On Monday, July 18th of this year, the Tampa Bay Rays will come to Coors Field for a three game set. If unremarked upon before aside from the interleague novelty, that series should now garner more interest for the fact that it will mark Corey Dickerson’s return to Coors Field.
I’ve seen it before, you’ve heard it before, and I expect we’ll see and hear it again. A former Rockies player returns wearing the visitors’ duds. Coors Field announcer Reed Saunders introduces the player with the monotone cadence all visitors receive—a sound that says "I respect you as an opponent, but you are not worth getting worked up about." The fans, of course, know better. They’re going to give Dickerson a round of applause. They’re going to delay that first pitch. At its best, audiences will get a glimpse of the gratitude on his face. "I appreciate you, too."
Corey Dickerson wasn’t even a member of the Rockies for very long. He played 265 games for the Rockies—not even two full seasons worth. That figure ranks him 46th in games played among position players in Rockies history. Greg Norton played about 80 games more than him; John Vander Wal played in 200 more games. Dickerson played one fewer game than Josh Rutledge. The other players with about as many games played as Dickerson aren’t names that pop: José Jimenez, Kirt Manwaring, Charlie Hayes, Aaron Miles.
And yet, like these other players, Dickerson is going to be lodged into the collective memory of Rockies fans. Maybe he’ll be remembered as the guy who just kept hitting across every level of the minors, surprising nobody when he hit in the majors. Maybe we’ll recall the time he got that single in Arizona—off of a pitch that traveled about 57 feet and bounced before he hit it. Or maybe it’s something else entirely. Maybe it’s something individualized, like the autograph from spring training, or the home run ball caught.
For those of you who brave Twitter, you’ll recognize these types recollection as the "old friend" meme. If there’s a player who had done just enough to stand out in one organization, and he reappears with another one, you’ll hear about the old friend. The player is removed, but he remains close enough to recall.
It’s mostly in this manner that we’ll be reminded of Kevin Padlo, the other Rockies player involved in the trade. If he ever debuts for the Rays or anyone else, we’ll recall that he was part of the package that sent Dickerson to Tampa Bay. That holds true even if he wanders to a couple additional organizations in the meantime. The "old friend" view of such players is why this meant something, even though it doesn’t mean anything:
Hey, Thomas Field, congrats on your first career HR. pic.twitter.com/P3MlyqnMhZ— Texas Rangers (@Rangers) May 12, 2015
The script is the same for Rays fans. They’ll pay mind to how German Marquez progresses, and they’ll be curious to see what Jake McGee does for the Rockies or someone else. It’s part of the nature of being a baseball fan.
Meg Rowley at Baseball Prospectus used the metaphor of an ecosystem to describe hot and cold rivalries in baseball. The takeaway is that fans and teams are connected, antagonisms notwithstanding. I’ll evoke a different metaphor that gets at the same principal: Imagine each baseball team as the center of a web. These centers sprout to peripheries across North America. Each center is linked by competition and player history. For every Todd Helton, there are dozens of Corey Dickersons. These are the players who, once gone from the everydayness of fandom, reappear from time to time.
So we’ll give Dickerson an appreciative ovation when he returns to Coors Field in July. And by doing so, we’ll acknowledge that even though he’ll be wearing a Rays jersey, he never really left Colorado. He never will.