Jim Tracy extends spring-training invitation to George Karl

Rockies manager, Nuggets coach have developed quick friendship

Colorado Rockies pitchers and catchers report to spring training on Valentine’s Day, while position players arrive five days later.

The reporting date for NBA coaches is a little more flexible.

Knowing that Nuggets coach George Karl has always wanted to manage a major league game, Rockies manager Jim Tracy extended an invitation for his friend to sit on the bench and call the shots during a spring training game next month.

The Rockies will begin play at a new facility in Scottsdale, Ariz.; the Nuggets face the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on March 10.

“I just gave George an open invitation to come over,” Tracy said after watching the Nuggets beat the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night. “I said I’d give him the A-group and let’s see what he can do with it in an exhibition game.”

Karl, 59, and Tracy, 55, first met when Karl watched batting practice at Coors Field before the Rockies-Giants game on Sept. 25, 2010. Karl, a Pennsylvania native is a lifelong Pittsburgh Pirates fan; Tracy managed the Pirates in 2006 and 2007.

“It’s really intriguing how coaches follow one another in their respective fields,” Tracy said. “He’s a big fan of major league baseball and I’m a big fan of the NBA. I’ve watched what he’s been doing this year. I’ve admired the work that he’s done.”

Long before starting down the path to 1,000 career NBA victories, Karl played shortstop and catcher at Penn Hills High School outside of Pittsburgh.

“I was probably a better baseball player than I was a basketball player,” Karl said. “I didn’t have a gun (for an arm). I could play short in high school, but I probably would’ve had to play second or third in pro ball.”

Former college basketball coach Bobby Knight has joined St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa on the bench in spring training games, and Karl would love to do the same with Tracy if the schedule permits. The Nuggets have four days off before their game in Phoenix, but he would have to fly to Arizona before the team leaves on March 9.

As an uptempo basketball coach, Karl said he would probably be an aggressive baseball manager, calling for more hit-and-runs than most managers and encouraging his players to take the extra base as often as possible.

“I’d probably be more fastball-oriented than trying to trick people,” he said. “I like to go after people. I like guys who know how to fabricate runs, but now it’s the three-run homer that they’re looking for.”

While many baseball fans – not to mention media members – believe they can manage a baseball game, Karl knows there’s more that goes into a game than chewing sunflower seeds, making pitching changes and calling for a sacrifice bunt.

“There’s some things in baseball that I’m totally blown away with,” he said. “They manage almost every pitch. It’s more amazing than you think.”

The respect from Tracy is mutual. He has been following the Nuggets through a season filled with trade speculation, injuries and milestones. Tracy sent Karl a card congratulating him after his 1,000th career regular-season victory on Dec. 10.

“Personally, I think he’s the coach of the year in the NBA with all the different circumstances and extracurricular activities that he’s had to deal with,” Tracy said. “To have the club at 29-20 now and be in the position they’re in, what a fabulous job he’s done.”

Aaron Lopez
Aaron J. Lopez is the primary writer for Nuggets.com, providing behind-the-scenes content, including feature stories and video for the site. Before joining the Nuggets in 2009, he spent 15 years covering Colorado sports for the Rocky Mountain News and the Associated Press. Follow him on twitter @Lopez_Nuggets. Aaron's full bio...