Monday Rockpile: An empty promise that was never made

Joe Robbins

When the Rockies signed both Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to long term extensions prior to the 2011 season, it seemed inevitable that the franchise was about to head into a new era. So far, it has, and that's worse news than anyone could have ever imagined 28 months ago.

There are three reasons why I love baseball.  Actually, that's not quite right.  There's thousands of reasons why I love baseball, but they all tend to fall into three general categories.

The first reason is that baseball is comforting.  There's something romantic about the idea of watching a game that was played roughly the same exact way 100 years ago.  It's as if you're bringing a piece of history into the modern world.  In fact, if you could magically teleport an American from 1913 into present day, a baseball game is probably one of the only things that wouldn't seem foreign to them.  Sure the stadiums are bigger and the atmosphere has changed dramatically, but the infield remains virtually untouched (a perfect 90 feet from home to first), nine men still take the field in the same positions they always have, and the country's unwavering love for this game remains evident.

This gives baseball a unique characteristic in which it feels as though all of its history is connected in some way.  Even if you're just a new fan, it's like you're joining a river midstream.  Everything that came before, and everything that will come after is joined together as one.  A generation of fans will pass down their love of this treasure to their sons and grandsons, daughters an granddaughters, and the cycle will repeat.

I'm no exception.  My grandfather instilled a love for baseball in me that lives on to this day, and as long as that passion continues to burn, a part of him will never die.

* * * * * *

The second reason I love baseball is that the game is enormously compelling on so many levels.  The science of hitting, the art of base stealing, the history of the franchises, and the mathematics of saber metrics all add layers to a game that can be watched a dozen different ways by a dozen different people.

The little oddities we see on a day to day basis, the overall growth of a farm system, the complete unpredictable nature of any match up on any given day, and the countless continuously evolving story lines engulf my mind with a level of intrigue that seems to grow with every season.  No matter how poorly a team plays, there will always be a certain level of appeal surround it, especially of you know where to look.

These two reasons alone are enough to keep me coming back everyday, and it's a good thing too, because the third reason I love baseball has been lacking in recent years.

* * * * * *

I was last truly euphoric about the state of the Colorado Rockies on a Thursday.  The date was April 14th, 2011 and the Rockies had just swept the Mets in a four game series to improve to 10-2 on the young season.  This was more than a hot start to a season though, this seemed like the dawning of a new era.

In the  off season, the Rockies had signed Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, and Jorge De La Rosa to extensions.  The first had just hit his 22nd home run in his last 40 major league games and was making his claim as the best player in baseball, the second was coming off the best year of his career and was only 25 years old, and the third seemed destined to post his career year on the mound in 2011.

Still, it was more than even this.  The Rockies were picked by several media outlets to win the west, they had established and gained long term control of one of the strongest cores in baseball, and our own Heltonfan's projection system (which is the most accurate I've seen across the sport) saw the Rockies as the best team in the National League.  The Rockies were not just going to be good in 2011, they were going to be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

When Tulo and Cargo signed here long term in the winter of 2010 / 2011, it changed the franchise in the minds of many fans.  This coupled with the team coming off three seasons in the last four years that either produced a playoff birth or saw the team within a game of the division lead with two weeks to go, made it almost impossible for anyone to construct a reasonable argument to explain the hell this franchise and its fans were about to endure.

The general and heart warming consensus was that there may not be a championship flag flying over Coors by the end of the decade, but at the very least, an entire generation of young Colorado fans were about to grow up watching two of the best players in the game play meaningful baseball every August and September for the better part of a decade.

And that.....

While that's along the lines of the third reason I love baseball.  To me, there's nothing better in sports than when your baseball team is playing meaningful games in both August and September.  The ups and the downs, the highs and the lows, and the twists and turns that only baseball can provide on a day to day basis are extraordinary.  Rockies fans were exposed to that in 2007, and especially in 2009 and fell in love.  They got a taste, and they wanted more.

Fair or unfair, that success combined with the extensions signed by Tulo and Cargo prior to the 2011 season came off as a promise to many fans.  A promise that the team would now be competitive for the foreseeable future.  It was never actually made in a formal declaration, but the vast majority of the folks who bleed purple had this mindset, and it was rooted in good reason.

Yet here we sit, two and a half years later, and the Rockies need a 20-10 finish to avoid their third consecutive losing season since the promise that was unofficially made.  I'm not going to go into why this happened today.  (We've done enough of that over the last two years and we'll probably do it several more times this off season.)  Instead, the question not asked enough is where does this leave the fan base?  Seasons like this occurring while two of the best players in the game burn off their prime years are porcupine quills to the eyes, and more importantly, provide a breeding ground for several negative qualities from a fan base that not that long ago was filled with optimism and pride.

I can't say I blame folks either.  Different fans are reacting to this overwhelmingly disappointing stretch in franchise history in different ways, but almost all are reacting.  Some have aimed missiles at the front office and refuse to give them the benefit of the doubt on anything moving forward, others have sunk into a state of "sports depression" as their optimism has been stripped away, and others are distancing themselves from the team somewhat as their passion either wanes or shifts away from Rockies baseball - Just look at what's happened to some of the most knowledgeable and charismatic members of this blog over the last couple of seasons.

In short, Rockies baseball is not as fun as it used to be, and while that statement is pretty obvious, it's an important one.  The only way we can get out of this malaise now is to have a season where the Rockies play meaningful baseball deep into September (at the very least).  It's still more than an off season away, but the 2014 Rockies are already becoming a very important team as far as the front office is concerned in terms of the state of its fan base.  I don't think they can afford to have it continue to exist in the state it's in now for much longer.  It's toxic to everyone involved, and is getting close to the point where it could do long term damage.

This can be illustrated by the fact that the front office could hit a home run this off season and there would still be a large group of fans who wouldn't give them the benefit of the doubt until after a successful 2014 season.  It may not be fair, but that's the point we've reached.

Today, I'd like to hear from you.  What is your state as a Colorado Rockies fan?  Are you angry? Disappointed?Outraged? Optimistic for the future? Burnt out?  What have these last three seasons done to you?  Is the 2006 season (which has many similar characteristics to this one) when the team was gearing up for a bright future really that different than the 2013?

Take it away.....

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