Dex is our homeboy.
I labored for a while over that word. "Is."
Could it be the hard reality that Dexter Fowler "was" our homeboy? On one point there is no mistake - no room for debate - and it is that until December 3rd, 2013, Dexter Fowler was unmistakably ours.
I landed on "is" because I know I'm not alone in feeling that in some ways, #24 will always be a part of the Colorado Rockies family.
Dexter Fowler introduced me to falling in love with prospects. I guess you could say he was my first. I watched Juan Pierre in a futures game once and awaited his arrival eagerly, but Dexter Fowler was the first guy I ever prematurely bragged about. He was the first player I could turn to my friends and say "the Rockies have this kid that no one has heard of and he could be something great!"
He promptly made his major league debut as a pinch runner and was immediately picked off.
Therein lies the triumph and tragedy of the Dexter Fowler era in Colorado. He has been the kind of ballplayer that can support a myriad of wildly desperate and oftentimes conflicting theories.
His worth is proved by the advanced stats, look how he gets on base.
His worth is proven by the advanced stats, look at that horrible UZR!
His drive and character have been called into question.
He is one of the only players who shows up and exudes positive energy every day!
He is uber streaky and strikes out too much.
His most important abilities (getting on base, speed, defense) never waver!
He is a well above average MLB player who can do a lot of things to help a team win.
But he should be a superstar!
And there it is. Dexter Fowler has been as good for debate, and discussion, among the Rockies faithful throughout his career as he has been in the days since his controversial trade to the Houston Astros. Was it ever going to be enough that Dexter simply was the player he was?
Or was it important that he turn into something more? Maybe he still will.
In the meantime, lets take a look back at the career that was with one last read through of one of our most interesting and beloved stories of all time.
The Early Years
William Dexter Fowler was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 14th round of the 2004 MLB draft.
He could have gone to Harvard or "The U", he maybe even could have given basketball career a run, but the universe (with some help from Rockies scout Damon Iannelli) would bring the teenager from Alpharetta, Georgia to the mythical land of Casper, Wyoming.
With other options on the table, he chose us. And so, a nearly decade's long relationship with a player that would become one of the faces of the franchise had begun.
After his first season as a pro, Baseball America ranked Dexter as the seventh highest rated prospect in the Northwest League. His career would then take it's first controversial turn when the Rockies decided that Dex should become a switch hitter.
Whether or not this was a good idea would be hotly contested until he finally proved he would hit consistently from the left side in 2012. In fact, almost since the moment that the idea to junk switch hitting went viral, Dex has been a better hitter from the left side. Go figure.
Fowler's minor league career was impressive enough for him to get the opportunity to temporarily trade in his purple pinstripes for red, white, and blue. In 2008 Dex was the starting center fielder for team USA in Beijing. The team would go on to win the Bronze medal, and our own Colorado homeboy got to meet the President!
(President George W. Bush meets with U.S. Olympic men's baseball team player Dexter Fowler at the 2008 Olympics Games. White House photo by Eric Draper)
On September 2, 2008, Dexter Fowler got the call.
Surely with butterflies in his stomach, and the purplest of blood coursing through his veins in a match-up against the hated rival San Francisco Giants, the 22 year-old trotted out to first base and gave goosebumps to prospect hounds and Rockies fans everywhere. A long slow jog back to the dugout a few moments later and the anti-climactic debut was over.
But heart-rates stayed high for the rest of that inning and through the commercial break that followed. You could almost see the talent oozing out of this dude.
An incredibly fun (also sometimes perplexing and frustrating) era of baseball was about to begin.
Up and down and back up again
Fowler would play in 13 games in 2008, providing only a snapshot of what was to come. He returned to play 135 games in 2009 and got on base at a .363 clip while showing off some brilliant defense in the outfield.
He stole 27 bases in 2009, including five in one game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. But like most things Dexter Fowler, this would prove inconclusive if not downright misleading as he failed to steal more than 13 bases in any season until swiping 19 bags in 2013. He will likely never turn into a great base-stealer because he gets slow starts and late jumps, but his top speed makes "Daddy Long-legs" one of the most exhilarating players in the game to watch on the base-paths.
Sure, watching Dex go first to third, second to home, and especially first to home can inspire oil paintings and folk songs, but remember that time he jumped over Chase Utley in the NLDS?
Which reminds me...
If the triple is the most exciting play in baseball, what does that make the rare walk-off triple in extra innings?
His early MLB career, however, could be explained mostly through his demotions in 2009 and 2010 followed by his promising performances after each. There is certainly plenty of circumstantial evidence to suggest that Dexter Fowler responds incredibly well to adversity and being challenged. He bounced back after each trip down I-95. But at times that felt even worse, even more tantalizing, and even more maddening because we never knew if it would stick.
Dexter would go through a month where he missed by so much he couldn't even hit the ball with the wind off his bat. He'd get sent down and come back like Selina Kyle at a masquerade ball; totally owning the bat.
His defense would become another point of debate as he would sometimes appear not to be running hard, which I attribute to the smoothness of his stride, and defensive metrics never liked him, which many of us attribute to Coors Field's massive outfield.
Because he can also do this.
The crazy thing is, those aren't even the cream of the crop. There are five Dexter Fowler plays that set themselves apart for me based on the combined amazingness and clutchiness. Note the game situation in each of these and let no one ever say that Dex didn't put his body on the line for Rockies fans.
His wizardry in the outfield was perhaps best displayed when he was not manning the great wide open for the Rockies.
"Dexter Fowler would have caught that ball," became a regular meme here at Purple Row directed at anyone (everyone not named Carlos Gonzalez) who struggled in center field at times when Dex was absent. It got to the point where even when Dex himself was surprisingly unable to track down a tailing line drive, the phrase would be uttered (or typed) ironically.
If it was catch-able, unless he misread it off the bat, "Dexter Fowler would have caught that ball."
When he first came up and I was still trying to get my dad psyched about Dex, I used the ole' "five-tool player" bit.
He was bean pole. "He's skinnier than you," my dad said to me, "there's no way he is going to hit for power."
"He's going to develop it," I replied, "he will fill out and his minor league numbers are so encouraging." That would not be even remotely close to the first or last time two Rockies fans would have that exchange.
Astro's fans may well be having it right now.
His slugging percentage has always been enticing but it is aided by his speed. Until 2012, Fowler seemed destined for a life of single-digit home runs, but a strong finish led him to a then career high 13 home runs. As 2013 began, it looked like Dex might finally have turned into a player who scares opposing pitchers with a legitimate power threat.
His monster April was summed up by Andrew T. Fisher in his 2013 player review:
"Dexter homered in 4 of his first 6 games, then added a two-home-run game in Petco Park in the tenth game giving him a .325/.386/.825 line with 6 HR just 10 games into the season. He added two more in April and sported a 172 wRC+ despite a below-career-average BABIP."
Many thought this was the year. Dexter Fowler would finally be an All-star, he would be a switch-hitting version of Carlos Gonzalez and when combined with how he finished 2012, it finally seemed like this was the time it wouldn't fade away.
He did this to the Brewing Milwauk's:
Everything he does, he does with style. This is the power and style that drove Rockies fans nuts in both good and bad ways for a long time. Two words: bat flipz.
His numbers came back to Earth, of course, but when he went down with an injury (along with everyone else on the roster in one nightmarish game) his season of being productive was essentially over. He would return with sub-par play, then land on the DL again which may have ultimately been the final straw for Rockies management.
All I will say on the matter is that I don't know the truth one way or another. It never seemed to me before that there were any questions about Dexter Fowler's character and to make those comments as Dex was on his way out the door feels a bit terse and like an unnecessary grab for the moral high ground.
There doesn't always have to be a good guy and a bad guy. Positioning yourself to be the former by claiming the other party to be the latter just makes you sound like the ex-lover who has to badmouth the person they just spent almost ten years with in order to feel secure about dumping them.
Conversely, I seriously doubt Dan O'Dowd would just completely make something up. So I see no point in speculating further since there is a true story and the likelihood that I guess it 100% correctly is next to none.
Goodbye, dear friend
I am sad to see Dexter go. "Sad" is a simple word, but it is the right one. I am not devastated, nor enraged, outraged, or even angry. But I am sad.
To this moment, Dexter Fowler has never played a second of professional baseball for anyone but the team that drafted him when he was eighteen years old. Looking at this just doesn't feel right. He has only ever been ours.
It occurs to me that Dexter is only a few months older than I am and I feel like in many ways we grew into baseball adulthood at the same time. Obviously in very different ways.
If Todd Helton was the wise sage who taught me the fundamentals of the game when I was young, Dexter Fowler was the wacky college professor who showed me the complexity, randomness, and frustration of the game. The beautiful mess of it all.
Dex, you will be missed.
You will be missed by countless Rockies fans throughout the world who count you as their own. You will be missed by anyone who ever sat in the Rockpile and stared in awe when you turned those seats into the best in the house. You will be missed by purveyors of fun; your chief export.
You will be missed by a great deal of people who will cheer you on no matter where life takes you, but will always believe you looked best in purple. Purple Monday. Every day.
You will be missed, Dexter Fowler, and you will not be forgotten.
I have a simple request - not a command - in honor of Dexter Fowler's time here. I ask that the comments on this article be reserved for sharing Dex memories, moments, .gifs, and stories. There are plenty of places to talk (rant) about the trade here and here, or in today's Rockpile.
Additionally, I had a difficult time coming up with a definitive "Top Five Dexter Fowler Moments" list. Some of his best achievements aren't really moments - like leading the league in triples in 2010 - so I figured I'd throw it to the people to decide. You can vote in the poll below or even submit your own PuRPs-style list and I will do a follow up piece with a blurb on each one if need be.
Ask a casual Rockies fan before last week to name their favorite Rockie and Dexter Fowler's name is unlikely to fall out of their top four. Naturally there is Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, and the greatest Rockie of all time; Todd Helton.
And then there was Dexter Fowler; maybe not the face of the Rockies, maybe not the muscle or the heart... but he was the smile. Goodbye, dear friend, and thanks for the memories.