Archive for September, 2010

Rockies Souvenir

September 28, 2010

When baseball’s Colorado Rockies were new, I saved every scrap of paper associated with their exploits. Mostly there were articles on how badly they’d lost the day before, team photos, scorecards, giveaway baseball cards and pennants, ticket stubs, napkins, coasters, etc. It was all so new and exciting, and we were living in Denver, the center of it all.

So they were losing almost every game by 10 runs … so what? I’d grown up a Red Sox fan, something that in those World Championship-free days didn’t turn you into a cocky, obnoxious, gloating Red Sox Nation visitor to enemy ballparks. Nope, you were quiet and respectful if lucky enough to catch your boys at, say, Camden Yards, lest someone bring up the Curse of the Bambino.

Here’s my take on that in a comment I wrote at Patrick Smith’s Orioles blog on the subject for the very worthwhile Bugs & Cranks:

Right on, Smitty.

I grew up a Red Sox fan, but hate this garbage and skipped this weekend’s series in Baltimore because of that. I feel worst for the young O’s fans. If only more hometown fans showed up, these “Red Sox Nation” (ewwwww!) knuckleheads could maybe be taught the lesson on the etiquette of visiting an opponent’s stadium that I very nearly learned the hard way.

Got invited to Orchard Park in Buffalo for a Dolphins-Bills game (different sport, same moral, trust me). Can’t explain my Dolphins passion, but there you go. Anyway, it was late December, and somehow it was 75 degrees and sunny — honest to god — so I bought a Bills hat (only thing available) to shield my eyes and quietly and politely watched the Bills go up 24-0.

Then Marino got smoking hot, it was 24-21 in a flash, and I was yelling for the Fish.

And a gentleman behind me asked, very nicely under the circumstances, if he could please have my hat. As the entire section booed me and played frisbee with my “camouflage,” another nice fella poked me — you know, in a friendly way — and mentioned that if I didn’t stop being a butthole, I’d be asked — once — to find another part of the stadium, preferably the parking lot, from which to observe the remainder of the game.

Sniff! I still get choked up. They were so sweet to correct the error of my ways.

Now, when I’m at a visiting ballpark, I cheer the great plays of the home team. I cheer the great plays of the visitors (my team), and I don’t make a beautiful cathedral like Camden Yards a spittoon for my venom at not being cool, rich or connected enough to get into Fenway.

Maybe the O’s fans just need to form a few packs of wandering goons, um, I mean greeters, to help visitors better understand that they are guests, welcome … to keep their goddamn chants to themselves.

Just an idea.

Anyway, the anticipation for that first year of the Rockies was so great that I decided to join a season ticket group at the Rocky Mountain News, my employer then. Ten of us would share the tickets, with a draw of playing cards to determine who got Opening Day, and then who would pick games  in what order.

I drew an ace: Home opener. And, as the others scrambled to get into a game during the team’s first homestand, I grabbed the July 3 Fireworks Game vs. the Cubs — the second-most-sought-after ticket. And on we went. (Did I mention that there was a limited-edition print of Ryan Turner, the first player the Rockies ever signed, that went along with each set of season tickets? Separate drawing: I got a king. The print is on my wall at home.)

Well, between a losing team, flagging interest among our group of ticketholders who weren’t really diehard fans and work schedules for some of the nighttime workers at the newspaper, I went to something like 35 home games that inaugural year, 1993. To put that into perspective, I’d never been to more than three MLB games in one year before then. And Mary? God, she was such a good sport, probably making 20 games herself.

We moved to Baltimore right around Opening Day of the next year. My fellow season-ticket holders held a party, I’m sure. The Rockies paraphernalia came with us, and so did the affection for the team. There have been ups and downs, but all in all it’s been a great ride watching the Rox slowly and painfully put together a competitive team.

Charlie Hayes, Larry Walker, Dante Bichette, Vinny Castilla, Ellis Burks, Andres Galarraga (my favorite: thanks to a friend who attended his Man of the Year celebration, he signed a photo to me (in Spanish), “Steve, come back to Colorado. We miss you”), Walt Weiss, Eric Young … Todd Helton.

Look, even I gasped when the Colorado Rockies signed Todd Helton for way too many years and way too much money way too long ago.

And when I caught my breath, the Softball Coach simply smiled.

The only jersey he'll ever wear ... please.

OK, so Todd and the Softball Coach may worship at different churches, if you know what I’m saying. But there’s no denying what a great and stabilizing presence Helton’s been in the lineup.

Remember Todd and the Toddlers? Ouch. Bad times. One of those little ones was Troy Tulowitzki, the vocal leader the Rox have long wanted Helton to be. But even if Tulo had to find his voice on his own, he couldn’t have had a better lesson on how to play the game right than watching the old man.

Make no mistake: 2010 was a brutal season for Helton. Mediocrity at the plate, a little rust on the Gold Glove, very few moments when you figured, “We’re OK. Todd’s got this.”

Are his astonishing career numbers all a steroids mirage? I don’t know. Steroids don’t make you care as much as Helton cared, right? I’d like to think he was clean. That’s between him and his god — and endocrinologist and orthopedist — down the road.

As for us who adore him as a baseball player, we’ve got only so much more time to cheer his few remaining magic moments. I know every time the Softball Coach is at Coors Field — too rarely now — I root for his name to be in the lineup. And I know he still has about a zillion years on his contract (the Softball Coach exaggerates sometimes), but I hope to be there when they retire his number.

In purple.