Major League Baseball’s Spring Training is starting up this week. I know this because I saw it on the news. The Colorado news. I still haven’t gotten used to the fact that anyone in Colorado might care enough about baseball to consider the start of Spring Training news.
Last year, though, was incredible. For me. It was interesting to go back and read some of my old posts while the Red Sox were winning their first (recent) championship. I think it’s pretty clear that my pleasure was mostly vicarious. Hell yeah I had a great time, but it was mostly derived from being amidst so many tortured Boston fans who were going nuts. The Sox were never “my team.” I’m a Colorado sports fan through and through. But the Rockies sucked goat nards at that point.
That’s why last baseball season was so special. No, the Rox didn’t go all the way, but they did vastly outstrip everyone’s expectations. And they gave us something to cheer about into October. Beards were grown; beer was consumed; voodoo dolls were stabbed. And, being one of the Rockies faithful, I got to be one of the genuinely exuberant fans this time around, while others got to ride my wave. I like to think me and a few other Rox diehards put on a good show.
The best part of the whole experience was going to game 4 of the NLCS at Coors Field, you know, the one where they clinched the pennant. I’ve often, in conversation, characterized it in one or both of the following ways: “the best night of my life,” or “like winning the lotto 5 times in a row.” Let me break it down for you. We bought the tickets for a modest playoff-ticket price, without knowing what the circumstances of the series would be at that point. Game 4 seemed like a logical choice, since the fourth game is almost always pivotal in some way. Little did we know that the Rox would complete the sweep in this game and clinch the NL pennant. Even more little did we know, we had been assigned the best seats ever. Or at least, the best playoff seats I could ever hope to afford on my starving-artist budget.
|Best. Seats. Ever.|
We arrived at the game early to catch some b.p. and get settled. We were assigned row 6, so we figured we would be pretty close to the field. As it turned out.. well I like to call them “Bartman seats.” If there had been a pop foul hit to right field, we could have snatched it right out of Moises Alou’s glove. If he were playing in that game. Which he wasn’t. But you get the idea. One of our great pleasures that evening was watching the people around us file in, see their seats right on the field, and shout, “No effing way!” just as we had done when we first came in.
When the game began, the left fielder and player nearest to us on the visiting team was Eric Byrnes, a former Rockie who had recently earned the title of most hated Diamondback in Denver by saying things in a press conference like, “I also don’t think the Rockies have outplayed us, because they haven’t. Not even close. They’ve had a little luck go their way.” My favorite part about the whole ordeal was that he was completely right. But just because something is true doesn’t mean you should say it. (“You’re fat!” “Did you know that your head isn’t perfectly round?” “You spent three years on that? It sounds like the Olympic hockey team skating around on a giant chalkboard!” etc.) Basically all he accomplished was to give us some great fodder for screaming and heckling him the whole game. A couple of my favorites: “They’re not booing you, they’re saying Boo-yrnes!” and, from my brother, “Hey Byrnes, your show is worse than Frank TV!” (if you watched any of the NL playoffs on TBS you would know why this is funny). About a week later when, as a member of the broadcast team during the pregame of the first World Series game in Boston, Eric Byrnes said “I don’t want to get booed out of another city,” we laughed; we like to think we had a little something to do with that.
When the Rockies were out in the field, the player nearest us was Matt Holliday, one of the most beloved figures of the playoff run in Denver, and an NL MVP candidate. Holliday would go on to hit two bombs in the game and be chosen the MVP of the series. We had plenty of stuff to shout at him too, including (being the practical-minded fans that we are) chants of “Sign-with-us!” And, of course, Matty signed with the Rox again in the offseason, so we like to think we had a little something to do with that, too.
The crucial inning turned out to be the fourth. The Rox were down 0-1 at that point, with two out and runners at second and third. Rookie Franklin Morales had pitched a very solid 4 innings to that point, but Clint Hurdle decided they needed to get those runs in, so he sent recent call-up Seth Smith to the plate, who, since he had been added to the roster, didn’t seem to know how not to get a hit. The guy that was seated in front of us didn’t seem to think this was such a hot idea. We reassured his that Smith would come through, but the guy still didn’t seem convinced. Well, a bloop double, an error, a hit and a Matt Holliday 3-run home run later, the Rox had put a 6-spot up on the board, and our new friend turned around to us and said, “I owe you guys some beers.” Hell yeah.
Basically from that point forward, the D-Backs (or D-Bags as we called them all night, affectionately) were all but buried, and so we just yelled ourselves hoarse and enjoyed every moment as the historic evening played itself out, and the Rox captured the first ever Major League pennant in Colorado baseball history.
When the game ended, a large mass of people came out of the left field tunnel for the ensuing celebration. A few network cameramen rushed out of the tunnel and proceeded to train their news cameras directly on us in the stands! We gave them what they wanted by shouting into the lens for about 30 seconds. When they finally averted the cameras and walked away, my brother looked at me and said, “Dude, we were so just on television.” This was later confirmed by a few people who had been watching the game at home.
|Jarodd Belton the Mighty
The night continued with running down the streets of Denver pounding on the hoods of cars, and then poking our heads into a few bars. I should mention that with my disgusting Todd Helton goatee that had been growing since the beginning of the streak, and my worn Rockies cap that I have had since their 1993 inaugural season, there may actually have been a few people in Denver that night who were drunk enough to mistake me for the real Todd Helton. Hard to say really. Nonetheless, it was a great time. It’s hard to top the unity that arises in a city from a big sports victory.
Anyway, the proverbial lottery winning would wrap up a few days later with the Boston Red Sox rounding out the other half of the World Series matchup. That is basically the matchup that I had been proclaiming would be my dream World Series, and it, too, came to pass. However, to truly have been my dream series, it would have needed to at least go five or six games. We knew the Sox had the better team, but we stuck by our Rox, because stranger things have happened (*cough*NYGiants*cough*). They just couldn’t muster a single victory in the Fall Classic, and the glorious 4th game of the NLCS that we had attended would prove to be the last game they won last season. Still, after the initial disappointment in their World Series showing wore off, it was hard to be too upset by a season that had shattered all our expectations, and given us so much excitement.
So that’s the story of my NLCS experience, recorded for posterity. Definitely one to tell the grandkids someday. It seems that there are so few days like that, where for an instant, it seems like all the stars align to truly give you a moment to remember and cherish forever. This was definitely one of those times. For me.
I had a whole different point that I wanted to make about baseball that I never got to, because I got sidetracked and now this post is too long. But I will type that one up soon, so stay tuned!