Sunday, August 13, 2006

A Special Summer with the Rockies

Something funny happened this summer. It wasn't just my rabid anticipation to quit the modest foothills of Evergreen, Colorado, and jet cross-country to New York, where I'm starting my freshman year in college this fall. It was something a little different, something which made this summer one of the best in recent memory.

I discovered the Rockies.

Well, it wasn't as if I'd been unaware of them before. Born in Denver, and having lived in Colorado for the greater part of my formative years with the exception of a four-year detour out East, I did at least have a working knowledge of the boys in purple and silver. However, my family moved back in 1997, and by then, the Rockies' brief flirtation with success - the 1995 Wild Card and the Blake Street Bombers - had already evanesced into distant memory. Larry Walker, Todd Helton, Vinny Castilla - they were all still around - or in Helton's case, just starting on the way up - but the Rockies began their fade right around then, vanishing into ignominy permanently in the NL West cellar.

I'm a girl who honestly, truly, and completely loves baseball. During the aforementioned detour to the East, my family lived in Columbus, Ohio, and we got to 10-15 games a year (all with dugout seats) for the Columbus Clippers, the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. My two sisters and I would play "baseball" with our dad in the backyard, using the balls that the players would roll to us over the dugout, taking our gloves along wherever we went, telling stories about the players, and more. Ah, the glory days of youth.

Naturally, we were Yankees fans for quite a while, but eventually started to drift off them, and the acquisition of A-Rod just killed the franchise for us. My younger sister, who's also my best friend, and I had already moved onto our current #1 - the Oakland Athletics - and eventually, the St. Louis Cardinals joined the ranks as well. But not the Rockies. Not yet.

There is something of a tradition in our house of following the Rockies, if only to groan at all the bad decisions made by Dan O'Dowd, Clint Hurdle, and Co. We didn't pay much attention to them in the grand scheme of things, and generally expected them to inhabit the cellar. They never disappointed us in this regard.

That changed this summer. It started when my dad bought tickets to all three of the Rockies/Athletics games for my high school graduation gift. And, well, the A's are my favorite, so I couldn't exactly root against them, and I wasn't yet a Rockies believer. So I was there for all three games - the first two were a disappointment, the third was awesome - and managed to snag a Ladies Night voucher on Wednesday.

This introduced my sister and I to the lovely concept of free tickets, which we took full advantage of. All three of us - my two sisters and I - went to the July 5th game against the Giants and freely rooted for the Rockies, partly because we dislike the Giants and Barroids Bonds intensely. But something happened. We didn't root for the Rockies just because we had to. The Rockies were fun. They played hard. They actually ran out ground balls, unlike the old, slow, lazy farts with San Francisco across their chests. There was a spark among the fans. Even in Denver, notoriously known as Broncos country, people cared about their baseball.

My other favorite team, the Cardinals, hit town for a July 25th and 26th pair of games, both of which a combination of sisters and I attended (myself and younger for the first, myself and both for the second) and, well, I can't root against the Cards either. But this time, even though I (admittedly) cheered the Cards on to victory in both games, I felt a little bad for having to root against the Rockies to do so.

Somewhere along the line, the conversion, or addition, had taken place. We were Rockies fans (and when I say "we," I mean my younger sister and myself -- my older sister likes baseball, but isn't particularly passionate about any team). Coors Field is a beautiful ballpark, the Wednesday night free tickets are a blast, and the Rockies are a young, passionate team that is just a lot of fun to watch. (Management incompetence aside, but that's a topic for another diary). Also, I have a sneaking suspicion that Brad Hawpe may just be the reason that we got so interested in the first place. He's a good player, fun to watch, and it does not hurt that the view of him from behind is, er, extremely aesthetically pleasing. :D

The last game that my younger sister and I could get to was August 2, against the Brewers - she had two weeks of the Aerial Dance Festival up in Boulder and I was leaving for college after that. Oddly enough, this turned out to be quite possibly the best game of the lot. More free tickets landed us in the first row of the second deck - perfect seats - and we sat there throughout batting practice, making jokes about how little we knew about the Brewers and refusing to budge even when a brief and intense pregame rainstorm swept through and splattered us.

The game started, and we rooted for the Rockies. We rooted our hearts out. We wore purple, black, and white to the game, and we took every opportunity to cheer for the hometown nine.
The game started - the outcome was never really in doubt, as the Rockies plated four in the first and four thereafter, to end up with a final score of 8-1. But the game itself was just a thing of beauty. We weren't really stressing over how things were going to turn out, it was a beautiful night, and it was our last game together for the summer. We were almost wishing that that the Brewers would mount a big rally just so it didn't have to end.

At one point, I said, "Rockies, hit a home run. I want an excuse to stand up and scream." Perhaps an inning later, Todd Helton took a Brewers reliever downtown, and I did just that. It was transcendent.

During the seventh inning, we got ice cream, then stood by the outfield boxes, gazing out over the field and just drinking in how beautiful it was. We were already planning to buy tickets there next year when I got home from college - we'd go on Wednesdays and free-ticket our way through the season. During the eighth inning, as the game was drawing to a close, we both got a little choked up because of how supremely special it had been to spend the summer with the Rockies. We weren't always rooting for them, but in the end, we had become believers in purple and silver.

The Rockies weren't just the Rockies, the rather useless and overlooked hometown team that occasionally cropped up in local sports pages and snide commentaries. They were ours. We had grown to care for them, to honestly cheer for them and want them to win on their own merits. We wanted them to do well, to keep on trucking, and to, hopefully, shock the world by pulling out the NL West title.

As far as they go, I'll be cheering for them, even though I'll be in New York instead of Colorado and won't be able to be there in person for them. So do it, Rockies. You can. And thanks for an absolutely terrific, unbelievably awesome summer that we got to spend with you guys over at 20th and Blake.

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