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My Rocktober Story: The greatest 36 hours of my life

Games 162 and 163, as I experienced them.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Colorado Rockies Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

You’re only 12 once.

That’s not to say that I was a happy person on September 30, 2007. My grandfather had died eighteen days earlier. It was a really hard time for my dad, and I didn’t see him or my mom very much that month because they were back in Massachusetts with his family. I flew out for the funeral and back home afterwards on my own.

I was four months away from starting to seriously question my sexuality, and six months away from being diagnosed with Type I diabetes. By September I was already noticing that I was thirsty a lot more than usual.

On the night I flew home from the funeral, the Rockies were 76-72 and pretty much out of the playoff hunt. They won 13-0 that night. Then they swept the Dodgers, first in a doubleheader and then in a four game series. I started to dream about a playoff berth. I had been a huge Rockies fan for six years at that point, which seems like a very long time when you’re 12. It felt like the team had always been bad. They had teased me the summer before by staying in the hunt until August and then faded. Now it seemed like they were going to stage a furious push only to come up agonizingly short.

But they kept winning. I followed almost all of this in the paper and on the radio. My family didn’t have cable at the time, and I remember sitting in the parking lot of a King Soopers, hearing Garrett Atkins’s inside-the-park home run on KOA with my mom. That victory over the Padres made it eight in a row. A while back my dad had bought us tickets to the last game of the season on the off chance it might be meaningful. It was starting to look like a good investment.

Then came the Brandon Webb game. It felt like it was all over. I remember listening to that one on the radio while trying to talk about it in some god-forsaken chatroom. How I wish I had known about Purple Row back then.

The next day the Padres/Brewers game was nationally televised, and I remember watching Trevor Hoffman come to the mound and feeling like our season was about to end. I even looked at the clock and thought, “Well, at least this is the latest date the Rockies have ever been eliminated.” Then, Tony Gwynn Jr. saved us. Suddenly it felt like there just might be some magic left in the tank.

After the Brewers finished off their comeback it was time to settle in and watch the Rockies game of the week on UPN. I always savored the one chance per week I got to watch them back in those days (my parents finally caved and got cable the following year). As they demolished the D-backs 11-1 I realized that the next day I might actually get to witness something historic. I hardly slept that night.

It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful early fall day than September 30th, 2007. When we got to the park the Padres and Brewers game was already underway. Our seats were in section 114 down the first base line, near the large auxiliary scoreboard. We got them from King Soopers for eight bucks. By the time we sat down the Padres were leading 3-0. I tried not to focus on it, but it felt like the afternoon might turn out to be anticlimactic.

The game itself was a tense pitcher’s duel with no score through five innings, so the most exciting developments were on the scoreboard. This was before smartphones were in widespread usage. Instead, people deployed various methods in hopes of learning the score of the Padres/Brewers game. One guy was getting updates over the phone from a friend of his. Another had a portable radio and would announce whenever KOA said anything regarding the score of the other game. Of course, we could all clearly see the scoreboard in right field, but people wanted to know about things as soon as they happened. I didn’t trust any of the information until I saw it posted on the scoreboard. I’ll never forget the roar that went up when they changed MIL 2 to MIL 6. The Brewers were now leading 6-4.

In the middle of the Rockies game I heard rumblings in our section that Milwaukee had scored again, but I didn’t see anything change on the scoreboard. Then, during the next inning break, the jumbotron zoomed in on the scoreboard and Milwaukee’s 6 was turned upside-down so it made a 9. Coors Field lost it. All these years later I can’t get over how genius that move was. I wish I could meet the person who did it and thank them. I was too young to even say “nice”.

In the sixth the Rockies finally broke through, but Arizona tied it in the seventh. At some point around then (the exact timing is a little messy in my recollection), the jumbotron zoomed in again as a gorgeous yellow F was posted next to the SD 6 - MIL 11 on the scoreboard. Now the pressure was squarely on the Rockies.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Colorado Rockies Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

They also flashed Broncos scoreboard updates during this game—nobody seemed particularly concerned. I think they lost to the Colts.

The Rockies broke it open in the bottom of the eighth, scoring three runs. We were so close. This was really going to happen. I was pinching myself.

Then Manny Corpas almost blew it in the ninth. I’m not sure how the 2007 season would be remembered if he had. A seemingly safe 4-1 lead became 4-2 with one out, and then 4-3 with two outs. Representing the go-ahead run, Stephen Drew made impossibly weak contact, and Corpas came charging off the mound to field the ball. I squinted through the sun at an infield that was entirely in shadow, and held my breath as he threw to first. I didn’t see Helton catch it, but I saw him leap off the bag in celebration.

After the game the Rockies made their annual “thank you” lap around the field. I remembered having seen the 1995 team do this on my “No Place Like Home” VHS, and thinking that this was the only other time it had meant as much.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Colorado Rockies

In 1967, when my dad was 10, he had attended the penultimate game of the season at Fenway Park, when the miracle Red Sox were in a similar must-win position. He’d had the opportunity to go the following day, but he decided not to. He had always regretted not being there to see “pandemonium on the field” as Boston clinched its first AL pennant in 21 years. He wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. It didn’t matter that the Wild Card Tiebreaker was on a Monday night at 5:30 p.m. We were going.

After the celebration was over, we went down to the box office at Coors Field and bought three tickets for the game the following night in section U325, row 11. They cost $20. This was really happening. The Rockies were one game away from the playoffs.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Colorado Rockies Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

I couldn’t focus in school the following day. During my guitar class I absentmindedly leaned my guitar up against a music stand in the choir room. It fell over and the headstock broke off.

With that embarrassment still fresh in my mind, I boarded a bus to Denver with my dad right after school got out. My mom arrived at the game after work with the car. By the time she got there the Rockies were up 2-0. Then it was 3-0. This was going to be easy.

Of course, it was the opposite of that. Adrian Gonzalez hit a grand slam for the first of four lead changes, and we were officially in a battle. Trailing 5-3, Todd Helton got the Rockies a run back in the fourth. Then Matt Holliday tied it in the fifth and Kaz put us ahead an inning later. The good feeling I’d had at the start of the game returned to some extent but, with a one-run lead and nine outs to go, Coors was on pins and needles.

The atmosphere got a lot more tense after the blown call on Garrett Atkins’s home run in the seventh inning. It was obvious to everyone in the ballpark, except the umpires and the TBS announcers (one of my great regrets is that the game was called by that crew) that the ball had gone over the wall and bounced back. It was because of this call more than any other that replay was finally added for home run calls the following season. If the Rockies lost now, it would be because the game was stolen from them. This feeling got worse when the Padres got a run in the eighth inning to tie the score. The game went to extra innings, and everyone knew that it shouldn’t have.

For the next three innings the game followed a familiar pattern of nerves followed by exhalation in the top of the inning, then anticipation followed by disappointment in the bottom half as each team failed to score. I remember that we stood for every Rockies at-bat from at least the 9th inning on.

Everything fell apart in the 13th. I remember how quiet it was after the Hairston home run. There were almost no Padre fans in the park. I think I might have been able to hear their bench celebrating from all the way up in the third level. Some guy in front of me yelled, “You gonna call that one a double too?” The vibe was bad. I remember the guy directly in front of me texting someone, “They just blew it.” My mom mentioned the concept of leaving, for which my dad scolded her. I didn’t admit this at the time, but I was thinking the same thing. I didn’t want to watch the Padres celebrate on our field. What happened next is the reason why I never leave a game before it’s over.

San Diego Padres v Colorado Rockies Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

As Trevor Hoffman walked out to the mound the only thing that gave me hope was that he had just blown a save 48 hours earlier in Milwaukee. He was human. Then he started off with two balls to Kaz Matsui and the thought that he might not have it that night began to creep into my mind. Ever since I’ve gotten irrationally excited every time an opposing reliever has missed with the first two pitches of the inning.

As soon as Kaz doubled I felt like the Rockies were going to win. Tulo, Holliday and Helton were due up. All around the stadium you could feel the sense of belief that they were going to pull this off.

Tulo’s at-bat was long and stressful, so when he doubled the release in the stadium was huge. Now the MVP was coming up. Before any tension even got a chance to build, Holliday swung at the first pitch and made contact.

San Diego Padres v Colorado Rockies Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

From my high vantage point I initially thought it was gone. Then I thought there was a chance it might be caught. It hung in the air forever and finally bounced off the wall. The explosion of noise in the ballpark after the ball left the bat was such that there were really no more volume notches to be climbed as it bounced back towards the infield and Holliday slid into third with a game-tying triple. It was just 30 seconds or so of jet engine, vacuum cleaner, I can’t hear myself think noise. When media people who were there talk about feeling like the press box was going to cave in that night, that’s probably the moment they’re talking about.

San Diego Padres v Colorado Rockies Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Now the winning run was on third base with nobody out and the next batter was Todd Helton. I had a few moments of thinking how perfect it would be for him to be the guy to send the Rockies to the playoffs, but then the Padres intentionally walked him.

So then Jamey Carroll lines the first pitch he sees to right, and my first thought was “that’s not deep enough.” But then my second thought was “Holliday has to try anyway.” Our seats in section 326 were almost perpendicular with the third base line, so it looked like Holliday was coming straight at us. And man did he look slow. It felt like he would never get there in time. I actually didn’t see the ball pop out of Barrett’s glove, so it wasn’t until I saw the umpire signal “safe” that I started to celebrate; jumping all over my dad and high-fiving anyone within striking distance.

Initially we weren’t sure what had happened to Holliday on the slide, so there was a bit of nervousness that crept in about 30 seconds after the celebration started. Before too long he was up and we realized it was nothing serious, but I do remember briefly wondering if we had just lost our best player for the playoffs.

No one wanted to leave our seats, but once the celebration was over and we finally headed out of the park, I high-fived everyone I could find, whether or not I knew them. I’ve never seen a crowd of people so happy. My hand stung from how many high-fives I got.

My dad and I walked out to get our car while my mom repeated the ritual from the night before of standing in line at the box office. This time she bought tickets for NLDS game 4, because we thought the Rockies were unlikely to be swept. It never crossed our minds that the game would turn out to be unnecessary the other way around.

We listened to the postgame show in our car, and it was then that I first heard Holliday’s touching of the plate called into question. I’ve watched that clip dozens, maybe hundreds of times, and I still honestly think that he did.

San Diego Padres v Colorado Rockies Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

After the postgame show, conservative radio personality “Gunny” Bob came on the air, and he opened with a long apology to Clint Hurdle, and said that he took back everything bad he had ever said about him (which included, apparently, saying that he should be sent to Iraq without ammo). I think that was the only time either of my parents ever listened to KOA and laughed.

The next two weeks were like walking on air. It seemed like the Rockies would never lose again. I wasn’t even all that sad that NLDS Game 4 never happened. Even my middle school, which by and large couldn’t have cared less about the Rockies beforehand, started announcing the scores of the NLDS day games. I got my art teacher to put GameDay up on the projector during class. Everyone was caught up in it.

Then the World Series hit like a ton of bricks. I couldn’t force myself to go to class the day after Game 4. Over the next few months, I would find it harder to get up in the morning in general, and sometimes when I would make it into school I would feel too sick to stay past first period. On March 14 I got diagnosed with Type I diabetes.

Rocktober, which for me means September 16 to October 15, 2007, exists as the eye in the storm of a pretty rough period in my life, and games 162 and 163 are the center of it. I don’t think a professional sports team will ever have that kind of affect on me again. The 2007 Rockies were my team. They were my heroes. I was still young enough to see pro athletes as larger than life and not just exceptionally strong and skilled but otherwise normal people.

Someday I may see the Colorado Rockies win a World Series. I’m sure, no matter how old I am, that it will mean a lot to me. But no matter how sweet it is, it won’t top the memories I have from ten years ago.

Like I said, you’re only 12 once.