The 2010s have been a difficult decade for fans of the Colorado Rockies. The team has averaged 93 losses a year over the past five seasons, finished in last place three of those seasons (and fourth place the other two), and on average found themselves more than two dozen games out of the pennant race.
Pitching has collapsed, superstars have retired, others have been traded away, and while exciting players are perennially making a splash for a team that's been drafting well of late, the promises of the future are of little solace to fans who have been putting money into the product at 20th and Blake for years—and in many cases, two decades.
Of course, the Rockies have reached the playoffs just three times in their history—all via the Wild Card—and have seen just one World Series which ended, well, quickly. Sure, some World Series droughts endured by other teams make small potatoes of the Rockies' two decades of relative futility. But compared to success from other clubs of the Rockies' expansion era (the Diamondbacks and Marlins with three combined Fall Classic victories), Coors Field has been relatively barren for fans pining for a winning product.
After I wrote a piece two weeks ago about the Rockies and the soft bigotry of low expectations, I started receiving emails from readers with their reactions. In fact, I was surprised at how universal fan sentiment was (at least among the people who spoke to me) about following a bad baseball team. Something in that piece tapped into fans' frustration, anger, and apathy towards the Rockies' on-field product, and I hope it's a worthwhile exercise to expand upon that here.
For the last two weeks, I've been talking to Rockies fans about their outlook on the Rockies' ownership, front office, product on the field, and role in the community. These are some of their stories.
Jim, a Rockies fan since the expansion era in 1993 who lives in Colorado Springs, spoke to me about jumping in with both feet when Mile High Stadium opened up for Major League Baseball.
"A buddy who lived in the Denver area and I bought Rockies season tickets, and we were completely caught up in Rockies fever," Jim said.
"Nothing will really be able to compare to those sun-splashed Sunday afternoons at Mile High Stadium with 62,000 crazy folks cheering their hearts out for a team 20 or more games under .500. The affection for the team had little to do with their success, or lack thereof, on the field. It was all about having a team of our own."
Jim wasn't the only one who felt that way, considering the Rockies nearly doubled the average home attendance figures across baseball in those early years.
"My years of being a casual fan of the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals, due to family living in those places, ceded to my instant and adoring love for all things Rockies," Jim admitted. "We watched with great anticipation as Coors Field went up brick-by-brick. We even crashed a private construction tour one Saturday when we were down there just to observe what progress had been made the previous week."
Fans across baseball fondly remember the early Rockies, and those first few years at a brand new ballpark in the late 1990s were a special time for Denver.
"Our season tickets in section 204 provided not only admittance to the games, but to an elite social club of the folks who held the seats around us," Jim remembered of his and his friend's first experiences at Coors Field.
"We had a personal relationship with Bobbie, our usher, who shooed the occasional stray lurker away from our section but didn’t need to check our tickets as she knew we belonged. We started to frequent Spikes Collectibles on 17th Street and caught the collecting bug. When the Rockies hosted the MLB All Star Game in 1998, we volunteered to work at FanFest, and started buying and selling items on then-young eBay."
For Jim, though—really, for so many fans after two decades of nearly non-stop losing seasons—the honeymoon would slowly end and the fascination fade away.
Different fans come to teams at different times, of course. I found Marcia, a fan from Highlands Ranch, who told me about starting to follow the Rockies in 2006 and then really taking interest during the team's improbable run to the World Series in 2007.
Ever since, she's been hooked—but she admits the last few years have wore her down, too. When I asked her what kind of fan she'd consider herself, she was refreshingly honest about it.
"Chalk me up as an angry, vocal fan who is starting to look more resigned because I'm just too damned tired of fighting," Marcia told me.
"[Too damned tired] of trying to figure out how to fix this team and watching management do plain old stupid things, of the endless cycle of hope being dashed by disappointment. I keep threatening to show up at the first game of the season with a sign reading 'Wait 'Til Next Year.'"
Resignation and disappointment seem to be a consistent theme among Rockies fans, whether more recently for Marcia, or back when Jim witnessed his own interest wane a few years before.
"After the Wild Card appearance in the playoffs in 1998 [sic], things seemed to start to sour relatively quickly," Jim told me, in a distinct departure from his cheery memories of the early years in Denver.
"I suppose it is only natural for the 'newness' of it all to wear off over time. The Jim Leyland year almost put a fork in it for me. That really is the only season that I felt the players quit part way through. My buddy moved out of state, and with rising prices and dwindling interest in the team, we gave up our season tickets in 2002."
Marcia echoed Jim's idea of interest wearing off—after all, it's only natural for fans of a consistently bad team—and she summed up the frustration succinctly.
"If a functional definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results," she said, "this team's management is functionally insane."
Justin, a Rockies fan from Longmont, was one of the more openly upset fans with whom I spoke. Like Marcia, he was specifically frustrated with the front office and ownership groups.
"I do not think [the Monforts] have the best interest of the Colorado Rockies' success in mind," Justin told me, echoing a consistent gripe among a particularly vocal subset of fans wishing the Rockies' owners would focus more on the on-field product.
"They are pure businessmen, and all they have in mind is how much money they can put in their pockets."
Justin also expressed concerns over Jeff Bridich's role with the team, citing his close ties to his predecessor.
"I truly think that Jeff Bridich is Dan O’Dowd’s protege, as he has not yet done anything different to make the team successful."
And while he did concede he liked one of Bridich's decisions (to trade Troy Tulowitzki), Justin still expressed doubt that things would change demonstrably at Coors Field.
"Get better pitching!" Justin exclaimed to me. "Pay for pitching!"
Justin also expressed frustration over Walt Weiss' style of managing the club, comparing the Rockies to another recent bottom-feeding franchise that is now on top of the baseball world.
"I think Walt Weiss is a quiet, reserved manager," Justin said, "and he needs to come out of his shell of conservative managing and truly take risks."
"No risk, no reward. Just as the Royals did this year, they took the risks and played small ball, and were immensely successful. [Weiss] needs to push his pitchers to be successful, and set up his batting order to truly be damaging."
Frustrations aside, Justin still pays close attention to the team.
Jim, unfortunately, is no longer at that point.
"I have continued to try and make several games a year—especially Opening Day—until the Rockies priced it into the stratosphere," Jim admitted. "I watch the news every night for the score of the game, but I no longer bother with watching them on TV. I’ve morphed into the ultimate fair weather fan, and I hate it."
A recent point of contention in the Rockies' universe has been Coors Field's Rooftop, and both Jim and Marcia mentioned it—and the idea of running the Rockies as a business—as being frustrating considering the team's lack of on-field success.
"These days, it’s all about the 'experience' at Coors Field," Jim bemoaned. "Yeah, lets take out 3,000 seats which only sell when the Cubs and Cardinals are in town and replace them with a bar that sells $8 beers by the billions."
"I seriously doubt whether 30% of the patrons on the Rooftop could tell you who the opponent is that evening, let alone who is pitching for the Rockies."
All the business of baseball talk has dragged Marcia down.
"I'm very tired of hearing about the Rockies as a 'business,'" she admitted to me. "I've been in management in a high tech company, and it's about results. It's a very 'grade school' attitude to give prizes and praise for 'working hard.'"
"In every job I've held, it didn't matter how hard you worked; it mattered what you accomplished. If you didn't accomplish what was your responsibility, you were either given help (a management problem), had the work rebalanced (another management problem), or were replaced (yet another management problem)."
Ultimately, Marcia struggles with the inter-workings of the organization, which is something many fans are feeling.
"I don't think the Rockies' organization has any accountability or responsibility," she lamented, "and I'm starting to wonder if most of their management team—and I include coaches here—has any idea what their goals and priorities are supposed to be."
Over the last five years, fans have struggled to account for a listless franchise at the Major League level, and even a strong minor league system and a change in general managers hasn't been able to alleviate some of the frustration and apathy.
"For many years, I was the ultimate Rockies apologist," Jim admitted of the sustained losing even during the glory days.
"I unwaveringly supported the team regardless of the often-boneheaded moves made by the ownership, management, and players. I have so many good, lasting memories from those early years. It makes me sad to think that I can now disregard the scores and standings with great indifference."
Marcia readily admitted her skepticism of ownership and front office management, too.
"Something is fundamentally flawed in the Rockies' model," she said, bemused. "So many of the 'changes' are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic."
"For some reason, the folks there don't seem interested in fixing it. I draw this conclusion from the fact that every time there's been an opportunity to go outside the organization, to get a fresh look at the failed processes, the Rockies have run away from it and taken the same old path, hoping it might lead somewhere else."
After all, a recent ESPN piece ranked the Rockies 110th out of 122 pro sports franchises in America, positioning the Rockies as the "ultimate promise breakers" who demonstrate the lowest "commitment to winning" of any professional franchise.
Frustration turned to apathy for Jim, who spent his lion's share of time with me excitedly sharing his love for baseball and his penchant for visiting Major League parks across the country, even over the last several years. His closest access to the big league experience in Denver, though, has left him empty.
"I no longer start the new season with naïve expectations of grandeur for the Rockies," he said. "I am now firmly in the camp that thinks the only way things change for the better is with a change in ownership, however unlikely that may be."
This only represents the viewpoints of but three specific Rockies fans, although I have a hunch many of you may read this and find parts of your perspectives match up with Jim, Marcia, and Justin.
I actually asked Jim whether he felt his attitude was representative of fans, and he hypothesized his perspective was fairly pervasive among, as he called them, 'original' Rockies fans who had been with the team since 1993.
There are certainly limitations in this piece, and different fans have equally valid perspectives to the three focused upon here. Admittedly, none of these three focused any of their discussions with me on the Rockies' minor league development program, which is arguably the strongest it has ever been and may well lead Colorado into a sustained period of on-field success.
But at the same time, I can't blame these fans for ignoring that part of the franchise; after years of investing money, time, and emotions on a usually-failed product, it's difficult to hear that the next group of players coming through will finally be the ones to make it all happen.
This was an eye-opening set of interviews for me, too. There's a different experience covering baseball, and experiencing the game as a fan. While I'm bemused and annoyed with the Rockies' challenges, there's a different intensity level with fans who have been putting money—and as I saw here, decades of time—into the product as an outsider. It's a perspective I—and, I think, a lot of media members across baseball—would do well to remember.
I was fascinated with how Jim wrapped up his time with me, admitting that in a way, he's been passed over by baseball.
"I have accepted that the game has changed significantly even since the Rockies started playing," Jim told me. "It's not just a Rockies problem, but player movement and the more corporate cocktail party feel inside the stadium have taken some of the luster away."
"Todd Helton playing his entire career with one team has sadly become the exception rather than the rule. It makes it harder to commit to a team when you have to re-memorize the entire roster every season."
Yet just as winter turns to spring, baseball dependably comes out of hibernation every March, and Spring Training allows for hope and optimism, Jim allowed for the fact that he, too, could be won over by the Rockies again ... sort of.
"Now, if lightning should strike twice, and the Rockies accidently stumble onto a formula which produces a winning season, dare I say a championship season or two?" he acknowledged, "then I’ll readily leap back onto the bandwagon and hold on for as long as the ride lasts."
"But until then, I’ll be content to check the standings every few weeks and think, 'huh, third place. Not bad, considering.'"