DENVER -- Niko Decolati remembers two things about the first Rockies game he ever went to: The Rockies were playing the Expos (now the Nationals), and he brought his glove, ready to catch a ball.Decolati doesn't remember his age -- he says he was either 4 or 5 years old
DENVER -- Niko Decolati remembers two things about the first Rockies game he ever went to: The Rockies were playing the Expos (now the Nationals), and he brought his glove, ready to catch a ball.
Decolati doesn't remember his age -- he says he was either 4 or 5 years old -- but he does remember his frustration when a ball never came to him. That feeling went away when his mom, Kelly, brought him one signed by Todd Helton and other Rockies players.
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"Niko's first word was ball -- not mom or dad -- ball, I kid you not," Niko's father, Chris, said. "His eyes were big as saucers watching that game."
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Now, Decolati -- a Boulder, Colo., native -- has a chance to be one of those players.
Decolati, a junior from Loyola Marymount (Calif.), was the Rockies' sixth-round pick in the 2018 MLB Draft. He batted .271 and slugged .444 while starting 54 games this season. Decolati was drafted as a third baseman and has versatile skills to move around the field. He's a physical athlete with an above-average arm and raw power at the plate. His aggressive swing, though, has led to a high strikeout rate -- 27 percent in the Cape Cod League last summer and 29 percent with LMU this spring.
Awaiting the start of the Draft on Tuesday, Decolati had heard that he could go anywhere from the third to sixth round. As the picks were called, he tried to stay calm, even though he wasn't hearing his name.
Then, his phone rang.
"My advisor called and was like, 'Do you want to be a Rockie, or do you want to be a Royal?'" Decolati said. "And it was a pretty easy decision. There's definitely an emotional value being back in Colorado."
Decolati's parents both went to University of Northern Colorado. His father, Chris, walked on to the Bears' baseball team and played for a year. After Decolati was born in 1997, though, the family moved to Las Vegas for Chris' job. They visited Colorado often because both Chris and Kelly's families still live in the Denver and Boulder area. Since college and summer baseball took over Niko's life, though, he hasn't had a chance to come back as often as he'd like.
"Once I get to Denver, it'll be cool to have [my family] be close by and supporting me," Decolati said. "And of course, playing at Coors Field and getting to be part of a Major League organization, the Rockies especially."
Decolati always dreamed of playing in the Majors. Tattooed on the inside of his left forearm is an eyeball, and inside the eyeball is a batter, signifying his future goal. That's not the only tattoo he has. On the backside of his elbow is the "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign, done after the tragic shooting in Las Vegas on Oct. 1 of last year. Decolati wasn't there, but knew people at the event. He didn't know anyone who died in the tragedy, but all he wanted to do was go home and help.
On his left bicep is a nursery rhyme his mom read to him when he was young, and on his left shoulder is a lion and a rose.
"I got that for my dad because he has multiple sclerosis, and it's just to signify his strength and his continuous perseverance through all the battles he has," Decolati said.
And a Colorado tattoo is in the works, Decolati says.
For now, he can't contain his excitement to continue playing baseball, with the chance to play in the ballpark that he once visited when he was young. This time, he's sure to catch a ball.
"Everything was 'ball, ball, ball,' everything is baseball," Chris said. "And now he's off to realize his dream."
Anne Rogers is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver.