The Colorado Rockies lost their foundation Tuesday morning.
Everything the organization represents was developed from President Keli McGregor, who tragically passed away Tuesday in his hotel room in Salt Lake City.
I didn’t know Mr. McGregor; I’ve never even met him. I did hear him speak once and have recently read several articles and heard numerous stories about the man he was. While I didn’t know him, when you follow a team as closely as I do the Colorado Rockies, something like this hits home like it would with a family member.
Maybe that’s because that’s what this organization is–a family.
Starting during their postseason run in 2007, stories began to develop about the chemistry of the Rockies’ players and front office. The bond is like nothing I’ve seen in professional sports. Players like Jason Giambi and Joe Beimel recently said they wanted to sign as free agents with the Rockies because their teammates are like a second family to them.
The Rockies organization is filled with human beings full of character, class and respect. It’s not a team housed of just good athletes but also good individuals.
Too often today, athletes are represented negatively as drug users, cheaters and criminals with mug shots on the front page of newspapers. The Rockies are seen as modest, humble and class acts.
They’ve sometimes been criticized for things like banning subjective magazines and music in the clubhouse and having team-led Bible studies.
I take pride in the fact, however, that the team I cheer for is also made up of people I can look up to. It takes away some of the stardom that athletes generally carry, making me realize that they are down-to-earth individuals similar to myself.
Keli established this.
From what I’ve read, he was a first-class guy with nothing but positive things said about him. He was a selfless individual, always with family-first and team-first mentalities. One poster today said that the only thing Keli lacked was an ego. Another noted that he acted nothing like a president, treating even the ushers and first-time fans with utmost respect.
Today truly is a tragedy for the Rockies organization and all of Major League Baseball.
His passing comes at an interesting time. It comes at the beginning of Colorado’s most anticipated season, with many analysts projecting the Rockies to be one of the best teams in baseball this year and in years to come. It was developed by Keli.
It comes just days after one of the Rockies’ most memorable moments in team history, when Ubaldo Jimenez threw the first no-hitter in club history.
It also comes just days after all of the Rockies community is still heated over a balk and missed call that eventually led to a loss Sunday afternoon in Atlanta.
But while Keli’s competitive nature strives to win, I’m sure, something like this makes us pause and reflect on the important things in our lives. Keli left a wife, four children and a distraught organization.
The Rockies have fed off of Keli’s character to become the individuals and the organization they are today. Keli has built an organization in Denver that we can be proud of, one that is starting to receive recognition for its potential and winning, but also for the group of men they are.
Let’s honor Keli’s legacy by continuing to field a team we can be proud of, a team full of character–character like Keli’s.
“We’ve lost somebody in this organization that is going to be greatly missed. He embraces, in my opinion, everything, and has been in the forefront of everything that the Colorado Rockies are about and that they represent.” – Manager Jim Tracy on Keli McGregor.
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.
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.
It’s amazing what one week can do. Seven simple days and it seems like half of the Rockies’ fan-base jumped off the bandwagon after a winless first week in Tucson.
The defeats can be looked at one of two ways:
1) It was the first week of spring training – the rustiness is understandable and the team still has plenty of time to work out their kinks
2) Or others could say, yes, it is only spring training, but it is also only spring training for the teams that are beating the Rockies.
Despite a week of frustration, I choose the first option.
As other writers have shown, there are several factors that could have been a reason behind all of the first-week losses. Pitchers were instructed to throw primarily, if not all, fastballs. Hitters were required to take the first pitch. Base runners were overly aggressive on the base paths.
And let’s not forget the early injuries. Players like Todd Helton, Garrett Atkins, Brad Hawpe, Ian Stewart, Jeff Baker, and Taylor Buchholz all missed parts, if not all, of the early games. In addition, Ryan Spilborghs left camp after the death of his mother.
The point is, yes, the Rockies struggled last week. And yes, signs show that they will probably struggle at other points during the spring.
Several of the early injuries aren’t serious and the players are back in the lineups, becoming contributing factors to the team’s offensive numbers. Todd Helton quieted his naysayers with a 450-foot shot in his first at-bat after having back surgery over the offseason.
And the Rockies’ bats are finally coming along, with Garrett Atkins leading the way with a .438 batting average as of Friday morning.
Ubaldo Jimenez had a strong final outing before leaving for the World Baseball Classic and was dominant, striking out 10 and allowing no runs in four innings in his start against the Netherlands.
Chris Iannetta, although also currently away from the team, showed the nation his power with four RBI and a three-run double in the World Baseball Classic on Sunday night and a home run on Wednesday.
No, the Rockies aren’t at their prime. Todd Helton will still have to play precariously, there are still issues with the rotation and there will be hiccups throughout the season without a doubt.
But the team has started to show improvement in turning things around. After dropping their first seven games (eight unofficially), they started a modest six-game winning streak, climbing their way back into the standings.
It’s still early. There’s no need to hop off yet.
Derek Jeter. Jason Bay. Alex Rodriguez. David Ortiz. Ichiro Suzuki.
This is a list of just a few of the hundreds of players who have been invited to play in the 2009 World Baseball Classic (WBC). Many of the players invited have accepted the invitation to represent their respective country.
The 2009 WBC is less than a week away from premiering.
From March 5-23, numerous MLB players will leave their spring training camps and join the rest of their country in the WBC.
Starting in 2006, 16 different countries around the world compete against each other to determine the world’s greatest baseball country. This year’s event, much like the Olympics, will be the second installment of the Classic, with it reoccurring every four years after 2009.
I love the fact that players get the chance to compete for their country rather than a team, but not when it occurs at a time where players have to leave their teams for an extended period of time just weeks before the start of the season in order to play.
Many MLB managers give their players the ultimate decision on whether they compete in the WBC, but advise against it.
Teams worry about the possibility of one of their star players getting injured at the WBC and being unable to start the season with their team.
The bigger issue, in my mind, is the fact that players are breaking terms in their contracts.
Players have large monetary contracts and they need to earn them. By playing in the WBC, players are missing several weeks of valuable preparation.
I understand that players will be honing their baseball skills while competing, but there is more to it than just polishing your skills of the game–you can do that all winter. It’s about forming chemistry with your teammates so that by the time April rolls around, the team is ready to compete together.
We all have seen clubhouses without bonds between the players.
Players are expected and required to be at spring training.
The WBC is competition that spans across 19 days. Players competing for Team USA are allowed to practice one week before the event, which would mean that players could miss close to four weeks of spring training.
This would bring them back to their teams less than two weeks before Opening Day with a lot of catching up to do.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not against the idea of the World Baseball Classic as a whole. Anything that gives exposure to the sport across a larger audience around the entire world is going to help the game grow.
The WBC allows players to represent, play for, and fight for their country rather than the team that they have been bought by.
It brings out a sense of passion among some players that isn’t always seen in the MLB today. Much like you see in Little League, it is a passion that you are representing something much bigger than yourself.
With that being said, however, players need to seriously consider whether or not they accept their invitation to play in the WBC.
This can be seen with the Colorado Rockies.
The Rockies are relying heavily on their young starting pitcher, Ubaldo Jimenez, in 2009.
Many scouts believe that he has potential to become a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. In 2008 he posted a 12-12 record with a 3.99 ERA. He showed bright spots, but also much inconsistency.
With Jeff Francis out for most, if not all, of 2009, the Rockies need Jimenez to step up in their rotation.
Jimenez will be representing the Dominican Republic in the WBC, however.
In his first spring training appearance, Jimenez struggled, to say the least. In two innings, he allowed three earned runs, three hits, two walks, and a hit batsmen, posting a 13.5 ERA.
On Sunday afternoon he battled back, allowing just a single hit in three innings pitched, but that was his final spring training appearance before leaving for the WBC.
With the Rockies relying so heavily on him this season, I believe that it is more vital for him to be with the club this spring.
Players will get at-bats and playing time at the WBC, but it is not guaranteed how much they will play. They are falling behind by not being with their teams during spring training and also potentially falling behind on playing time and at-bats.
The WBC is a good way of bringing an Olympic-style of competition back to the game of baseball, but it comes at the wrong time. Players that represent the MLB have other things to worry about during the last few weeks leading up to their season and need to focus on that as opposed to the WBC.
Jeff Francis’ return to the top of the Rockies’ rotation ended before it even began.
The left-handed pitcher, who has been experiencing shoulder pain and missed the end of 2008 due to the injury, announced Thursday afternoon that he will undergo arthroscopic surgery and will miss 2009 in its entirety.
The Rockies’ ace propelled the club to its first playoff berth in 12 seasons and first National League pennant in 2007 with 17 wins, including two postseason victories. Relying heavily on him last year, Francis struggled from April through the end, going 4-10 with a 5.01 ERA.
The surgery, which will be performed in order to discover the exact nature of the injury, generally takes six to 12 months to recover. It is believed that he has a torn labrum flap in his shoulder but the operation will officially determine the injury.
An unfortunate event to begin 2009 indeed, but the problem I see with this situation is that Francis waited until after he reported to Spring Training to decide that he needed surgery.
His throwing shoulder has been bothering him since at least mid-2008, yet no decision was made to shut him down until Thursday.
I understand being optimistic that rest will help it heal, but the pain should have been responded to earlier in the offseason so that surgery could have taken place and Francis could recover throughout the season, and at least have a shot at jumping back into the rotation late down the stretch in case the Rockies are in a race for the NL West.
Instead Francis can do nothing but watch.
The news is disappointing for Rockies fans, but the club enters Spring Training with more starting pitching depth than ever before.
Keep in mind, though, that quantity doesn’t necessarily mean quality.
Aaron Cook stepped up last season, winning 16 games and molding into the Rockies’ ace once Francis struggled early. The Rockies need him to show consistency, especially late in the season, and continue to improve on his 16 wins from 2008.
Ever since being drafted, scouts and the front office have told fans that Ubaldo Jimenez, a 25-year-old pitcher with velocity that competes with anyone in the league, has the potential to emerge into a No. 1 quality pitcher and could become the best prospect the team has ever landed. I’m not doubting Jimenez’ (12-12, 3.99 ERA in 2008) talent and abilities, but after two seasons of promise but inconsistency, now is the time for the young Latin American to step up and prove himself.
Expecting for the worst with Francis, the Rockies picked up veteran Jason Marquis in a trade with the Cubs over the offseason. In my view, this is a good move for the club. In 2008, Marquis was 11-9 with a 4.53 ERA. He has proved to pitch well at Coors Field in limited experience (3-0) and can eat up a lot of innings. I see him as a good fit in the middle of our rotation.
Jorge De La Rosa is expected to be the team’s fourth starter. Last year was the lefty’s first winning season where he posted 10-8 record with a 4.92 ERA in 23 starts. The pitcher is still emerging but competed well, filling a role in the rotation last season when injuries began to pile up.
The final spot of the rotation is wide open. Josh Fogg, Jason Hirsch, Franklin Morales, Greg Reynolds, Glendon Rusch, and Greg Smith will compete for the final spot. If Morales, like Jimenez, can live up to his potential, he will be a good mix in the rotation. If it seems like his control hasn’t improved, Hirsch, Fogg, or whoever it may be that wins the job in Spring Training will need to step up.
Even without Francis, the Rockies have arms that have the potential to fill his role. It’s just a matter of if the team will step up.
Only time will tell.
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.