On February 1, 2021, Colorado Rockies All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for a handful of minor league prospects and big league pitcher Austin Gomber. The trade was met with fire and fury by the Rockies’ fanbase, and met with scorn from national baseball media. After a year of concern, confusion and questions surrounding the Rockies front office, Nolan had left. It would come to light later that he demanded out early into his contract extension signed in February of 2019. He felt disrespected by then-General Manager Jeff Bridich, and felt the Rockies’ front office had failed to build around him like they had promised. Two years later almost to the day, Arenado was gone.
Jeff Bridich would step down early into the 2021 season. The Rockies’ front office would see some shakeups and departures. However, the damage was done and could not be undone. Swathes of Rockies fans would claim their allegiance to the team over—either until Bridich, Dick Monfort, or whomever earned their ire was gone, or perhaps forever. Some flocked to Arenado’s new team in the Cardinals; others chose different new teams or simply said they would stop going to Coors Field.
However many boycotts were declared, Coors Field has not been empty. The Rockies currently rank fifth-best in attendance thus far, above even the Cardinals.
Over the first few months of the season, a lot of the anger towards the Rockies, towards Nolan, or towards both, seemed to simmer and somewhat dissipate. There were other issues within the organization now. What will happen to Trevor Story and Jon Gray? Who will the new GM be? Where will all of the front office shakeups lead? Why are the Rockies the very best team in the league at home, and the very worst on the road?
But finally, the day came that Nolan Arenado would return to Coors Field for the first time since his departure. On Thursday, July 1st, a lousy weather in the Denver metro area and an hour-long rain delay cut into the crowd, but an announced attendance of 30,410 filled the seats.
There was, unfortunately, a sea of red in the stands.
Cardinals fans often travel well, and Coors Field can be notoriously visiting-team friendly. Despite their being an ample contingent of Cardinals fans, as someone at the contest, I can tell you there was more than a fair share of Rockies faithful. Not only could you see it, but you could hear it in the crowd.
The rain had started to fade. The tarp came off the field, and players started making their way onto the field for warmups. Suddenly, above the normal crowd noise, thunderous applause and cheering began to erupt. Nolan Arenado had taken the field for warmups. There were plenty of other Cardinals players on the field, so this wasn’t just Cardinals fans cheering. This would be the tone set for the night’s ballgame.
I want to paint you a picture: Nolan is batting third in the Cardinals order. In the top of the first inning, he has his first at-bat. The ovation begins, roaring loud. Rockies catcher Elias Díaz takes a “mound visit” to pitcher Antonio Senzatela so that Nolan can embrace his moment. Arenado steps out of the batters box, removes his helmet, and begins gesturing to the crowd. He is fighting back tears.
Despite the sea of red in the crowd, you could clearly hear Rockies fans loud and clear. I was one of them, wearing my Arenado home white jersey, on my feet and contributing to his standing ovation. The message was clear: despite everything, Rockies fans still love Nolan Arenado. Rockies fans will always love Nolan Arenado.
He would receive an ovation during his first at-bat in all four games of the series, but Nolan Arenado would go just 2-for-14 with three strikeouts, three walks, and a double in his return to where his career began. The Rockies would both begin and end the series with walk-offs from Elias Díaz, winning the series three games to one.
In my opinion, there is a clear message from this series: the emotional through-line of his saga has reached a conclusion. Fans and media will always debate what could have been, or the specific details of the trade, what led to it, and who was to blame. However, so much of the anger and sorrow surrounding the trade seems to have dispersed, at least for the moment.
For me personally, I recall being so overwhelmingly angry and sad after the trade. I was angry and sad with the front office. I was angry and sad at Nolan. As the season pushed onward despite everything, those emotions became less severe, and then began to fade. As I stood on my feet raucously cheering for Nolan’s return home, I could feel the lingering resentment evaporate. I can’t help it. I love Nolan Arenado. I always will. He has meant and done so much for this team over his eight seasons: he contributed phenomenal defense and an electric bat. He won eight gold gloves, four platinum gloves, four silver sluggers, and was a five time All-Star. Above all, he displayed his incredible passion for the game of baseball. His tenure with the organization can not and should not be forgotten. I think, and I hope, that other fans feel the same way.
Nolan Arenado is no longer with the Rockies, and unlike all of the emotions surrounding his departure, everything he meant to this fanbase and organization will probably never fade away.