My Grandpa was a lover to those close to him and a fighter against the disease that eventually took him away from his loved ones. He was an avid baseball fan, a man of courage and faith and mostly, a caring, supportive and loving grandpa to me.
Baseball always has and always will be one of my main loves. I learned that from him. Ever since I can remember, baseball was the common center between us.
Now probably nearing the triple-digit marker in number of games I’ve been to, he was the one who took me to my very first game. I don’t remember a single thing about the game–to be honest, I don’t even remember going–but I know that we went to my first game together, a Rockies game at the old Mile High Stadium.
Each summer he’d come out to Colorado to visit. He’d generally spend a week or so in town. During that time, he’d sit and watch me play a handful of times. He’d take me to a collector’s store in Denver called Bill’s. It had the best selection of baseball cards known to man. He’d always buy me whichever ones I wanted and we’d always get a big box full of an assortment of cards.
We’d generally go to three games at Coors Field while he was here, also. On the car ride down, I’d go through each card in the box, many of them old-timers I was unfamiliar with, and he’d tell me something about each player. He knew so much.
He’d graciously allow me to get to the games early and we’d stay well past the last pitch. One time we sat through a game that featured a rain delay, 13 innings of baseball and the Cardinals’ third baseman becoming a pitcher because St. Louis ran out of actual pitchers.
The game lasted until the wee hours of the morning. Grandpa taught me how to keep score on the score card, but I ran out of room because of how many pitchers each team used. Did the rain or extra innings make Grandpa budge, though? Nope, we were staying at the game until it finished.
He taught me much of what I know about baseball–about bunting and sacrifice flies; why the cleanup hitter hits in the No. 4 spot in the lineup and that striking out swinging is always more respectable than going down looking. He taught me that if you aren’t confident that you can get a hit, it’s better to purposely strike out with a runner on first base than to weakly dribble one into the dirt and ground into an inning-ending double play.
He used to tell me how when he was younger, the starting pitchers would pitch complete games and that the National League is a joke because, “Do you realize they actually make their pitchers bat?”
My Grandpa was the first person I ever saw listening to a radio while sitting at a baseball game. I think it’s a neat idea and I, too, will probably do it someday. Now I see people with portable TVs at games, but I think my Grandpa would stick with the radio. He liked the radio announcers better, anyway.
Each April our conversations were about the upcoming season. I would talk about how the Rockies were built to contend and that “this year is our year.” He would tell me how George Steinbrenner had lots of money and that the Yankees will win . . . again. During the summers we’d talk about the season and come October, we’d engage in playoff talk.
Only once did I get to brag to him about how the Rockies were in the World Series while his Yankees were stuck at home watching. In every conversation he’d always reference his famous line, “How ’bout them Yankees?”
One of my favorite most recent memories with him was this past October when I was attending a Rockies playoff game. He called me during the middle of the game after a controversial safe-out call at first base. I told him that despite the umpire’s call, Dexter Fowler was safe. Grandpa was my video review, confirming with me that the way I saw the play was indeed correct.
I think it’s fitting that the last season that my Grandpa got to witness was 2009, when the Yankees won the World Series (As if the 17 other World Series rings he witnessed weren’t enough). Last summer I traveled to New York and got to experience a game at historic Yankee Stadium. I was surprised to learn that my Grandpa, such a Yankee fanatic, had never been.
While the experience was amazing, it didn’t quite win me over as a diehard Yankees fan. This past October, however, we promised each other that we would both root for the Rockies to win the National League pennant and the Yankees to clinch the American League title. If both teams made it to the World Series, then it was all fair game.
He joked that he thought he still had his Rockies hat somewhere in his closet; he would just have to blow off the dust that had collected on it for the past decade-plus since he last wore it.
He was always a good sport, though. He would tell me how he would cheer for Colorado State, my college, every time they played UNLV, his hometown, and how all of his friends in Las Vegas would give him a hard time because, most of the time, UNLV got the best of CSU. He stuck with the Rams, though and in the World Series last year, I stuck with the Yankees.
He always had a good heart and good sense of humor and I’ll miss him deeply. While driving together he would randomly wave to passersby. Confused, I would ask if he knew them. He would respond, “Nah, but don’t worry, they don’t know me either.” Last March I got to take my one and only visit to Las Vegas while he lived there. He picked me up from the airport and drove me around the Strip.
He took me to Freemont Street and we got a burger at a local diner and just talked. He came and watched me work at the Mountain West Conference tournament and on our last day we went to the Hoover Dam.
Our last baseball game together was two years ago during his final visit to Colorado. The Rockies won and then-closer Brian Fuentes set a Rockies record for most career saves.
In his 67 years, he battled prostate, melanoma and bone cancer, diabetes, kidney failure and triple bypass heart surgery. During the last few years of his life, he came back to his faith and in his final week, he told my mom that he was ready to leave his “temporary visit on this planet.”
“I’ve lived on this earth twice as long as Jesus did,” he said. “I’m ready to meet Jesus.”
The Yankees organization might be losing their biggest fan in my Grandpa, but they have gained another in me. One thing that can’t be replaced, however, was what my Grandpa meant to me.
I love you, Grandpa.
Aug. 21, 1942-Feb. 12, 2010
** This article is also featured on Bleacher Report. **
Pinch me, I must be dreaming.
Everything seems to be working out perfectly for the Rockies. It’s like all of a sudden, something clicked and the light turned on.
Nine straight winning performances by the starting rotation, solid relief from the bullpen, timely, clutch hitting and games without mental lapses. For the first time, all aspects seem to be playing well, at the same time.
The storm clouds that formed across the Denver skyline cleared up at game time, creating a nice evening at the park. Rain, hail and tornado warnings across Colorado all week finally settled down for the 2 hour, 28 minute contest. Directly after, the clouds let loose and the streets were flooded with rain showers.
Nine consecutive wins ties for second all time in Rockies history–and they’re still going.
Unlike the first eight, though, the ninth came in front of an energetic home crowd. When a double play would be turned, the crowd would roar in cheers. When a close call went the other way, the fans would rain boos.
And let’s not forget the suicide squeeze bunt in the 6th inning when Ian Stewart barely slid safely on Dexter Fowler’s bunt. Or when Ubaldo Jimenez executed a perfect fake-bunt slap hit past a charging infield to score another run.
Ubaldo pitched a 127-pitch complete game. It was a gritty performance as he surrendered four runs just one out into the fourth inning.
My friend turned to me at that point and asked, “When would you take him out?”
I told him to give him a chance and keep in there for a little longer. Jimenez ended up going another 4 2/3, throwing just his second complete game of his career.
The crowd cheered when manager Jim Tracy left Jimenez in to bat in the 8th inning after his pitch total was well into triple-digits and then erupted again when Tracy walked back to the dugout with two outs in the 9th inning and the tying run at the plate. The manager went out to talk to Jimenez. Most feared he was taking him out just one out before the complete game.
And it was even a special night, not for the Rockies, but for myself getting to see Ken Griffey, Jr. play. I took off work and bought my tickets well before the streak began hoping to see him play.
I grew up idolizing Jr. and wanted to get one last chance to see him play. I saw him about a decade ago when he was still The Kid with the M’s and saw him a few years later on Opening Day with the Reds, but I was hoping, that he would take the field for a rare outfield spot in the lineup to see him play once more. I was disappointed when he didn’t start, but when I saw the pitchers spot was due up in the 9th, it gave me hope. In fact, Griffey did come to the plate, drawing a walk.
It was the never give up mentality that gave the Rockies their ninth consecutive win. The fought, battled, and came from behind to beat the Mariners 6-4 in the series opener.
Don’t wake me, I’m enjoying the ride.
This article is also featured on Bleacher Report.
There is no question in any fan’s mind that the Rockies desperately need to turn things around.
Yes, it’s early in the season, but this isn’t exactly the quick start we all were looking for.
The biggest issue, without a doubt, is the pitching. But, for a moment, I’m going to push that aside and focus on the offense.
I believe the club has one of the most solid lineups one through eight as any other team. I wrote during Spring Training that they have power and great hitters both in the starting lineup and coming off the bench, and I still stand by that.
The offense showed up the first four games and then caved in. I won’t go into detail. We all know that we’re not getting hits with runners on, we’re not getting runs across the plate, and we’re striking out at an alarming rate. The Rockies scored 30 runs in their first four games but have combined for just 27 in the last eight.
I’m no expert with handling lineups, and that is why I am a fan sitting at home rather than actually managing the team, but here is a thought: Put the best players in the lineup each day.
Seems obvious, right? Isn’t that the intention of every team?
Todd Helton was crushing the ball in Spring Training, but since the regular season has begun, he’s hitting .231.
Chris Iannetta earned his starting role last season but has just three hits in 27 at-bats in 2009.
Even Garrett Atkins, who went on a spurt where he tore the cover off the ball, is now hitting .191.
The point is, these are all players who are considered “starters.” They are on the team to lead them. But right now, they aren’t doing it.
Because of their status and the capabilities they have shown in the past, they continue to be in the lineup despite their struggles.
Most readers probably think it would be crazy to take Atkins out of the lineup. And, yes, I do believe that he will bounce back and recover from his slump. But, for the time being, put the best players in.
Ryan Spilborghs started out strong but has since struggled. Take him out and give Dexter Fowler and others time to prove themselves.
Give Ian Stewart a chance at third base, his primary position, while Atkins and Helton are struggling. Stewart leads the team with a .375 batting average, .467 on-base percentage, and a .792 slugging percentage to lead the team. He has six runs scored (tied for second) and seven RBI (second on team) despite just 24 at-bats. He is tied with or ahead of Atkins in every offensive category despite half the at-bats.
I do agree that these struggling players aren’t going to get better riding the pine, but there is too much depth on this roster to let talent sit while starters are struggling.
Give some of the starters a few days off to clear their minds while others get a chance.
If someone isn’t getting it done, let someone else prove their worth, despite their status.
This article is also featured on Bleacher Report.
Series Recap: Colorado Rockies at Arizona Diamondbacks
April 8, 2009
Last year it took seven games before the Rockies got their second win of the season. It took three tries before the team won its first series.
2009 is a new story.
Using a tough early schedule as motivation, the team got off to a good start in the opening series.
Series Recap: The Rockies never trailed Wednesday afternoon, soundly defeating the Arizona Diamondbacks 9-2 at Chase Field and taking the opening series two games to one.
What I liked: As a team, the offense was solid, putting up 20 runs on 25 hits in three games.
In games one and three, the team scored eight and nine runs, respectively. During Tuesday evening’s game, the team was in the middle of a pitcher’s duel between Ubaldo Jimenez and Dan Haren. Even then, however, the Rockies were able to get productive hits and bring runners around when they needed to.
The key hits were something that did not come easy in 2008.
Offensive power from the lineup was seen from top to bottom. Even the team’s arguably least powerful hitter, rookie Dexter Fowler, hit the first pitch he saw in game three over the left field wall. In all, seven home runs were hit in the series, including back to back home runs, twice.
What was more impressive, however, was the pitching.
Jimenez was phenomenal, allowing just four hits and zero runs in seven innings, striking out eight. As a big surprise, No. 5 starter, Franklin Morales pitched six solid innings in Wednesday’s game, not letting a run past the second batter of the game. Stephen Drew’s home run was the only runner to reach scoring position off of Morales.
Morales, who was told prior to the start of the season that this was his only chance to prove himself, did everything he could to keep his spot in the rotation. With several off days, Morales will pitch in Triple-A for next two weeks. His next possible start would be April 21. He is competing with newly acquired Jason Hammel and Matt Belisle for the last spot in the rotation.
The bullpen struggled a little bit in the first game, allowing three runs in 5.66 innings, but has since been nearly perfect, allowing just two hits and one run in five innings of relief.
The team was also perfect in the field, committing zero errors in the three-game series.
What needs improvement: Even in the loss, I was impressed with the product on the field. There’s not much to complain about.
Aaron Cook, who pitched in the opener, got the hook just seven outs into the game after giving up six runs. This was not the type of start expected from the club’s ace. However, the pitcher has revisited film and knows what he needs to do in order to perform like an ace for the remainder of the season.
The base running wasn’t how I had hoped it would be. Although I do agree with manager Clint Hurdle’s plan of being more aggressive, it didn’t work in the series, which included players like Brad Hawpe and Chris Iannetta being thrown out while trying to steal and pitcher Franklin Morales picked off at first base.
However, I hope that the early struggles don’t hesitate Hurdle’s aggressive decisions.
Overall: The Rockies were 3-15 against the Diamondbacks in 2008. They knew that in order to compete this year, they would have to beat the teams picked ahead of them in the division.
It’s still early, but I liked what I saw in the opening series.
Series Preview: The road for the Rockies doesn’t get any easier as they open up their home schedule in a weekend series against the defending World Series champion, Philadelphia Phillies.
After trailing 10-3, the Phillies scored eight runs in the seventh inning Wednesday afternoon, becoming victorious for the first time since clinching the title last October. The Phillies had dropped their first two games to the Atlanta Braves earlier in the week.
The Rockies were 0-6 against the Phillies in 2008, and haven’t beat them since sweeping them in the 2007 NLDS.
Phillies’ Cole Hamels (14- 10, 3.09) vs. Rockies’ Jason Marquis (11-9, 4.53), 2:10 p.m. MT
Phillies’ Brett Myers (0-1, 6.00*) vs. Rockies’ Jorge De La Rosa (10-8, 4.92), 6:10 p.m. MT
Phillies’ Chan Ho Park (4-4, 3.40) vs. Rockies’ Aaron Cook (0-0, 23.14*), 1:10 p.m. MT
This article is also featured on Bleacher Report.
Many probably think I’m crazy for this statement. Perhaps I am.
After trading away the club’s star player (Matt Holliday) and losing the best closer (Brian Fuentes) in team history over the offseason, it’s easy to assume that trading Atkins, arguably one of the team’s most talented players, means throwing away the season for the Rockies.
And although I’m not one of the rare few who support the front office’s plan of building from within and starting over once those players become too good and too expensive, I think that trading Atkins could bring some positives to the team.
Without a doubt, pitching has been the Rockies’ biggest struggle for as long as I can remember. With Jeff Francis missing all of 2009, this year is no different.
Even without Holliday and Willy Tavares, the outfield is stacked. Brad Hawpe and Ryan Spilborghs will be starters, while prospect Dexter Fowler is trying to prove that he’s also big-league ready. Seth Smith, Matt Murton, Scott Podsednik, Carlos Gonzalez and even Ian Stewart and Jeff Baker are also viable options.
In 2008, the Rockies used more second baseman than I can count on one of my hands. Despite the fact that none of them have stepped into the shoes that Kaz Matsui left in 2007, there is depth at the position.
Troy Tulowitzki is a lock at short stop, and many of the second baseman can shift to play either middle infield position when he needs rest.
Todd Helton will get the first look at first base, but with his unstable lower back, it is uncertain how much or how often he will play in 2009. Behind him, the Rockies could use Joe Koshansky as the primary starter.
Baker, a very versatile player, has experience at first base, while Christian Colonel, who is having a very impressive spring, will be waiting in the minors.
Chris Iannetta has more than earned the starting catching role, and although Yorvit Torrealba wants out of his contract with Colorado, teams aren’t showing interest in paying his remaining salary, meaning the Rockies will have a veteran catcher with plenty of experience coming off the bench.
That brings us to Garrett Atkins and third base.
Don’t get me wrong, Atkins is a proven player with a lot of talent. His career batting average is right around .300, he has plenty of power and his defense is on the rise.
It may seem foolish to trade a star, but that’s what makes this idea work. Stars draw interest.
Stewart has proven that he is more than ready to start for the Rockies this year. He greatly improved towards the end of 2008 and has been playing solid all spring. Not to mention that his defense would be a step up, and that he is still just 23 years old and still improving.
The Rockies need to get him in the lineup.
Atkins will most likely be gone after this season with his contract ending, so it would be ideal to get some value for him.
It doesn’t matter how we get it, but the fact is, the Rockies need starting pitching.
As shown, there is quality depth at nearly every position, which should draw interest. Many of these players are ready for the big leagues, there’s just no room for them.
Who knows, there might not be teams that are willing to give up their top arms, but it doesn’t hurt to at least give it a shot and see what’s out there. There are several teams that are in need of a third baseman.
The Rockies have plenty of talent to replace Atkins. Losing him and gaining solid starting pitching will only improve the team.
Fans were quickly sent back to reality early in 2008, however, when the Colorado Rockies fell off the mountain and couldn’t rebound after a 20-38 start and ended up towards the bottom of an awful National League West.
Spring has arrived, however. The calendar has turned, the weather is slowly beginning to warm up and players are arriving in Arizona for Spring Training. A new season and fresh opportunities.
So as the 2009 season approaches, there is optimistic hope among fans and players alike. But the question of how realistic the goals of turning this season’s team from a 74-88 record in 2008 to the 90 wins and World Series birth the year prior remains with several “ifs.”
It’s not easy to remain positive after losing the face of the franchise in Matt Holliday. In return, they received a couple of prospects (Greg Smith and Carlos Gonzalez) and an established, but also often-injured closer, Huston Street.
The first question regards Holliday’s replacement in left field. Although not a stellar outfielder, his solid .320+ batting average, .530+ slugging percentage and 25+ home runs will be missed. His most likely replacement is Seth Smith. In 67 games last season, Smith hit .259, but his future is bright with the glimpses of power last season.
Gonzalez will most likely start the season in Colorado Springs (the Rockies’ AAA affiliate) while third basemen Ian Stewart will get a few spring looks, trying to make the transformation from the infield to the outfield after the Rockies resigned Garrett Atkins earlier this month.
The Rockies lost most of their speed in center fielder Willy Taveras, but the speedster lacked getting on base last year. A .308 on base percentage won’t cut it for a leadoff hitter. Last year’s backup, Scott Podsednik will get a look, but the favorite is Ryan Spilborghs, who had a breakout season last year, hitting over .300 and getting quality starts in the outfield.
Prospect Dexter Fowler is a name that gets fans excited for the future, but, like Gonzalez, may be better suited starting the year in Colorado Springs until after the All-Star break.
The hot corner seems set with Atkins getting most of the starts, and Stewart, who has gold glove potential and am improving bat, filling in when Atkins shifts across the diamond to first base when veteran Todd Helton needs some rest for his ailing back, which was surgically repaired during the off season.
Troy Tulowitzki, who grabbed fans’ hearts during his rookie season, seems to be back from his sophomore slump, but we won’t know for sure until April.
Helton says he feels good, but how will his surgically-repaired back hold up 100 games into the season in the grind of the hot summer?
The Rockies signed two proven managers during the off season as manager Clint Hurtle enters 2009 in the last year of his contract. One this is for certain, fans won’t let the Rockies ownership give Hurdle an extension on Opening Day this year until he proves himself.
Will Hurdle even be manager of the club in mid-May? Or will an early losing streak promote bench coach Jim Tracy or hitting coach and former Rockies manager Don Baylor to skipper?
And of course, saving the most uncertain for last, the pitching staff. Their 2007 ace, Jeff Francis, will likely undergo season-ending surgery before the season even begins. Aaron Cook (16-9, 3.96 ERA last year) needs to prove himself again this season. With the acquisition of veteran Jason Marquis, the fellow sinkerballers could work well together. Could being a key word.
The team signed Ubaldo Jimenez to four more years last month. With the speed of an ace, the 25-year-old needs to perform consistently and work on his control. And the back-end of the rotation? It seems like the team had an open invitation to Spring Training with Greg Smith, Franklin Morales, Glendon Rusch, Jason Hirsh, Josh Fogg, Greg Reynolds, and Jorge De La Rosa all fighting for the final two spots in the starting rotation.
So the questions remain. Will Seth Smith’s lack of experience fill the shoes of an All-Star like Holliday? Can Helton return to his earlier form? 2008 was the first time in his 11 full seasons without hitting above .300 or hitting double-digit home runs. Has Tulowitzki controlled himself and developed himself into the leader and face of the franchise that he needs to be?
Catcher Chris Iannetta proved himself last year, but can he remain consistent behind the plate? And the biggest questions each year in Colorado remain with the pitching staff. Who will fill the fifth spot? Will Manny Corpas or Street close? Do the Rockies need to trade for a top-of-the-line pitcher for the second half of the season? Will the Rockies even be in contention by the second half of the season?
With the West looking mediocre at best again this year, it could be anyone’s game. If the Rockies can play consistent .500 ball, they might have a legitimate shot. Of course, that is if they can do that.
Grab your erasers because nothing is certain. The beauty of a new season, though, is that there’s always hope.