It’s been a strange summer for baseball for me, and I thought that it was over back on the 19th when we saw the Dodgers. Colorado won, and the Rockies were doing well coming out of that, but my schedule got too weird to get in on any of the other games, and I figured that victory would be a nice high note to end on, and then the team would get blocked by the end of the year by the Padres or something.
And it has been strange being a baseball fan here. First of all, I was not really that much of a baseball fan prior to moving here – I saw a couple of games, it was neat, but I didn’t know the difference between a foul tip and a strike. And when we moved to Colorado, most people asked me if Denver even had a major league team, and I found that among many locals, the Rockies were somewhat of an inside joke, something that took off with a flash about fifteen years ago, and then slowly took its place behind football, hockey, soccer, and basketball. Hell, the rodeo is bigger than football was back in Indiana.
But I had an apartment a block from the stadium, I had a work-at-home/part-time gig that let me skip out for day games, and tickets were usually cheaper than going to a movie in New York. So I went whenever I could. And two things happened. First, I learned to really love baseball. I love the mathematical aspect of it, the statistics and numbers and team records and batting averages. I also love the subtleties behind the game. Football (as far as I see it) is this brute force game of conquest, of pushing and shoving and blocking. (The passing game is another story, though.) Basketball: endurance, and running back and forth; it’s basically a track and field event with a ball added. Hockey: I don’t even understand hockey. But everything in baseball is knowing how to gradually change your stance or your angle or your position in order to exploit a known issue with the other team. The difference between a strikeout and a home run is a millimeter’s difference in how you hold the bat. A split-second decision in fielding is the difference between the other team scoring two or three times in one hit versus turning a triple play. You have to be strong to belt one 500 feet, but a little dude (like Kaz Matsui) can easily dominate the offense based on his ability to read the other team and react. And if a guy like Prince Fielder, who makes me look like a damn anorexic, can dominate the game, it makes me feel closer to the game, even if I could never play at the company softball skill level.
The other thing that happened is that the Rockies got good. They didn’t at first, but right around the time I started going, they started winning more games, and doing more impressive things on the field. They swept the Giants; they won two of three against the Red Sox at Boston. Then after a ton of losses, they swept the Mets. They swept the Yankees. They went into a slump, but swept the Brewers in one of the most lopsided set of games of the year. And as this picked up, I followed more games on the computer. I bought an AM radio to listen when I wasn’t there. I spent a lot of time reading up on players and opponents and history and the game itself. And I loved it even more.
And then it got weird. The Rockies simply could not lose. They lost three pitchers and had to replace them with triple-A transplants or kids right off the boat from the Dominican Republic. Matt Holliday messed up his oblique muscle. Matsui strained a ligament. They brought up a catcher, a replacement for a replacement, that dorked up his leg early in his very first MLB start. But they kept winning. A four-game sweep against the Dodgers. A road trip where they swept the Padres, then swept the Dodgers again. Then two of three against the Diamondbacks. And that meant the Rockies were tied with San Diego for the wildcard. In a 13-inning game at Coors Field, the Rockies just barely squeaked by and got the spot. People were going absolutely apeshit here – some people were actually more interested in the Rockies than the Broncos. And then the Rockies beat Philly twice on the road, (which included a phenomenal grand slam by non-power-hitter Matsui) setting up a huge huge huge Saturday night game, which could advance the Rockies to the next level, where they’ve never been before.
Anyway, I managed to get two tickets to the Saturday game by sheer luck. I bought them online before the wild card was decided, meaning I basically made a $150 bet that they’d finish. But they did, and I went to the box office and picked up my tickets on Friday. They’re different than the regular season tickets, printed on a golden-looking ticket blank. I even managed to get club seats, which meant we got to hang out in the fancy concourse and we had padded seats that were wider than the regular ones. Nice.
The game started at 7:30, so we left at 6:00, and there were already masses of people everywhere. Notably absent were ticket scalpers, since it was a sold out game and nobody was parting with their seats. Everyone got a free Rockies towel to wave around. By the time we got to our seats, it was almost an hour before the game started, and over half of the seats were already full. That’s about how many people show up for the average ho-hum game during the season, and I knew the crowd would double. It was at least as crowded as when we saw the Yankees, an event that brought out droves of no-neck shitheads to boo the home team because their $200 million dollar roster was getting slaughtered by a $50 million dollar team. This time, it was a sea of purple and spinning towels.
There were many changes this evening over all of the regular season games I saw. First, the NLDS logos were everywhere: on the grass, on the signs, on the souvenir cups you get with a Coke, and on many t-shirts, official and bootleg, in and on the audience. The advertisements were different; probably because of some MLB-brokered postseason deal. Some of the ads contradicted other ads in the stadium: a Budweiser next to a Coors; a Pepsi next to a Coke. Some were ads completely new to Coors Field: XM, Nike, TBS. They also showed some between-inning PSAs that we don’t usually get, like one about steroids. Ironically, another was for some “best season ever” thing that spotlighted Barry “will work for HGH” Bonds, which got many boos. The biggest change was the national anthem; a million Marines brought out this football field-sized flag and opened it up. Then there were a few shots of fireworks, and a million purple balloons were released into the sky. There was also a long, protracted introduction of all of the players and staff of each team. There were six umpires instead of four. Also, there was a video of John Elway saying “go Rockies” or some shit, and if Jesus would have showed up and told everyone there were keys under their seats for a free Hummer H1, it would have gotten less applause.
One of the more moving things in the game (as if there was a shortage) was the first pitch. Mike Coolbaugh was a player turned batting coach for one of Colorado’s minor league teams. Last July, he was coaching at first base and was hit in the head with a line drive, which killed him. He left behind a pregnant wife and two young boys, three and five years old. The Rockies have gone the extra mile in helping out the Coolbaugh family, holding charity events, and opening up their own checkbooks. When Matt Holliday won the Clemente award, he basically signed the back of the check and gave it to Amanda Coolbaugh. The team also unanimously voted to give the family a full share of their playoff earnings (not the *team’s* earnings, but the *player’s* earnings, right out of their pockets), and guessing at how the stadium sold out, that should be a decent chunk of change. Anyway, young Josh and Jacob were cute, and got a standing ovation from 51,000 people without a dry eye among them. As I read on a constant basis about what total shitheads most professional athletes are these days, it always amazes me when the Rockies do something like this.
We joked a lot about the plague of locusts or whatever that fucked with the pitchers in the Yankees-Indians game the night before. And a second later, these huge gale-force winds started blowing in, right into home plate. They whipped around a ton of garbage, and pitchers were able to put major heat on the ball, while the offense couldn’t hit anything out. And with the wind, the temp dropped fast. I was wearing a light jacket and thin t-shirt, and suddenly wanted a winter coat and gloves. Sarah went to the gift shop and bought a ton of stuff, and I guess everyone else did too, because the store looked like a grocery store the day before a blizzard. I put on a second shirt and a hooded sweatshirt, and that mostly kept me warm. I felt sorry for all of those Latin American ball players who never saw temps below the mid-80s in their lives.
Then, in the middle of the second inning, all of the lights in all of the light clusters went out, one by one, and in about three seconds, the entire field was dark. I seem to remember this happening at a Cubs game recently, and of course Lou threw a fit, because that is a game-calling event. A minute later, a small subset of the field lights went on, like those emergency lights that go on when the power goes out. All of the other lights were on, though. A quick-thinking PA dude put on the Springsteen song “Dancing in the Dark”. Within 15 minutes, the lights were back on, and the game continued.
And what a weird game. It was one of those pitching battles, where there were no hits or walks, and it just went back and forth, except every time Jimanez threw a pitch, there was a huge cheer. If it was two outs and a 1-1 count, everyone was on their feet like it was the final out of the final game of the World Series. Same goes for balls thrown against Rockies players. But nobody was making any progress, until the 5th inning, when the Rockies got in one. I was pretty sure the entire stadium was going to get rocked off of its foundation after what normally would be a pretty mediocre run. Then the Phillies got a single-shot homer via Victorino in the 7th to tie it up, and I anticipated the game going back and forth for another 19 innings.
In the 8th, Holliday and Helton both flied out, and things started looking very dicey. Then Atkins got a single; Hawpe got a single, and Atkins got to third. The next up was pinch hitter Jeff Baker. Baker hadn’t played much this year, and then in a Cubs series, he got hit in the face by a fast pitch, which gave him a concussion and kept him out for a while. But for whatever reason, Hurdle sent him in, and the crowd went absolutely apeshit. And on the second pitch, Baker singled a grounder to right field, driving in Atkins, and riled up everyone like throwing bloody meat into a shark tank.
At the end of the 8th, at least a hundred security people came out to the field, standing at each side three feet apart. In the 9th, Manny Corpas came to the mound, and people were yelling and screaming at each pitch, more than ever. Ryan Howard – strikeout. Aaron Rowand – a dribbled ground ball right at Helton on first base. Victorino, who had the only home run of the game, came to the plate It seems like four hours between each pitch. Strike. Foul. Ball. Then a grounder to Matsui at 2nd, throw to Todd at first – and that’s that.
Everyone was going totally absolutely apeshit. Towels were everywhere. Brooms were all over. A huge barrage of fireworks were shooting out of the scoreboard. All of the Rockies charged the field. At least a dozen police motorcycles drove up onto the warning track, and there was a SWAT team truck below our section. The screen went to the cameras in the clubhouse, and there was an entire boatload of champagne being shot all over. LaTroy Hawkins was dancing like he was auditioning for a part in Breakin’ 3. We went downstairs and I took a lot of video with my camera. I looked out onto Blake street, and there were tens of thousands of people running around, yelling, with purple hair, purple face paint, brooms, signs, and spinning towels. We fought our way back downstairs, and Glen Hurdle was trying to give a speech on the monitors, but he looked like he just jumped into a swimming pool of bubbly. Outside, every car horn in a two mile radius was glued down. Every person we walked past wanted a high-five. Luckily, we were only a block away, and got inside with no worries.
Now that would be a great end to my season, right? Almost – I got us tickets to see the second home game of the NLCS, against the Diamondbacks. Should be fun! (Especially if it snows first.)
Anyway, pix here.