Mile-high edge? Hurdle knows Coors Field
DENVER — Clint Hurdle has a number of fond memories in Denver.
He spent 13 years there as part of the Rockies' staff. He was the Rockies hitting coach from 1997 to 2001 and the club's manager from 2002-09. He led the Rockies to the World Series in 2007. Two of his children were born while he was with the Rockies.
Hurdle's wife, Karla, has accompanied him on this week's trip. They have a number of friends and favorite places to visit in the Denver area.
What the experience in Colorado gave Hurdle is a rare understanding of the intricacies and game conditions at Coors Field.
What is well documented is Coors Field has ranked at the top, or near the top, in runs and home runs in every year of its existence. This is due to the thin air of mile-high Denver.
Hurdle notes his knowledge of the park goes beyond being aware that fly balls carry an extra 5 percent farther at Coors Field, and that curveballs and sliders do not break quite as sharply.
Hurdle's knowledge of the aerodynamic forces at play perhaps can help even the odds as a road team at Coors Field.
“The balls hold their angles down the line different than many ballparks,” Hurdle said. “You might think a ball is going to go foul, and it will surprise you and stay fair. You have to cover the lines and not give up on balls on the line. ... You need to overplay the ball from a defensive perspective.”
Pirates rookie Gregory Polanco has struggled going back on balls with the Pirates, and he had trouble tracking deep fly balls with Triple-A Indianapolis. Pirates outfielder coach Rick Sofield worked with Polanco in right field before Friday's series opener.
The experience of managing a pitching staff at Coors Field perhaps has influenced Hurdle as Pirates manager, even at pitcher-friendly PNC Park. The Rockies were focused on two-seam fastball pitchers under Hurdle to lessen home runs allowed, and the Pirates also prefer using the groundball-generating fastball.
“While I was here, there was a lot of focus on two-seaming the ball,” Hurdle said. “The humidor provided some balance. (The Rockies use a humidor to keep baseballs from shrinking, hardening and losing friction in Colorado's environment).
“We did try a four-man rotation. We tried to attack the park in that way because we had gone through we some challenging times.”
The challenging times eventually got Hurdle fired in Denver, but he has the Pirates in position to take the lead in the wild-card race and push the Brewers in the NL Central race with a strong showing at his old home park.