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Mile High Magic: Gratitude for the 2017 Rockies

After watching the Rockies fall to the Diamondbacks in the playoffs, a Denver native reflects on why baseball in the Mile High City is a gift—win or lose.

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On Father’s Day this past June, in the same house where I grew up, my mother and I sat down to watch one of the most memorable Colorado Rockies games of the season. Third baseman Nolan Arenado hit for the cycle—including a walk-off home run—to cap a comeback win and improve the team’s record to 46-26.

The Rockies were off to the best start in franchise history, but my mother and I were still skeptical. As Rockies fans since the team’s inception, we have trained ourselves to expect staggering slumps on the other side of even the slightest triumphs. Naturally, we bemoaned the team’s lack of starting pitching depth, and questioned whether Arenado and Charlie Blackmon could keep up their MVP-worthy hitting.

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Despite our doubts, though, my mother ended the conversation on a note neither one of us could dispute. “Your father would have loved to have seen the Rockies playing this well,” she said.

When I was growing up, my family was fortunate enough to have season tickets to the Rockies. I spent many a spring, summer, and (a few) fall nights and afternoons at Coors Field. The majority of those games were spent with my father and his friends, and the Coors Field stands were a place where I learned to love the intricacies of baseball. We kept score, made bets, wore rally caps, and my father and his friends even expanded my vocabulary a bit.

At Coors Field, I came to understand the fraught nature of Denver sports fandom in a quickly changing city. I was often confused by the idea that we watched games with as many Rockies fans as we did St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, or San Francisco Giants fans. In a city that became more transplant heavy every day, that was just a reality.

For much of my youth, the Rockies were not very good. Players like Larry Walker and Todd Helton gave us glimpses of hope, but outside of the club’s incredible World Series run in 2007 and playoff appearances in 1995 and 2009, there wasn’t much to cheer about.

As I grew older, my tone towards the Rockies became more disparaging. It became tiresome rooting for a team that didn’t win very much. When I said such things, though, my father always made sure to remind me that I was lucky I even had the opportunity to go to a Major League Baseball game in Denver.

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My father grew up in Denver in an era when the city didn’t have a Major League Baseball team. When he moved to San Francisco for a short time in his late 20s, he went to famed Candlestick Park to watch the Giants as much as possible. He often explained that even on nights when the wind would come screaming off the Bay it was still worth hanging around to watch live baseball.

Upon his return to Colorado, the Mile High City was still without a Major League team. He and his friends would attend Denver Zephyrs’ games—a popular minor league team affiliated with multiple MLB franchises during its tenure—but it wasn’t the same as the big show.

Finally, though, in 1993 the Rockies came to town. It was the moment my father and his friends had been hoping for, and they immediately purchased season tickets. In the early years, the crew had eight seats in section 127 at Coors Field. We rooted for the Blake Street Bombers and cheered wildly every time the first guitar riffs of Ozzy Osborne’s “Crazy Train” signaled a coming Larry Walker at bat.

As time wore on and the Rockies continued to struggle, the total number of season tickets shrunk to four. And then two. Eventually, my father was one of the only people hanging on.

In 2012, my father was diagnosed with cancer. Chemotherapy, surgeries, and drugs meant that he often found it uncomfortable to go out in public—including to Coors Field. Unable to attend his desired amount of Rockies games, he informed the franchise that he would be cancelling his season tickets.

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The Rockies ticket office had other ideas, though. Out of loyalty—or possibly out of a desire to keep dwindling season ticket sales up—they offered my father the opportunity to hold onto one seat in the upper level of Coors Field at an extreme discount. They noted that if he ever got better, we could easily upgrade to better seats again. My father decided to take their offer, unable to let go of something he had wanted for so long.

My father never did get better, though. After a long fight with cancer, he died in March 2016.

During the last years of his life, I was no longer living in the Colorado. I had moved away for college and spent my immediate post-grad years bouncing around various cities. I still obsessively followed Rockies box scores and got excited about minor league pitching prospects, but mostly kept quiet about my fandom. I lived in cities like St. Louis, Chicago, and New York where baseball history—and glory—looms large. When I did talk about the Rockies, it was mostly used to elicit a cheap laugh.

I moved back to Denver the week before Father’s Day this past summer. I arrived excited about the prospect of a new job, but, frankly, I was unsure about whether Denver was a place I really wanted to be. The city had changed drastically since I’d left eight years earlier. More important, being in Denver was a reminder of the meaningful people that are no longer here.

Amidst the uncertainty, I gravitated towards the familiar—Rockies baseball. I went to Coors Field as much as possible and spent summer evenings watching local broadcasts of games. Despite my natural inclination toward skepticism when it comes to my hometown baseball team, it was a true joy to watch the winning baseball from the Rockies all season. It is a joy to watch how much Nolan Arenado loves playing baseball. And there are few greater feelings than watching Charlie Blackmon stroll to the plate, and knowing that it’s pretty darn likely that he is going to get a hit.

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As the season entered the homestretch, I braced for the possibility that the team would fall short again and couldn’t have been more excited when they made the playoffs last week.

Last night’s Wild Card game was a minor letdown—my mother and I were right about the team’s pitching, after all—but we got to watch playoff baseball and it can’t be overstated how awesome—and gratifying— that is.

My family is still hanging on to that one seat in the upper level of Coors Field, and I think we always will. Because we will always hear my father’s voice in our heads telling us that we are lucky to watch professional baseball in the Mile High City. Of course, it’s that much more fun when they win. And as my mother noted in June, my father would have loved it either way.

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