Roger Marolt: Going … Going … GONE!
You know what you are up against when the best trade your team ever made was getting rid of 3,500 nose-bleed seats in the stadium’s right field upper deck and replacing them with a beer pavilion in that position. That’s the blockbuster deal the Colorado Rockies pulled off in 2014. It was management’s idea of a rebuilding project. While the Yankees were putting together a deal to acquire Didi Gregorius to make a run at the World Series, the Rockies were matching brick color for their new open air bar with a view. That was the beginning of the end.
The Rockies got rid of Nolan Arenado, certainly the best third baseman to play in the Mile High City and maybe the greatest in Major League Baseball history, no apologies to George Brett or Brooks Robinson. They called it a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals, but the Rockies got just five players, whose baseball cards had to be photoshopped to look like they are dressed in Big League uniforms, for the privilege of punting Arenado through the Gateway Arch and into Busch Stadium with a vapor trail of dollar bills propelling him to further sour the deal for Colorado fans. We gave up everything, got nothing and paid $50 million in postage to stamp the deal.
This is the saddest moment in Colorado sports history, and the tears shed are not for Arenado. I am glad he will finally play for a team with a chance to win a championship. The heartbreak is not over one player. What this development means is that the experiment is over. It is the end of hope that competitive Major League baseball can be played in Denver. A World Series will never be won by the Colorado Rockies. They likely won’t even play in one again.Their 2007 appearance in the game’s showcase event is now an obvious fluke.
What Arenado’s trade signals is that spending money in pursuing excellence on the field and building franchise value through winning championships is hopeless folly in Denver. What is proven is that the best way to make money from baseball in the Mile High City is by selling beers with a view of mountain sunsets. There is no more aptly named facility in professional sports than “Coors Field.”
It was not for a lack of effort that baseball at altitude is now relegated to a mere amusement for summertime tourists on their ways to mountain resorts. Management tried everything before capitulating to nature’s forces working against humans being able to throw and hit a baseball the same way they can everywhere else.
It was no secret that a batted baseball flies farther in Denver’s thin air. They tried moving the outfield fences outward to reduce the number of home runs, but it came at the price of more hits dropping into the expanded acreage in the outfield, meanwhile turning more singles into doubles and stretching more doubles into triples. They tried storing game balls in a humidor to replicate sea level moisture in the hide. This only sort of worked.
Yet, the innovators of high altitude baseball were only addressing half the problem. As much as hitting is easier at altitude, pitching is at least that much tougher. Curve balls don’t curve and fastballs come across the plate straight as a string up here. Pitchers cannot put enough spin on the balls for the laces to bite the thin air. In straining to compensate for the impossible physics, pitchers become exhausted over the seven-month season. It helps nothing that midsummer dreams are completely dashed as rising heat and humidity further lighten the air during the pennant runs.
Players know this better than we do. No premier pitcher in his prime wants to come to Denver to inflate his ERA and hasten the end of a good career. While hitters once loved the idea of bolstering their slash lines in the mountain air, the baseball world eventually caught on to the altitude boost and now mostly dismisses the inflated numbers hitters put up here as atmospheric fluff. Denver is the place talent comes to be wasted.
The Rockies may accidentally raise great prospects like Nolan Arenado again, but those future stars will arrive with the aim of getting out of Denver as fast as possible. Coors Field will forevermore be but a baseball-themed venue for the beer-thirsty and Instagram-hungry diversion seeker. Baseball in Denver is dead. Long live the long ball!
It’s times like this Roger Marolt is thankful he fell in love with the Yankees before the Rockies even existed. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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