Larry Banman: Jump on the Rockies bandwagon with with everyone else
Without A Doubt
The Colorado Rockies bandwagon officially needs a trailer. All of sudden, there is no news unless it is Rockies news. In a region where the Denver Broncos once had an exclusive hold on the attention of Rocky Mountain sports fans, you have to search to find news about the football team formerly known as the hottest ticket in town.
We even have a new month: Rocktober.
On Sunday night, there were over 45,000 fans who braved some of the most miserable baseball weather you could imagine to watch the third game of the National League Championship Series, and there was no place they would have rather been.
Most of them would have probably told you they have been Rockies fans from the time they were conceived. It is somewhat ironic that just over a year ago, I was at a late-September game in which most of the upper deck could have been used for storage. The fans who were there mostly arrived late, left early and were generally apathetic throughout. Less than six months ago, many columnists and fans were calling for the firing of Dan O’Dowd, general manager, and manager Clint Hurdle.
Shoot, less than a month ago, you could find people who were still trying to stick a fork in the Rockies, because they were done.
Now, after a historic winning streak, it seems everybody is a Rockies fan again. It is good to see the excitement and enthusiasm, but a part of me finds this bandwagon jumping a bit distasteful.
I come from the school of thought that says you must have endured the tough times in order to be allowed to fully participate in the joyous times. As proof of my ability to be loyal, just know that I have been a fan of the Arizona Cardinals football team since the late 1960s. That is the professional football team that has won exactly one playoff game from 1948 until the present.
I need to be totally honest and let you know that the Rockies are only my second-favorite professional baseball team, after the St. Louis Cardinals. So, I too cannot be a full card-carrying member of the Colorado Rockies fan club, but at least I am not demanding entrance into the inner-circle of Blake Street Bomber fandom.
The recent run of victories has also given me pause to remember the history of the Colorado Rockies. They started play in 1993. So, most of us have lived through the entire history of the franchise. A true diehard fan will remember that Denver-area voters approved a 0.1 percent sales tax to establish a funding base to bring a baseball team and stadium to Denver.
As an aside, do you remember that the voters of Denver voted against the tax while voters in the surrounding area had enough votes to overcome that opposition? Ironically, businesses in Denver no doubt have benefited more than any other region. Prior to the building of the stadium, that region of downtown could best be described as depressed.
Do you remember that the first professional game played by the Colorado Rockies was played between the Bend Rockies and the Boise Hawks? Catcher Will Scalzilli hit a walk-off grand slam for the win in an exciting contest. The first draft pick for the Rockies was John Burke from the University of Florida. The first draft pick in the expansion draft was pitcher David Nied. Dante Bichette was obtained during that draft via a trade. Bichette, of course, went on to become one of the Blake Street Bombers with Vinnie Castilla, Andres Gallarraga, Larry Walker and Ellis Burke. Bichette also hit a three-run homerun to defeat the New York Mets in the 14th inning of the first game ever played in Coors Field. The Rockies have had four managers ” Don Baylor, Jim Leyland, Buddy Bell and Clint Hurdle. Hurdle was a roving minor-league hitting instructor when he was named as the hitting coach for the Rockies in 1996.
In the early days, fans came out in droves. Mile High Stadium used to hold over 80,000 fans for a baseball game and the Rockies drew over 4.4 million fans in their first year. People in Kremmling had season tickets for a team that plays 42 home games in a stadium located nearly 100 miles away. The team made the playoffs in the third season on its existence and it seemed like the love affair with baseball would never end.
Until this year, management of the team had trouble deciding the identity of the Rockies. The Blake Street Bombers couldn’t hit consistently on the road. In a nod to the altitude, the playing field is very large, allowing ample space for line drives and flyballs to find a place to land. (Did you know that the ballpark with the next highest altitude is located in Atlanta, Ga.?)
Pitching has always been a bugaboo and paying a high price for Denny Neagle and Mike Hampton crippled the team’s budget for years. Building from within with astute draft choices and with a staff of fearless young pitchers seems to be the formula that has finally worked.
Until September of this year, fans adopted a “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” approach. Getting a ticket to a game was no problem and some of that old Coors Field magic had disappeared. During the summer, the team had a 1-9 road trip in which at least four games were lost during the opposition’s last at bat.
For many people, it was a sign that the “same-old Rockies” were back. And then, the team started winning. At the end of the year, they stopped losing and excitement started to build. Before you knew it, the bandwagon was full and the line to hop on lengthened. Welcome back fickle fans. This time, stay on for the long haul.
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