FARMINGTON — Former Piedra Vista High School baseball player and eight-year MLB veteran Mike Dunn is coming home.
Well, sort of.
Last week, the Farmington native signed a contract with the Colorado Rockies, meaning the relief pitcher will play his home games at Denver's Coors Field, roughly 380 miles from the city he called home for the first 17 years of his life. The Rockies signed a three-year, $19 million contract with Dunn, according to The Associated Press.
Five MLB teams expressed interest in signing Dunn as a free agent, but he said the allure of being closer to home spurred his decision.
"The Rockies was one of my destination spots," said the 31-year-old in a phone interview with The Daily Times last week. "It was probably the one destination spot I wanted to go, based on the team they had, but also, close to home. Once Colorado got involved, I told my agent, 'Let's really try to push this and see if something could come up of this,' and if not, we were gonna go back to the other guys."
The left-handed Dunn, who grew up rooting for Ken Griffey Jr. and the Seattle Mariners, has spent the past six years of his professional career pitching for the Miami Marlins. He said even when he resided on the other side of the country, he still visited his hometown every year in the off-season.
"I come back all the time. Of course, I lived there my whole life so I had a lot of friends there," Dunn said. "I come back to Farmington at least two, maybe three times every off-season. My dad just moved over to Bloomfield, so my dad's still there."
Dunn pitched and played first base and center field for Piedra Vista from 2000 to 2002 before transferring to school in Nevada for his senior season so he could better position himself to play in front of professional scouts. But Dunn had a major impact on PV, pitching the Panthers past Roswell in the 2002 4A state semifinal game. That year, the Panthers lost to Farmington in the final.
Dick Laughlin coached the Panthers from 1998 to 2011, when current coach Mike McGaha took the reins. The longtime former coach said he remembered Dunn as a fiery competitor.
"He had that refuse to lose attitude," Laughlin recalled. "He was our No. 1 starting pitcher his junior year, and man, he was just very, very, very competitive."
Dunn said he credits his father, Greg Dunn, for instilling in him the competitive spirit and work ethic that has propelled him to sustained success at the major-league level.
"My dad raised me with a good work ethic," Dunn said. "Once you get into the minor leagues and stuff like that, it's a true grind. That's one thing that I could say, is my dad taught me how to play baseball and all that, but he really taught me a good work ethic. And that's something I try to hold onto and pass on to my kids now."
Before he did find that success in the majors — Dunn sports a career 3.54 earned run average and has held left-handed hitters to a .228 batting average against him — he achieved the goal most Farmington-raised high school baseball players share: playing in the Connie Mack World Series.
In 2003, Dunn played on the Farmington Virus, which hosted that year's Connie Mack World Series. Although his team went 0-2 in the series, he said his experience as part of that "close-knit group of guys" is something he'll never forget.
"As a kid playing baseball, you dream of playing in the World Series," Dunn said. "But in Farmington, step one was playing in the Connie Mack World Series."
Denver's mile-high altitude has historically had a negative effect on Rockies pitchers. As a team, Colorado's ERA has been in the bottom five of all pro teams for the past six seasons. Because Dunn pitched for many years in New Mexico — Farmington's altitude is similar to Denver's — he thinks he'll fare fine at the hitter-friendly Coors Field.
"It's something I feel like my body is used to," Dunn said. "It's one of those things where, for recovery, it's harder for guys who aren't used to it. I feel like I know what to expect from the elevation, so I might have a leg up on that."
Dunn said he's looking forward to trading in his swimming trunks in Florida for hunting gear in New Mexico and Colorado. He said there's a couple of other things he has missed about the Southwest that he's looking forward to getting reacquainted with.
"The green chile and jalapeños and stuff like that. You grow up on that, and when you go out east, it's a little different type of food," Dunn said. "It's like, whenever I go to Denver there's a breakfast spot I always went to because it's kind of like that Tex-Mex, and you get a lot of the green chiles and jalapeños."
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.