Maybe this is the year that my favorite team, the Colorado Rockies, provide that singular moment of validation. More likely, it’s not. Either way, this blog is my experiment – like Hornby, my search for a deeper understanding of my fandom. I’ll chronicle every day of this 2009 baseball season, and while this is a Rockies blog at its heart, it’s moreso about one fan’s experience with the team. It’s about staying up past midnight on a weeknight to watch extra innings on the West Coast. It’s about throwing something at the TV when the team loses on a walk-off balk (which actually happened last year).
This is a blog about the Rockies, but it’s about being a Rockies fan first and foremost. Maybe you’ll find you have something in common with me. Perhaps that will frighten you, or perhaps it will comfort you to know that you aren’t the only one that feels a certain way about Clint Barmes popping up to short with runners in scoring position.
So as we start this six-month whirlwind that is the 2009 Major League Baseball season, I hope you’ll join me every now and again. Let’s immerse ourselves in purple and silver, swear after bases loaded walks, gripe about pitching changes, and enjoy being a Rockies fan. There’s no other team in baseball I’d rather root for. Consider this blog a 162-game example as to why.
April 5, 2009 – “Opening Day Eve”
I figure it’s appropriate to start this blog with a story about how I became a Rockies fan. The short answer to that question surrounds attending games at the old Mile High Stadium when I was six years old back in 1993. I had all the Rockies stuff. I was in the kids fan club. I did my level best to keep score in some sort of hieroglyphic handwriting that made perfect sense then but means nothing to me as I look at the old scorecards now. My favorite player was Dante Bichette. We used to sit up in the third deck along the first base side, which meant we were usually the “ROCKIES!” part of the stadium-wide “GO! ROCKIES!” chant.
But it’s not a straight line from point A to point B. Around 1996, my dad stopped including himself in a shared season ticket package. We went to fewer and fewer games. After the thrill of 1995, the Rockies settled into mediocrity, and, as kids are wont to do, I took interest in other players and teams. The Oakland A’s, in particular, grabbed my attention, as I was a huge fan of their young pitchers and took them as my ‘October’ team in the early part of this decade. My favorite player wasn’t a Rockie, but Barry Zito, Oakland’s young, eccentric lefty with a dynamite curveball (being a left-handed (former) pitcher myself, I always had a special preference for lefty soft-tossers who have to live on the corners to survive – which is why Jeff Francis is my favorite current Rockie. May he get well soon).
Then came 2003. 2003 is not a particularly special season in Rockies memory – they won 74 games, Chris Stynes was the everyday third baseman, and other than Shawn Chacon’s All-Star selection, there’s nothing particularly memorable about that team. We had Opening Day tickets that year, so we cut out of school early Friday and went down to the yard. It was a great game – Chacon took a no-no into the sixth (Chad Moeller broke it up), Stynes homered, and though Jose Jimenez made it interesting in the 9th, the Rox hung on for the 2-1 win. That day, the giveaway at the gates was a 12-month calendar with a schedule printed inside. I hung that calendar up in my room, and for some reason, wrote down the result and score of the season’s four games to that point.
The next day, we went back to the ballpark – I had won tickets at some ‘pitch a ball through a small hole’ booth, so me, my dad and my brother went. Preston Wilson won the game with a double in the 10th. The Rox were 3-2 after that win. Again, I wrote the score down on my calendar.
I’m not sure what possessed me to do that, but I did it all season, even as the Rockies cooled after a 15-12 April. For the first time ever I kept close, almost religious, tabs on the Rockies. I have vivid memories of guys like Darren Oliver and Jay Payton having excellent seasons. I remember the debuts of Chin-Hui Tsao, Clint Barmes, and Garrett Atkins. Then, in 2004, I went to more games then I’d been to in years, since I was now permitted to drive downtown myself. It was a building year, of course, but it was exciting to be on the ground floor of that effort, to see guys like Atkins, Barmes, Jeff Francis and others begin what we all hoped would be fruitful careers.
When I left for college that fall I embraced the Rockies even further as part of my identity. There weren’t too many Coloradans at DePauw University in Indiana, but I made sure people knew damn sure I was one of them when I first set foot on campus wearing a road grey Helton jersey and purple CR cap. I was proud of where I was from, proud that it made me unique in a place where I didn’t know anyone and had a hard time getting to know people. I was mostly shy, but “You’re a Rockies fan? Seriously?” was a great icebreaker.
The experience of following the Rockies kept me feeling close to the home I’d left behind. I read the Denver papers (how sad that this is no longer plural) every day, watched games on Gameday (and later, once I’d ponied up the dough, MLB.tv), played as the Rox in dormroom battles of MVP Baseball 05, and told anybody who would ask about a team that nobody had previously had any reason to know about. In a weird way, I was the Rockies ambassador to the group of baseball fans I’d gotten to know, and I embraced that. I threw myself into the team even further in 2005, running laps around my dorm when Barmes opened the season with a game-winning home run. It’s only gotten deeper from there, I’m happy (if a bit sheepish) to say.
The Rockies weren’t just my team, they were me – my gateway to conversation and eventual friendship, my connection to my hometown and home state, and regardless of record, I was proud to be a fan. I still am.
Now if I’m guilty of anything, it’s that I’ve always been a bit of a Pollyanna. I’m one of about seven remaining defenders of Clint Hurdle and Dan O’Dowd. I pick the Rox to win the NL West every year. I’ve predicted superstardom for Rockies prospects from Troy Tulowitzki to JD Closser. The way I figure it is, what’s the fun in being cynical? If you can’t believe in your team – believe in the guys you spend all summer with, the guys that have become a part of the fabric of my life – then what is there to believe in?
So it is with great optimism that I look toward the 2009 season. I think we will be pretty good, actually; certainly better than most think. I think our lineup is underrated and should produce even without Matt Holliday. I think Todd Helton is the Comeback Player of the Year frontrunner, and that Dexter Fowler could swipe the Rookie of the Year trophy. I think Franklin Morales will grow up before our eyes this season. I think Huston Street will lock down the 9th for one of the best bullpens in the National League.
I think these things. I believe in them. They have sustained me from the last out last year to today. Tomorrow, we start to separate hope from reality. Let’s play ball.