“…Sure, opening day is baseball’s bandwagon. Pundits and politicians and every prose poet on the continent jumps on board for a few days. But they’re soon gone… then, once more, all those long, slow months of baseball are left to us. And our time can begin again.”
– Tom Boswell, from “Why Time Begins on Opening Day” (1984)
“… Since baseball is measured only in outs, all you have to do is succeed utterly; keep hitting, keep the rally alive, and you have defeated time. You remain forever young.”
–Roger Angell, from “The Interior Stadium” (1978)
Part of Opening Day’s magic stems from the belief that spring and re-birth — heavy mythical themes since ancient times – mean all things are still possible. Every ball club enters April with endless possibilities; no matter how unrealistic. It usually takes only a few weeks for rude reality to rule otherwise.
For baseball fans, Opening Day’s magic should never get old. Even in Broncos-centric Denver. But the Colorado Rockies on the field and — more importantly — in the team’s front office, are making a mighty effort to snuff that magic well in advance of its springtime shelf life. The Rockies laid an egg on Opening Day, 2012. It wasn’t a day-late Easter egg and might have pointed to deeper problems that academics call “systemic.”
Rockies marketing hype hails 2012 as “The Year of the Fan,” a catchy slogan it must have taken a committee months to come up with and translates to higher ticket prices. On Opening Day, fans showed up, but the Rockies didn’t and did nothing baseball lyricist Roger Angell spoke of while embarrassing themselves in front nearly 50,000. The Rockies couldn’t keep hitting because they never started. They couldn’t keep non-existent rallies going and, rather than remaining forever young, looked eerily old against Barry Zito and the San Francisco Giants in a 7-0 loss that wasn’t nearly as close as the score suggested.
An Opening Day autopsy showed that the Rockies tallied just four hits, struck out way too often, committed sloppy fielding blunders and looked a good deal older than their starting lineup whose average age would never see 30 again.
The Rockies won their first 2012 game in Houston on Good Friday and haven’t won since. The Giants arrived in Denver without a win, at 0-3, but went ahead with a two-run homer by Pablo Sandoval before the game was five minutes old.
While the Rox’ starting and losing pitcher, Jhoulys Chacin, couldn’t find the strike zone with a map while walking a revolving door of batters, Giants’ veteran Barry Zito made Rockies batters look silly with off-speed pitches and got stronger in late innings, when it took less than ten pitches to retire the Rockies in order on two occasions. Zito needed just 110 pitches for a complete- game shutout at a time when complete games grow ever rarer in an age of middle relievers, “set-up men” and closer pitching specialists.
The Rockies have never been shut out in 20 home openers, with a record of 11-9. Zito hasn’t hurled a shutout in the nine years since his Cy Young season, with the Oakland A’s in 2003.
Nobody is hitting the panic button so early in the season because expectations – hype notwithstanding – were never that high to begin with. Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd hates to spend money and when he does, seldom gets quality. Other times, he gets the dross of “prospects” at his end of blockbuster trades. Dealin’ Dan, who usually gets outmaneuvered in baseball’s multi-million-dollar swap meets, promised a different “clubhouse culture” last winter. And owner Dick Monfort is convinced that the team can regain fans’ confidence this season.
With what? The magic carpet ride to the World Series in 2007 and playoff run in 2009 are, for fans, fading memories. The Rockies have been “rebuilding,” for years and Dealin’ Dan’s mantra is stale. One feels badly for veterans like Todd Helton and Jason Giambi, who are links to happier days with the Rockies, A’s and Yankees and are now surrounded by a supporting cast that delivers middle-of-the-pack mediocrity.
The Rockies front office needs to stop peeing on fans’ shoes while telling them it’s raining. Smarter trades that return value would be a good start. But management knows no greater effort is needed because simply opening Coors Field’s gates guarantees at least two million paying fans. After 20 seasons, fans should have grown mature enough to demand more.
Meanwhile, there are 158 games left to play and baseball, as John Updike once put it, “is a game of the long season, of relentless and gradual averaging-out.” Legendary Baltimore Orioles’ manager Earl Weaver put it another way with “this isn’t football, we do this every day.” So it’s possible – as are all things in the springtime of baseball — that the 2012 Rockies may yet surprise us and prove the pundits wrong.
Otherwise, on a clear day the Rockies may be able to see next-to-last place in the five-team National League West. Regardless of the front office view.
J. Sebastian Sinisi
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