Sometime during the early evening hours of April 14, 2011, amid the subsiding sunshine of a spectacular spring day in New York, I sat smiling in an empty row of seats behind the visitors dugout at Citi Field as my obsession with the Colorado Rockies reached its pinnacle. The team had just taken both ends of a double header and all four games of a series against the Mets, had a 10-2 record on the young season, and for one brief moment in time, were the clear favorites to win the NL West.
Perhaps even more importantly, the Rockies had just signed Troy Tulowitzki to an extension that would keep him in purple through 2020. When he homered in every game of that Mets series to give him 22 long balls in his last 40 games, there was no doubt in my mind that the next winning Rockies teams were going to have him on it. Fully embracing a player never felt safer than it did in this moment.
After watching Dale Earnhardt Sr., the first athlete I ever loved as a child, die right in front of my eyes 10 years earlier, this was extremely important to me. The idea that it was now safe to love my favorite team and player together was both therapeutic and exhilarating. I simply couldn't wait to see Troy Tulowitzki and the Rockies play meaningful, late summer baseball together, and I was convinced that all I had to do if I wanted to see that was wait.
At first I thought I would only have to wait a few short months, and then as the 2011 season rolled on I realized it may take a few years, but it was all okay. At some point in the future, I was going to know what it felt like to love both a baseball team and a player that much while they were contending together. (It's something that's on my bucket list. I want to know what that feels like before I die.)
As the sun slipped below the horizon in my rear-view mirror on the eastward drive home, I never could have imagined that it would never rise again over the Rockies core I was so excited about. I was literally and figuratively driving into darkness. A darkness I now believe the Rockies fan in me will never escape.
* * * * *
When the Rockies were at their worst, people used to always ask me how I could possibly spend so much time on that terrible baseball team. Watching all the games, tracking all the prospects, and reading all the articles and comments at Purple Row seemed like a huge waste of time to them. My response to that question was always the same: I was invested in the future and wanted to be part of the journey the franchise would have to embark on to get there. I looked forward to it everyday.
No matter how bad things got, I always went to bed happy because the last thing I thought about as I went to sleep is what that team in the future was going to look like. I thought about how much fun a Tulo/Arenado left side of the infield would be when it was surrounded by Jon Gray, David Dahl, Raimel Tapia, Tyler Anderson and others. Some of the pieces would change over time, but Tulo was always there as I always thought the team would be decent at some point by 2020. More than anything else, I wanted to see the look on Tulo's face when he played for the Rockies team that finally climbed out of the hole.
This is how I got through those dreadful seasons of Rockies baseball. I thought about this future team EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT. Week after week, month after month, and eventually year after year.
When the Rockies ended up trading Tulo last summer, it absolutely destroyed this vision. It's one thing to have to let go of the past (it's tough, but I can manage that), but it's a whole different level of hurt to be told you'll never be able to cradle a future you desperately, desperately wanted and had been looking forward to for years. It was like being a child and seeing wrapped presents tagged with your name under the Christmas tree for days on end, and then on Christmas Eve being told that you're never going to be able to open them. And worse yet, there was never going to be another Christmas again. I didn't know how to handle that, and quite frankly, I still don't.
* * * * *
Most Rockies fans vomit in their mouth a little when they just see the year 2012 printed out in text. I'm not one of them. As bad as that year was on the field, it also included a moment I'll cherish for as long as I live. That spring, Andrew Marin asked me if I wanted to join the Purple Row staff and start writing Pebble Reports (they needed a Saturday guy). Of course, I jumped at the chance. I was so excited that I used all the vacation time I built up at work to drive to Oklahoma for two and a half weeks and follow the Drillers around just so I could make my minor league columns stand out as much as possible.
Writing about some branch, any branch of the Rockies organization HERE at Purple Row made me so euphoric that I was partially blind to what was going on with the games themselves that summer. Right from the first moment I found it over seven years ago, I've always loved this place, and getting to write for it was (and still is) a dream come true. Purple Row providing the best Rockies content around is something I want to see go on as long as possible. My goal right from the start was to always write well enough so that people would want to click on a piece that had my byline next to it. In other words, I wanted to develop something every good writer has at their disposal: a voice.
* * * * *
Do you know what's the most painful and hurtful part of the Tulo trade? Watching the organization and most of the fans move on. As more and more people jump into that camp and you know you're not capable of getting there emotionally, you start to feel abandoned in your fan experience, and there's nothing you can do about it. While I once fell asleep happy every single night thinking about that next winning Rockies team with Tulo on it, I now tend to cry myself to sleep most nights knowing it will never happen. It's not fun.
This overwhelming feeling of hopelessness has been a hideous surprise. In the immediate aftermath of the trade, I thought the first few months would be the toughest and then things would start to get better, but the initial few weeks after the trade was actually the easiest part of this whole thing because at that point most of the fan base was still in mourning. In other words, I got to experience the sorrow of losing my Tulo dream with others, and those things are always easier when you go through it with a group.
However, as more and more people drift away from this position, I've been forced to face this new reality from a lonelier and lonelier corner. There's a part of me that wants all the other fans to stop because I don't want to face this alone, but at the same time, I'd feel like a jerk if I told any of you how to be a fan, especially if moving on was your ticket out of the miserable baseball we've seen over the last five years.
Over the last two weeks, these emotions have reached a tipping point inside me and I've felt a mix of sensations I didn't know it was possible to feel at the same time. First off, seeing what the Rockies have accomplished since the All-Star break makes me really happy for so many people in this community. I know how tough it's been for fans of this team for the last half dozen years and seeing people I've grown to know, love and respect here FINALLY get to experience a real reason to get excited about a Rockies team is pretty awesome. You folks really, really deserve this. (Honestly, looking forward to seeing the experiences of the fans that have been around here for years when the team turned it around is something that's also driven my writing here at Purple Row. I'm glad I got to view a bit of that here the last week.)
However, I can't lie. At the same time, this run the Rockies are on has also left me feeling pretty jealous, and for that I'm so, so sorry, because that's a terrible thing to feel towards people you love. That joy that all of you are experiencing -- that palpable joy I see in the comments here, on Twitter, and on the faces of fans at the ballpark ... I'm not experiencing it at all, and that frightens me.
For years, I always believed that at some point in the future, I would get to feel whatever it is most Rockies fans are feeling right now. I thought I was starting to feel it early in the 2014 season, but then the team collapsed under a deluge of injuries and I began to fully understand what the Coors Hangover was all about. Now I'm starting to see fans here experience it and it really, really saddens me that I'm not -- and again, I'm really sorry because that's a selfish thing to feel on my part.
Most of all, though, I'm broken-hearted here because for the first time, I no longer believe that I'm ever going to feel that springtime after a long winter feeling most Rockies fans are experiencing this week, and it's something I want so, so much.
I still care about this team and want to watch the Rockies all the time, and I still get angry every time something bad happens like a normal die hard of a team would, and believe it or not, I even probably feel the same joy you guys feel when good things happen. But through it all, an overwhelming sadness overrides all of these emotions whenever I think about the Rockies.
Sometimes I wish I didn't love this team anymore, because that would be easier. I could just go follow the Blue Jays with no second thoughts. But that's not the case. I still love both the Rockies and Troy Tulowitzki, and it hurts seeing them apart all the time.
This of course stands in stark contrast to how the organization and most fans feel this week. The team crawling out of this six-year hole on the back of new arrivals like Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson, Trevor Story, Carlos Estevez and David Dahl is a mini utopia. It doesn't matter if they're truly in contention for the second Wild Card or not. The Rockies are on an upswing, and the pain of the past is being washed away.
For me, it's all so bittersweet. On one hand, it thrills me to know that people I love (both fans and members of the organization) have made it out of the black forest of bad Rockies baseball. However, as I continue to mourn the loss of my dreams, I now understand that my voice here no longer resonates the way it once did. This stretch of baseball is all so many people wanted for so long, and asking fans here to focus on anything else wouldn't be fair. I simply can't ask people I care about to give up their baseball dreams, and I now realize that means I have to give up mine.
So with that, I'm making the hardest decision I've ever had to make. I'm resigning from Purple Row, effective immediately (my gosh, just typing that was painful). For this dear reader, I'm truly sorry, but you deserve better Rockies content than I can provide at this point.
/Wipes away tears
I started a list of things I wanted to thank people for during my time at Purple Row, and this post quickly jumped in length by over a thousand words with many more people still to thank. So that's not going to work. Instead, I want everyone to know that if they've ever interacted with me here in any way (even if it was just to tell me via email that an article I wrote sucked), they were part of my Purple Row experience, and it's an experience I'll treasure forever.
If you've ever debated me in the comments, read one of my pieces, rec'd one of my posts, called me out for something you disagreed with, or even just tried to cheer me up after the Tulo trade, you made me better, and you'll always hold a special place in my heart. It absolutely kills me that I'm not going to make it to the promise land with you guys, but I appreciate you keeping me company during all the down years. I love you all.
If you've been a reader of Purple Row for many years, I hope you'll remember me more for the pieces I wrote before the Tulo trade than the ones after it. They're a much better representation of the person I am in real life, and probably angered a lot less people. (In addition to that, I want to personally apologize here to anybody [reader, fellow staffer or member of the Rockies organization] that I might have hurt with one of my pieces, especially in the last year. Just know that I feel no animosity towards anyone here or with the Rockies. Everything negative I've said came from a place of sadness, not from a place of hate [unless it was about the Yankees or Giants]).
The good news going forward is that Purple Row will continue to be the best place for everything Rockies, and now that the Rockies are starting to play better baseball, I'm sure it will only make the rest of our staff even better. In all the time I've spent here, I've never once had any issue with any fellow staffer, and that speaks volumes about the character of the people writing here. I can't thank all of them enough. From the retired veterans who showed me to ropes early on to all the new writers who came on in 2013 and beyond. You've all made me a stronger writer, and that's something I'll take with me for the rest of my life.
Finally, I want to give a special thanks to Bryan Kilpatrick (who is the greatest boss anyone could ever ask for and does so many things for this place behind the scenes that will never be fully appreciated). This man is a saint. He did everything possible to make this work for me after Tulo was traded. He was understanding when I started to spend more time writing at Bluebird Banter and less time writing here, he was encouraging when I wanted to share my emotions, and he protected me when others grew tired of my Tulo-loving actions. As tough as all of this is to swallow, I'm grateful for everything he's done to keep me in check. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to repay him.
I should probably cut this off now, right? The goodbye won't get any easier no matter how much I keep typing. So I guess this is it ...
/Wipes tears away one last time
Farewell friends, I'll miss this place more than you'll ever know.
Editor's note: In some ways, a new era at Purple Row officially begins today. While we're all, despite the changes to this site over the years, huge fans of the Colorado Rockies -- most of us wouldn't be doing this otherwise -- few have the passion that RIRF has exhibited during the many years he's written and commented here. We wish him nothing but the best. -BK