By Tyler Maun
Growing up in Denver, Colorado, my life began on an isolated baseball island. We were a big league town in football and basketball—and had been one in hockey in the past—but baseball was a different story. Where over 70,000 people gathered to watch the Denver Broncos on Sundays in the fall, a handful of thousands would watch the Denver Zephyrs, a Triple-A team on borrowed time, in the spring and summer through the first seven years of my childhood.
That was until 1993 when the Colorado Rockies arrived. And even though a lot of the early years, and a lot of the later ones, have come with their trials and their heartache at a far higher rate than any happiness and success, nothing compares to the big leagues. And the wins mean nothing without the losses.
In the summer of 2007, I was freshly out of college, a degree in hand but no plan as to where I’d go next. So I started going to the ballpark. As the summer, and my job search, wore on, the team I loved began playing baseball. Real, meaningful baseball. On June 6, they escaped last place for good. They went on the road and took a series in Fenway Park. From the 19th-21st, they swept the Yankees in Denver. And then, one day, it began.
I went to Coors Field for a doubleheader on Tuesday, September 18 against the Dodgers, a couple of days after I was there to watch the Rockies crush the Marlins 13-0. Something always felt good about beating the Marlins. Our expansion brethren, who had (and have) done virtually nothing right by any measure in terms of fan support and treatment, had two World Series rings. We had a 1995 Wild Card berth and one National League MVP. I loathed the Marlins.
That Tuesday afternoon, the Rockies rode 6.2 strong innings by Jeff Francis to a series-opening win. That night, after a climb into third place, it looked like the win streak would come to a halt before it reached three. I sat a few rows above the first-base dugout—seats a friend and I had moved to after it became apparent that we’d be among a crowd of less-than-half capacity—and watched as the Dodgers carried an 8-7 lead to the ninth. Takashi Saito came on for Los Angeles. Nobody hit Saito for the Rockies. That year, he was riding a streak of 16 straight saves overall, five straight against the Rockies, and no Colorado player had a hit off of him over his last six innings against them.
It looked like game over.
And then things happened. With two outs, Matt Holliday singled to give the Rockies life. And one batter later, with two strikes, Todd Helton connected with a Saito slider and hammered it to right. I jumped out of my seat. Helton didn’t even need that element of surprise. He watched his walk-off sail over the right-field wall and let out a roar of emotion he rarely showed in the first ten years of his career—and the six more since—leaping into the pile of Rockies waiting for him at home plate.
From there, they lifted off. They swept the Dodgers in four. They took all six on a road trip through San Diego and L.A. And when they came home and dropped the first game of their homestand to Arizona, giving the Diamondbacks the division, it looked like it might be over. San Diego was up two games in the Wild Card standings with two to play.
But it wasn’t. They crushed the Diamondbacks 11-1 on Saturday, September 29 and held them off on Sunday afternoon, taking advantage of back-to-back season-ending losses by the faltering Padres to move into a tie. It all came down to Monday and the tiebreaker at 20th and Blake.
It was all there. The Rockies’ 3-0 lead. The Friars’ five-run third. Garrett Atkins’s disputed non-homer in the seventh. Scott Hairston’s homer to give San Diego an 8-6 lead in the top of the 13th. The boos that rained down on Jorge Julio for allowing it. And then…
Kaz Matsui’s double off Trevor Hoffman, the best in the game, in the bottom of the 13th. Troy Tulowitzki’s double to follow. 8-7. Matt Holliday’s triple off the wall. 8-8. Jamey Carroll’s fly ball to medium-depth right. Holliday’s slide. Jubilation.
I’m a Rockies fan. Hell no, Holliday didn’t touch the plate.
Two weeks later, Arizona’s Eric Byrnes rolled a feeble ground ball to short, and Troy Tulowitzki’s cannon gunned him down at first. Byrnes laid face-down in the dirt beyond the bag. Todd Helton dropped to a knee and let out another scream. I stood with tears in my eyes staring around the ballpark. My ballpark. My town. Where a couple months earlier, I could’ve had any seat in the house due to a fanbase that didn’t expect anything of this season, now 50,000-plus crowded in, shoulder to shoulder, screaming and hugging and crying, witnesses to baseball history.
In 22 games, 21 wins. A franchise that had never made it past the first round found itself the darlings of baseball. And an eight-day layoff that preceded a World Series letdown didn’t make any difference. For that year, they mattered in a way they never had before.
Those are the moments we’re here for. Those are what drive us to the ballpark day after day, season after season, decade after decade. Hoping for a chance, just once more, at a moment that takes our breath away. Those are why we cheer.
Tyler Maun is the Media & Communications Coordinator for the Australian Baseball League
Follow him on Twitter @TylerMaun