I grew up in the Denver suburbs, and in my home it was all about baseball. This was before Major League Baseball awarded Denver a franchise but thanks to TBS and WGN, we were able to get two different baseball teams on our TV on a regular basis. What’s more, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a neighborhood where a lot of other kids played baseball. The Rockies came to town in 1993 and two magic words helped turn this preoccupation into an obsession: season tickets. The team had to share their stadium with another team for a while but who cares! Everyone knows that baseball is king, and the Rockies had put Denver on the map! It wasn’t until 1997 when I discovered that , despite my experience, I lived in a football town. That’s right, it wasn’t until their fabled Super Bowl run did I discover the Broncos ran Denver.
Give me a break, okay! I was like 9 years old, and my family loved baseball. It was really easy to tune out whatever my dad was flipping through on Sunday afternoons in the wintertime. Anyway, ever since that date I have constantly been in the minority with my priority sporting preference. Rockies fans know this pain very well. Every fall the Denver landscape gets orange and, with the Rockies falling out of the race around mid-summer over the past several years, it’s been getting oranger earlier and earlier. Now it’s November and Thanksgiving, the annual football holiday, is around the corner. It’s enough to make a hardball fan despair.
This isn’t so much a debate about the relative merits between baseball and football. When it comes to sports people have their own tastes. And, since this is a baseball-themed blog, I think I can reasonably assume that any defense of baseball over football, were I even interested in making it, would be preaching to the choir. Nor is it a treatise on what to do with your baseball offseason (I already wrote that one, actually). No, instead, this is a story about what it’s like for one baseball fan living in football-centric territory.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to cope with this exile. Winters were always the worst, and I ‘d hoped dabbling in some other sports would ease the burden: football, college basketball, even hockey. Nothing could replace the ole ballgame, though. Around the time I got cut from my high school baseball team I tried to cut baseball from my life completely (it was a dark time and I don’t really want to talk about it) but I couldn’t resist the siren song. No, I was glued to baseball for life, it seemed, and the Rockies in particular. This was especially painful because I struggled to find others like me. Most of the friends I made would rather watch the Broncos practice than a baseball game on TV.
Even on the various baseball teams I played on when I did find people who had baseball before all others, they often ascribed their loyalties elsewhere: Cincinnati, Chicago, Los Angeles, even Boston (this was before they became a juggernaut). There were occasional friends who wore Rockies shirts to school, but we connected over other things, not the Rockies. After all, I was that nerdy kid who was good in math and spent mornings hovering over my bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and the box scores and stats leader boards in the papers. I was different. Often it was just me and my dad, enjoying the Blake Street Bombers and later Todd and the Toddlers while I settled with connecting to my peers in other ways. And to add insult to injury, the Rockies kept losing.
We all know the Rockies haven’t exactly enjoyed the most glamorous of histories. While the product on the field has always been entertaining, it would be difficult to claim that it was always quality. Contrast this with their NFL neighbors down the road and it’s clear the Rockies were never better than second fiddle–and often third or fourth. Until, of course: Rocktober.
I was a freshman at the University of Colorado in 2007. I spent the summer after my senior year taking in plenty of baseball games at Coors Field and managed to take in a few after I started school. Leaving home–even only an hour or so away–makes the transition to college difficult for many. But my dad and I talked on the phone a lot, primarily about baseball. I remember when the Rockies lost a Saturday night game in September to the Marlins my dad and I were on the phone. The playoffs were looking like a long shot. My dad theorized they’d have to win at least 11 of their last 13 games to have a chance. And then the streak started.
I’ve thought a lot about this month-and-a-half stretch of Rockies history. The Broncos were in the second year of what would become a 5 year playoff-less stretch but most people in Denver were focused on their 2-0 start after a disappointing 9-7 finish the previous season. My dad and I, though, talked almost every night, always about the winning streak. As it stretched into its second week, we were up late on the phone, both watching the Rockies beat the Dodgers in Chavez Ravine when we allowed ourselves to start believing, “Maybe they can do this?” And as they did, my well-worn Rockies hat was a call to all those catching on to what was happening that I was the one to go to to learn about who the heck these guys were. For once, being a sojourner in football country wasn’t making me feel like an outsider, but an ambassador. And when the Rockies made it to the Wild Card game, my dad and I were there–and it didn’t feel like we were in football country anymore. And every step through the playoffs, people celebrated and they came to me, knowing how much I was celebrating. Of course, this turned out to be short lived, but that spark, those 6 weeks, whetted my appetite for something more.
I spent the next 4 years longing for the Rockies to do something to help me, and those of you like me, feel a little less isolated, like baseball wasn’t such an afterthought in Denver. Of course, the Rockies got worse and the Broncos got better, reclaiming their crown as the primary force in the Denver sports landscape. And we’re still waiting, and baseball fans continue to live as strangers in a football town.
Besides, as popular as football is in Denver, locals would rarely describe it as religion like they do in other parts of the country. So it isn’t that bad. Besides, I’d made friends who loved baseball. Sure, nobody was a stat geek like I was, but we could still talk about baseball. And besides that there were blogs like Purple Row, and later Rockies Review, Rox Pile and Rockies Zingers, where I could connect with incredibly passionate fans not only around the region, but around the world! I was learning how to deal. I was doing well. I was in a good place about it.
Then I moved to Memphis, in the heart of SEC country.