Back in the summer of 2008, with the Rockies sitting at 36-51 in a season of disappointment and unfulfilled hope after the magic of 2007, I remember sitting with my uncle in the muggy heat of Indiana on the Fourth of July. We had just watched the Rockies best the Marlins 18-17 in one of the most exciting games of the season (besides the SpillySlam), where the Rockies had battled back from a nine-run deficit.
As a relatively new baseball fan, who had been closely and devotedly following the Rockies for only a year, I was still swept up in the magic of the previous season and the unbridled hopes for the future. Like most fans at the time, my hopes, and much of my enthusiasm, rested on the shoulders of then-23-year-old shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. He hadn’t played in the game that night, back on the DL after requiring stitches for a hand he cut slamming his bat to the ground after a strikeout.
Where I was new and idealistic as a fan, probably also attributable to becoming a fan in the same year as the magical run, my uncle had those years of experience, weariness and cynicism bred in a true lifelong fan. In his home there was the “Cleveland Indians room,” a red room literally filled with memorabilia from throughout the years, from bats to bobbleheads, pins and torn ticket stubs. He knew what it was like to be there with a team for years, and that was why he gave me the warning he did that night.
We sat finishing banana splits and apple pie, me relishing in the victory. I told him about Tulo, about how I couldn’t wait for him to come off the DL again, put his horrid start to the season behind him. He must have seen it, then, what was coming, in a way I couldn’t have.
“A long time ago,” he told me, “I promised myself never to love a single player again.”
Now, eight years later, I understand what he was talking about.
When the news broke that the Rockies had traded Tulo last Monday, I went the same gamut of emotions many others have since written about — disbelief, shock, depression.
It was what my uncle had warned me about those years ago in Indiana, a warning I had neglected to really take to heart. When you put so much idolism, love and passion into a single player, sooner or later, it is bound to break your heart.
Jake Shapiro has already written a fantastic Tulo reflection that encapsulated a lot of my own feelings, followed up by another stellar piece by Matt Gross for Purple Row. The recurring theme through both those pieces, through so much that has been written in the past week since the trade went down, is “heartbreak.”
After nine years of watching, cheering and idolizing Tulo, I still can’t really wrap my head around the fact that it’s over. It feels like a part of my life that has always just been there, then was suddenly yanked from under my feet.
As I mentioned, I became a Rockies fan in the doldrums of summer 2007, which as we all know, would turn out to be rather convenient timing. It was during, in fact, the stretch of the Rockies losing nine games while closer Brian Fuentes blew four straight saves.
Who in their right mind would sign up as a fan then? I don’t know, I guess I have always had a soft side for the underdogs and losers. But more than that, I was fueled by watching their young shortstop, who despite his floundering team seemed to be performing heroics every night. As everyone who has watched Tulo knows, the passion seeps out of him, his love for the game and winning writes itself in every move, every look.
That’s really what I was drawn to, and that was what kept me curiously coming back, slowly learning baseball, this team, its players. Then September and October 2007 happened.
Being a baseball fan is a romantic thing, and I came into the game with the love and blind passion of a new romance. A lot of that was because of Tulo. I saved magazine covers and articles about the star shortstop. I stopped whatever I was doing for his every at-bat, I clapped and cheered and cried and really felt his successes and his failures.
I began to take his words to heart, too. Anyone who has followed Tulo knows that he is “married” to the game, a notoriously tireless worker who is regularly one of the first to the park and last to leave, despite being one of the best in the game. One story that really stuck with me came from Trevor Story this year, who joined Tulo in 2014 for the well-known “camp Tulo,” where Tulo would work with young guys on their way up through the system (Nolan Arenado is a notable graduate).
After a full day of exercises from the break of dawn to 11 p.m., the two were driving home when Tulo turned to Story.
“On the ride home, he asked me if he thought anybody else in baseball did anything more than we did.” Story said. “I said, ‘I don’t think anybody did anything close to what we did today.’ He said, that’s how you work to be the best.”
His motivation inspired me, watching him return again and again from injury with the same fortitude, excitement, the same unyielding desire to always be better.
When I first started watching Tulo, I had just discovered my desire to be a journalist. In the nine years I watched him, I always remembered his drive, his insistence on hard work. That became a part of me, too. After failures and disappointments, I remembered watching Tulo always get back up. I put in late hours, endless determination — some of that is personal drive, motivation from family, but a part of it really was because Tulo had been teaching me for years that was what it took, in everything. I don’t think I can say that I would be in the same place I am in today without that.
I guess that is what we can take with us. In all my memories of falling in love with the Rockies, of long summer nights with friends or family at Coors, of cheering victories and tearful defeats, Tulo is there, intertwined together with all the memories, both of the team and my own life.
When I started watching Tulo, I was a 13-year-old, nervous to start high school and dreaming of a future in journalism. When I found out he had been traded, it was as a 22-year-old returning home from a long day at my first job.
Saying goodbye to Tulo is like a strange coming-of-age, I think, for the many of us who found this team or this game with him. There’s many of us, both young and older. It was never supposed to be like this. We thought we would watch the team return to the playoffs lead by Tulo, thought he could retire as the greatest player to wear the Rockies uniform, thought these would be the years of writing a new history for this team. We thought Tulo would be there for it all.
Sports will break your heart, and players, they will too. Just like my uncle tried to warn me.
I am still here, cheering for the Rockies in this disappointing, frankly painful season. They are a part of my life, they always will be, whoever is dawning the uniforms. I will continue to watch, I will make new memories. I will love other players. But it’s different, now — there is a part of me that will always feel this loss for the team, and my fanship now is more wearied and cautious, more mature.
I look forward to making new memories, to seeing the pitchers we acquired in the trade, to seeing our promising prospects make their debuts. I will go to the park this next week in an Arenado jersey and laugh and cheer, but I will feel Tulo’s absence. I will feel it for a long, long time. As many have compared it to, accurately, it’s like your first love — I’ll love again, of course, but it will never be quite what it was with Tulo. That’s a one-time thing.
One day, a long time from now, maybe I will be at a game with my own kids. Maybe there will be a player with that passion, that spark, that captures their attention and imagination, and they wear his jersey, treasure his autograph, fall asleep looking at his poster. I will probably give them the same warning I got, tell them what happens when you love one player, tell them that it will inevitably hurt.
Just like me, I bet they won’t listen.