegians players brought to Boulder from the Greeley Grays, a rival in the Mile High Collegiate Baseball League where Knudson and Rouco coached previously.
“I got to coach at my old high school with my old coach,” Gifford said. “It was a good experience for me to learn more about that perspective of the game. I know it as a player. But knowing it as a coach gives me a new perspective on the game that’s really cool.
“They’re just some really good coaches, really good people that I want to continue being around. It’s a great team. A lot of talented guys, and I just want to take advantage of getting as good as I can playing around that I’m going to potentially see when I go back to school in California.”
The Collegians are back in action next week with three home games, beginning Wednesday at 8 p.m. against the Dodge City A’s.