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Rockies assign first players to Tri-Cities

Remember your first day of school? I used to treasure that feeling of walking in the door for the first time and experiencing the twinge of anxiety and excitement that often comes with life's great unknowns.

I got it again today when the fax machine began to whir and my boss — the great and powerful Jeff Morrow — picked it up and exclaimed, "Dust Devils roster unveiled!".

Because that's what the fax actually said.

So, instantly, I tackled him and ripped the fax out of his hand, eager to see what the Colorado Rockies, in their infinite wisdom, had graced Tri-City manager Fred Ocasio with for his fourth year as Dust Devils manager.

It was a pretty solid list of 21 players, a little over half of whom I had talked with before in previous stints in Tri-Cities. The remaining players I am eager to meet, as most everybody in the Northwest League is filled with more hope than ego — a formula that tends to get inversely proportionate at the big-league level.

Of course, I do feel for the players returning to Tri-Cities. Although the players definitely appreciate the fan support and the generous assistance from host families, it's never an encouraging thing to get held back from your draft class. Players ALWAYS want to be moving up the ladder, and when that doesn't happen it tends to become yet another source of stress in what is already a very competitive environment.

Yet, I am pleased to see that Sheng-An Kuo will be back with the Dust Devils. The Taiwanese right-hander has had his ups and downs, but he pitched one of the more impressive games I have ever seen at Gesa Stadium in his 2008 finale. Also, his English had improved dramatically. He hardly spoke a lick of English when he first arrived in 2007, but by the end of last season he didn't even need a translator.

I am also looking forward to chatting more with Rod Scurry, Jr., a 6-foot-7 right-handed reliever and son of the late Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Rod Scurry. He's a friendly, playful sort of guy and very well-spoken. It's also hard not to like his pitching philosophy.

"If there's guys on second and third with one out, the batter's going to get hit," he told me last season. Kind of made me smile.

Now I wonder if new pitching coach Darryl Scott will share that same philosophy.

One intriguing player to watch will be Scott Beerer, who was originally drafted in 2003 as a pitcher and played on the 2004 Tri-City roster. But he developed some arm trouble and eventually left the game in 2006. But after two years at home, he called the Rockies and asked if he could try to make it as a position player.

"We kept him here in extended (spring training), and he's got his arm strength back," said Ocasio, who compared the situation to that of Cardinals outfielder Rick Ankiel, a former top pitching prospect. "He's got a good bat, and defensively he does a good job. Hopefully he can get some at bats this year and ends up somewhere else. I don't think he wants to be in Tri-Cities all year long."

Yeah, Tri-Cities is a nice place, but who can blame a player for wanting to improve?