Awakening on Blake Street
Interminable lines of traffic stretched from Coors Field to I-25 on Tuesday night. The Blake Street Tavern sold “Yankee Hater” T-shirts to the hordes of passers-by. A friend and I sat in a parking lot tailgating, downing a few beers as we conversed with a pudgy middle-aged man who was testing the tactile strength of his well-worn Don Mattingly jersey. B Lot parking attendants, idle since Opening Day, finally received the call.Welcome back.On this night, Denver could’ve passed as a baseball town. With all the anticipation and excitement that abounded, Coors Field could’ve been mistaken for Yankee Stadium, except with lower humidity – and I wasn’t concerned my car would be sitting on cinder blocks after the game. I’m well aware this week was an anomaly. It was just one month ago that I was sitting in the left-field bleachers during the Kansas City series (a matchup that admittedly had as much entertainment value as a John Tesh concert), gazing at the abandoned upper deck and wondering if I somehow missed a fire drill. The mood was so subdued that two girls in the front row had a conversation with Matt Holliday between innings – he’s a Capricorn from Oklahoma, in case you were curious. The only drama on that day was wondering if the snow cone guy would make it back to my section before running out of cherry. I half expected to walk out of the ballpark and see a chalk outline extending around the perimeter. Or some yellow tape.But Tuesday had a playoff feel – at least what I guess a playoff atmosphere would be like around here. It looked like they were giving away free beer, commemorative bats, logo dop kits, anything. I’ll be honest. I didn’t drive seven hours for the $6 beers or the chance to cheer on Troy Tulowitzki at the top of my lungs – I’m not even sure I could tell Tulo apart from the bat boy. As the sea of navy Derek Jeter jersey-clad fans could attest, the Yankees were the draw. The Colorado players knew that. Marketers knew that – they plugged this series and the opposing team from opening day.I wasn’t alone. Fans came to see the loved and loathed main attraction – the Yankees could draw 30,000 if they played at the North Dakota state fair. They came to chant “Hip hip Jorge” (which sure has a better ring than “Go for it, Yorvitt,” or “Show some pizzazz, Kaz!”). But what was a rare chance to see America’s Team transform into a golden opportunity for the home team, an impromptu audition of sorts. And Colorado made a statement. Every one of the 48,000-plus fans who packed Coors each day caught a glimpse of a hardworking team, one which has gone largely unnoticed. I came away impressed, just like the lady in Lawrence, Kan., who caught Holliday’s moon shot off Andy Pettitte in Game 2.It sounds ludicrous to say, but the better team won. The Rockies, with journeymen and rising young stars, dominated the Hall-of-Fame laden New York roster in every facet of every game. The Rockies came up with clutch hits and were stingy on the mound, shutting down a Yankees attack that set a three-game record for runs the last time they visited the Mile High City. Fans brought brooms to Coors on Thursday – the casual observer must’ve thought the Cincinnati Bengals were in town working toward their community service quotas. Closer Brian Fuentes’ strikeout of Andy Phillips was the perfect exclamation point to a series sweep. Here’s to hoping it’s the first letter of a new chapter in Rockies lore.Colorado is the best team in baseball over the past month, but you’d never know it. They’ve won six straight series and are 9-3 against the American League East as of Friday. And they’re slowly gaining on the West-leading Padres and Diamondbacks. One co-worker quipped that the past few days have been the biggest moment in Rockies history. When I stopped laughing sarcastically, I realized he’s right. I’m not naive enough to think three games eliminate a decade’s worth of mediocrity. I know fans are skeptical – they have 51.5 million reason to be after the Denny Neagle debacle (and I’m not even going to mention a certain other left-handed pitcher). I know that if Jay Cutler gets a blister in early August, the Rockies will be relegated to the back pages. Heck, a “Let’s go, Broncos” chant broke out during the middle innings Tuesday. But It was nice to catch a glimpse of what Coors can be. I’m sure a rejuvenated fan base will be paying close attention in the coming months.Welcome back. Jon Maletz, aka “The Hammer,” isn’t ready to jump on the Rockies’ bandwagon just yet. Besides, he doesn’t look good in purple. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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