One of the strange things about being a Colorado Rockies fan is the need for a second-favorite team (one that’s actually competitive) if you want to have a rooting interest through the postseason.
Myself, I tend to enjoy sports more when I’ve made an emotional investment in a team. Generally, that team tends to emerge for me just after the All-Star break. By then, the Rockies’ season is pretty much over (for everyone except for the Rockies front office, which is still contending hard for that Top 10 attendance ranking). So I start settling on my new second-favorite team.
I’ve come to think of it as a yearly fling I have in the course of my long-term fandom.
This year, however, I fell for the Arizona Diamondbacks back in April.
They were young and exciting compared to an aging and low-power Rockies team. Corbin Carroll stole bases and hit home runs; Ketel Marte was in the midst of a career revival; Zac Gallen looked like a Cy Young contender again; and Lourdes Gurriel Jr’s style was off the charts. Plus, in April, the D-backs were starting to get hot, a trend they would ride through the first half of the season. They beat the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres (back when we thought they’d be good).
I was smitten.
On June 12, the D-backs were 41-25, and winning the NL West appeared likely with a Wildcard seeming like a sure thing. They were a year ahead of schedule and making the most of it — “Playing with house money,” Gallen said.
In contrast, on June 12, the Rockies were 28-40 with an injured pitching staff, and fans wondering if the team would even move anyone at the trade deadline (because not moving anyone has been the norm).
By then, I was watching the D-backs daily, enjoying the highs without realizing that a terrible losing streak — as in the longest road losing streak in MLB history — was coming in July. But I could handle that because as a baseball fan, it was just great to feel engaged again.
And this was at a time when the Rockies were not very engaging.
To be fair, Ezequiel Tovar was having a stellar rookie season while Brenton Doyle and Nolan Jones were tearing up the outfield — and those stunning defensive plays were ESPN-highlight worthy. Then there was Elias Díaz hitting that walk-off homer at the All-Star Game, which was very cool.
Maybe it was, in part, the lack of offense because defensive plays — amazing as they are — don’t win games. Offense does, and a team OPS+ of 83 is a clear indicator of a lack of offense and, by extension, excitement.
Or maybe it was fan fatigue because we’ve done this so many times. (A franchise that’s only had seven winning seasons in its 30-year history will wear out its fans.)
Let me provide a case in point.
Back in July, I attended the Rockies’ home stand with the Houston Astros. When I flew in, DIA was bustling with fans wearing Astros gear; they were enthusiastic on the train into LoDo; and they showed up at the game. Looking over Coors Field, there was so much orange (and a few of those huge foam cowboy hats some Astros fans like to wear). These weren’t out-of-season Broncos fans, either. These folks were there to support their team, and they were loud.
Before the third game started, a group of girls sitting together on the second deck started doing a “Let’s go, Rockies!” cheer, and they were persistent. But then they wore down (because the Rockies tend to do that to even the most-enthusiastic fans) as Coors Field morphed into Minute Maid Park-Rocky Mountain.
For me, it’s become a metaphor for my fandom with the Rockies.
I know so many people who grew up as Rockies fans, and they supported this team while receiving little in return. Over the course of their fandom, they’ve grown exhausted and cynical — and they’ve tuned to the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche because those are teams that win and merit an emotional investment. Nikola Jokić isn’t trying to force his way out of Denver, and getting to watch Cale Makar is an absolute gift. Plus, championships rule.
Thinking about attending a Rockies game? Sure, you go because Coors Field is great and inexpensive, and baseball rules. But the serious investments that fans make? Those are reserved for teams that value the emotional labor that goes with fandom.
Meanwhile, the Rockies? Who knows?
Even though the Rockies lost more than 100 games, which seems like something the front office would want to address with fans to establish future good will, Bill Schmidt did not provide a media availability at the end of this season. (Instead, he did a brief interview with the Rockies Blog on September 28.)
In addition, to the best of my knowledge, Dick Monfort has not sent a letter to season ticket holders.
The organization needs to explain its future plans to Rockies fans — which Clint Hurdle did (kind of) in a recent podcast conversation with Mark Knudson, Manny Randhawa, and Thomas Harding. But the front office is not — and that’s their job, even if the news is not good and the audience may be hostile.
While slogging through the Rockies’ season, I found following the D-backs this year to be deeply rewarding. They were underdogs that no one thought could win, so they leaned into it — hard. They had compelling stories (both with players and front office personnel) and cool retro uniforms, and they managed, somehow, to keep winning.
I suffered through July with them; watched scoreboards with them in September; and I’ve felt all the anxiety (in a good way) that comes with October baseball.
I watched them party in the Chase Field pool, and I have stomach-churned my way through those games in Philadelphia.
Reader, it’s been great, every gut-wrenching minute of it.
Stealing on pitchers and striking out batters— Arizona Diamondbacks (@Dbacks) October 24, 2023
Flashing the leather and crushing long dingers
Chaos created to force a Game 7
These are a few of our favorite things. pic.twitter.com/xAjgRcKVdq
When the D-backs’ season is over, I expect general manager Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo to take questions from the press and communicate with fans about what they can expect next season.
The D-backs get that in addition to investing in analytics and on-field talent, they have to get fan buy-in, especially given that fans were late to supporting this D-backs team. I suspect this is something they’ll work hard to rectify in the offseason because they are cultivating their fans for the future.
The Rockies would do well to learn from their example.
Patrick Saunders does the math and calculates just how much time the pitch clock shaved off Rockies games. (The 2023, 103-loss season was 1,579 minutes shorter than their 94-loss 2022 season.) Rockies game times were, on average, 19 minutes shorter than in 2022, and MLB saw an even greater time reduction of 24 minutes. I’ve been an advocate of the pitch clock since 2018, and my feelings have not changed.
If the Rockies wish to follow in the footsteps of other recent 100-loss teams, they will need to be aggressive when it comes to trading players during the offseason, Patrick Lyons argues. Who could be traded? Elehuris Montero, Michael Toglia, Ryan McMahon, Brendan Rodgers, or any number of prospects. For teams that have had successful rebuilds, trades have been key, and the Rockies will need to explore all of their options before their contention window opens in 2025.
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