Stadium commissioner Sam Suplizio, right, discusses the future Invesco Field at Mile High during an unveiling of the stadium model in Denver on Oct. 15, 1998. Suplizio, who died Friday, is better known as a key figure in bringing major-league baseball to Denver. (Post / John Prieto)

Sam Suplizio, who became co-chairman of the Colorado Baseball Commission and was a tireless worker in bringing major-league baseball to Denver and the Rocky Mountain region, died Friday night of congestive heart failure at his home in Pawleys Island, S.C. He was 74.

With major-league baseball considering expansion, Suplizio joined Larry Varnell in 1989 to lead the baseball commission. The group headed up an election campaign that asked voters to authorize a sales tax increase of one-tenth of 1 percent to fund the construction of Coors Field.

Voters approved the measure, which guaranteed a new ballpark would be built if Denver was granted a franchise. The Colorado Rockies joined the National League in 1993, initially playing in old Mile High Stadium for two seasons.

"Sam Suplizio was a faithful, loyal and tireless worker for the baseball commission," said Roger Kinney, commission executive director. "He kept us right on track when a lot of people thought we'd be unsuccessful. Sam provided us with connections to a large number of very important people in baseball."

Bobby Richardson, a former New York Yankees great and Suplizio's longtime friend, said Suplizio knew more people in baseball than anyone he knew.

Richardson and Suplizio were teammates in the Yankees' minor-league system 52 years ago while playing in Binghamton, N.Y. They were among five members of the Binghamton team who had a reunion last summer in South Carolina.

"Besides being a very successful businessman, Sam was good at mentoring young players," Richardson said. "He loved all parts of baseball."

After his playing days were over, Suplizio was an outfield instructor for several big- league teams. He was active this past season, working with young outfielders in the Seattle Mariners organization.

"He was planning to go to spring training again," said Caroline Suplizio, his widow. "Spring training was one of his favorite times in baseball."

Suplizio noted that his niche in baseball was as an instructor.

"My strength was in teaching, coaching and building players," Suplizio said last summer while working with the Mariners. "I found that I could inspire young players."

Suplizio's base of operations in Colorado was Grand Junction. While working on the baseball commission, he regularly commuted to Denver, rarely missing any commission function.

His pet project on the Western Slope was the National Junior College Baseball Tournament. Suplizio was a main figure in the organization of the tournament that began in Grand Junction in 1959, and he served as its chairman for 32 years.

Suplizio also played for and managed the semipro Grand Junction Eagles for 17 years.

"He gave 110 percent to anything he did and he always was working to promote baseball," said retired state Sen. Tilman Bishop, a longtime associate of Suplizio's in Grand Junction. "Describing Sam is like describing a sequoia tree. Unless you have seen them, you don't know how great they are."

Services for Suplizio are planned for Friday in South Carolina and a memorial service is being planned in Grand Junction on a yet to be determined day next week.

Irv Moss