On September 25, 2013, I sat front row along the third base line of Coors Field and watched as Todd Helton, playing his final home game ever, launched a storybook home run over the Right Field scoreboard. Just a couple hours later - following the 10-run blowout loss that we'd all prefer to forget - I shook hands with the man who had been a hero to me growing up as the fan appreciation parade made its way around the warning track. It was a moment I will remember forever, and one I got to share with one of my very best friends sitting next to me, also reveling in the moment.
But now, less than three years later, that same friend owns a crisp, $35 Toronto Blue Jays hat - purchased the day after The Trade. In his garage, the charred remains of his old Rockies cap hang on a nail, like some sort of gruesome memorial to a dead interest. He refuses to attend another game or support the team in any way until Dick and Charlie Monfort sell the team and a new chapter begins in Colorado Baseball.
Don't get me wrong, I am not writing this to shame him for turning his back on the team. He has every right to be frustrated to tears - we all do. In 22 seasons, the Rockies have never won the Western Division. Our most recent playoff berth was nearly 7 years ago and ended in a ho-hum elimination in the NLDS to a Phillies team who went on to lose the World Series. Even the pinnacle of Rockies history - the storied playoff run of 2007 - ended in crushing defeat at the hands of a Red Sox team who barely broke a sweat dispatching our "Team of Destiny."
Now, we find ourselves in the midst of a string of seasons that's enough to drive even the most loyal fans away. The team hasn't cleared 75 wins in five years. In that same stretch, we've finished dead last in our Division three times and second-to-last twice. Among the most significant team storylines in recent years was when a 49-year-old Jamie Moyer notched a win over the Padres to become the oldest pitcher to win a game in MLB history. He was released by the team six weeks later. Simply put, there has not been much to cheer for at 20th and Blake in a long time.
The finger of blame can be pointed in a lot of directions. Following the tragic death of Keli McGregor in 2010, Dick Monfort assumed the role of President of Baseball Operations - a role many agree is simply out of his wheelhouse. In 2013, fan favorite (and high school baseball coach) Walt Weiss was brought on to manage the team and has delivered a paltry .428 winning percentage while assuming an "Aw shucks" attitude that falls in steep contrast to the fire of Bobby Cox or shrewd determination of Joe Torre. And of course, there is the ever-present failure of Rockies pitchers to deliver anything resembling a consistent body of work. It's enough to make a grown man weep gently into his purple pinstripe handkerchief.
Yet, year after year, I return - and I'm not alone.
In 2015, the Rockies ranked 14th overall in average fan attendance - far lower than our normal ranking in the top ten in the league. While mediocre by franchise standards, attendance at Coors Field last year outstripped three playoff teams - the Pirates (15th), Rangers (16th), and Astros (22nd) - in average attendance. Given the team's putrid performance, this is a minor miracle by any standard. Truly, Dick Monfort could not have been more off the mark in 2014, when he famously said, "Maybe Denver doesn't deserve a franchise."
So why do we fill the stands, season after lackluster season? Surely a large portion of overall attendance can be attributed to the stadium experience itself. For sheer enjoyment, few venues in the country rival Coors Field. Rockies games are a relatively cheap way to enjoy a summer's night, and its location in the heart of the Denver social scene certainly doesn't hurt. But speaking for myself, I return for reasons far deeper than that.
Am I fed up with being a laughing stock? Of course I am.
Do I wish the Monforts would either get their act together, or leave for greener pastures? Obviously.
But at the end of the day, it isn't about the Monforts. It's not about Jeff Birdich and his plans for the franchise. It's not about Walt Weiss' infuriating patience in the face of unspeakable failure. It's not about spelling our star player's name wrong on 20,000 T-shirts. It's not about 90-loss seasons and pitchers with football scores for ERAs. Being a Rockies fan is about the moments I've shared with the people I love and all of you.
It's about sitting next to a guy in a purple shirt on a flight from Dallas to Philadelphia and immediately having something to talk about. It's about getting chills down my spine when I hear the opening riff of "Crazy Train." It's about walking half way across to the stadium to stand in line at the one concession stand with Rocky Mountain Oysters and making it back to my seat just in time to see Nolan Arenado turn a no-doubt infield single into a 5-3 putout. It's about the sunsets at 20th and Blake, an $8 Coors Light on the Fourth of July, my love-hate relationship with the Party Deck, and every second I've invested in this team. My friends are Rockies fans. My family members are Rockies fans. I've bled purple for 22 years. Even though it's hard to see the top when rock bottom has become home, I believe in the future of this team. And for now, that's enough.
The wins will come. There will be new superstars. Rocktober will dawn again.
Until then, I remain a fan of the Colorado Rockies.
I'll see you at the ballpark.