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Could changes in the game alter how the Rockies operate?

Colorado Rockies news and links for Friday, April 14, 2023

With rule changes and exciting young players, I entered the 2023 Colorado Rockies season with some excitement, in addition to the perennial happiness baseball brings—even knowing the Rockies are likely to be a sub-.500 team.

After the opening homestand at Coors Field, all of those feelings remain true; however, that was also a weird homestand. The reasons aren’t necessarily related to the play on the field. The Rockies went 3-4, but they actually could have put up a winning record. They blew winnable games due to bad defense and bullpen struggles that turned a possible Cardinal sweep into a 2-1 series loss.

The season is likely to be filled with ups and downs like this, but this homestand was stranger for what happened in the stands. I only attended one game, Tuesday’s 9-6 loss to the Cardinals. It got me thinking about the Rockies attendance, the effects of the rule changes on the business of baseball, and what it might mean for the Rockies.

Is attendance trending down?

The home opener is always going to be a huge day at Coors Field. It’s a highly attended game for every team. This year was no different as the Rockies as 48,230 fans crowded into Coors Field on a 51-degree Thursday to see the Rockies take on the Washington Nationals with hometown favorite Kyle Freeland on the mound.

The 48,230 marks only the fifth time in the past 15 years (excluding 2020 and 2021 with COVID fan restrictions) that the Rockies have had lower than 49,000 at the home opener. Four of those have come in the last five seasons and 2023 is the third lowest in the last 15 years. On the bright side, the other seasons are 2018 (48,216) and 2007 (48,169), which are both years the Rockies went to the postseason.

Rockies Attendance for First 2 Home Series from 2012-2023

Season Opening Day Attendance Opening Series/Games Total 1st 2 Series/Games Ave. P/G 1st 2 Series Season Ave/Rank
Season Opening Day Attendance Opening Series/Games Total 1st 2 Series/Games Ave. P/G 1st 2 Series Season Ave/Rank
2023 48,230 vs. Nationals 143,885/4 215,626/7 (WSN/STL) 30,803 30,803 (13th)
2022 48,627 vs. Dodgers 137,539/3 270,215/7 (LAD/CHC) 38,602 32,467 (9th)
2019 48,404 vs. Dodgers 137,516/3 188,839/5 (LAD/ATL) 37,768 36,953 (6th)
2018 48,216 vs. Braves 130,456/3 194,441/6 (ATL/SDP) 32,406 37,233 (7th)
2017 49,169 vs. Dodgers 130,710/3 192,846/6 (LAD/SDP) 32,141 36,464 (8th)
2016 49,360 vs. Padres 112,124/3 176,055/6 (SDP/SFG) 29,342 32,129 (11th)
2015 49,303 vs. Cubs 134,478/3 234,045/7 (CHC/SDP) 33,435 31,334 (14th)
2014 49,130 vs. D-backs 111,987/3 182,675/6 (ARI/CHW) 30,446 33,090 (10th)
2013 49,077 vs. Padres 111,270/3 171,360/6 (SDP/NYM) 28,560 34,491 (10th)
2012 49,282 vs. Giants 105,479/3 192,929/6 (SFG/ARI) 32,155 32,474 (13th)
2021 and 2020 have been omitted because of limited capacity in 2021 and no fans in 2020 because of COVID-19.

On Tuesday against the Cardinals, on an April night when the weather registered 81 degrees at first pitch and with Cardinals fans everywhere, it seemed strange that there were still so many empty seats. Even with Cardinals fans maybe making up 30% of the crowd and outcheering Rockies fans, only 22,250 people walked through the gates. It was a weekday, but it felt empty for the sixth game of the season.

Empty seats were not only common in the three-game St. Louis series, but also in the three, non-opening day games against the Nationals. In 2022, in the opening seven-game homestand against the Dodgers and Cubs, 270,215 people came to Coors Field for an average of 38,602 per game. This season, 215,626 fans attended the seven-game homestand for an average of 30,803 per game. That’s a significant drop and the lowest average for the opening homestand in the last five years (still excluding 2020 and 2021).

Of course, the season is young. Seven games is a very small sample size. Despite having losing teams in seven of the last nine years, the Rockies have never finished worse than 14th in MLB attendance. The 30,803 average so far this season ranks 13th in MLB. Coors Field remains a popular place in LoDo and it’s still the best bar in Denver with the Rooftop. The attendance could bounce back with 74 home games to go.

Could change be on deck?

But what if it doesn’t? What if the losses finally dent attendance? Again, it’s too soon to say. However, the downward trend combined with quicker games also means less revenue from concessions. Like other teams, the Rockies announced on Thursday that they will extend alcohol sales until the end of the eighth inning instead of the seventh. Sure, one extra inning of beers and Rocky-Ritas will bring in more money, but just imagine what winning more baseball games could do?

Ever since the Rockies were born 30 years ago, they have been moneymakers. Take a baseball-hungry town, add in a beautiful stadium, gorgeous summer nights in LoDo, enough star players for some intrigue, and five playoff appearances, and it equals good business for Dick Monfort. It could make for good business indefinitely, regardless of the fact that the Rockies have never won the NL West and likely won’t be earning that first division crown any time soon.

On the other hand, perhaps things are changing. With TV dollars diminishing and in jeopardy moving forward, attendance possibly trending downward, and new rules leading to faster games and lower concession revenue, change is coming for baseball.

Will the Rockies front office finally be forced to prioritize winning, starting with fronting the money to build a competitive starting rotation? Or will they continue the Monfort way, inking veterans to Minor League deals and staying on the sideline during the trade deadline while players lose value and the team remains well outside the playoff race?

Maybe this season will bring some answers.

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Denver police investigating assault on Dinger at Rockies home game | Denver Post ($)

Fortunately, Dinger didn’t sustain any injuries when a fan tackled the Rockies mascot while the dinosaur was dancing on the dugout during Monday’s game against the Cardinals. Surprisingly, the fan got away and was not identified, according to Denver Police, who are investing the assault. Hopefully, the attacker will be found. This is unacceptable and not what the Rockies community wants to be known for.

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On the Farm

Triple-A: El Paso Chihuahuas 19, Albuquerque Isotopes 6

Fernando Tatis, Jr. seems like he’s healthy and is proving why he’s one of the best players in baseball. While completing a rehab assignment before rejoining the Padres next week, Tatis teed off against the Isotopes on Thursday night, hitting three homers and driving in eight runs. Tatis only missed hitting a cycle by a triple and finished with five hits in six at-bats. His first two homers came off Jeff Criswell, including a 451-foot shot at 115.1 mph in a five-run second inning. The Chihuahuas took a 12-2 lead after four innings and went on to out-hit Albuquerque 18-10. Criswell gave up four homers and El Paso totaled six over the course of the long night. Trevor Boone had an impressive night at the plate for the Isotopes, going 4-for-4 with a double and a homer.

Double-A: Reading Fightin’ Phils 4, Hartford Yard Goats 2

Reading held Hartford to five hits to secure their first win of the season and snapped the Yard Goats three-game win streak on Thursday night. Hunter Goodman hit his fourth homer of the season, which leads the Eastern League, Grant Lavigne went 2-for-3, Colin Simpson hit an RBI double, and Julio Carreras extended his hit-streak to six games for the Yard Goats. Simpson’s double tied the game in the top of the sixth, but the Fightin’ Phils fought back with a run in the bottom of the inning, which ended Case Williams’ night. Williams gave up three runs on three hits with three walks and three strikeouts in 5 23 innings to drop to 0-2 on the season.

High-A: Spokane Indians 4, Eugene Emeralds 3

Sterlin Thompson hit a sac fly in the first inning, Zach Kokoska homered in the fourth, and Yanquiel Fernandez hit what ended up being the game-winner— a two-run homer in the eighth—to give the Indians the only win in the Rockies farm system on Thursday. The Indians were led by a strong pitching effort where four pitchers combined to strike out the Emeralds 16 times. Jarrod Cande gave up two runs on five hits with three walks and six strikeouts in 3 23 to keep Spokane in the game before Mason Green threw 3 13 scoreless innings with six strikeouts, Evan Justice added a scoreless frame with two more strikeouts for the win, and Jason Kostyshock gave up one run in the ninth, but struck out two to earn the save. Thompson finished the game with two hits and scored a run.

Low-A: Stockton Ports 5, Fresno Grizzlies 4

Trailing 4-0 headed to the bottom of the seventh, Fresno started to rally when Ryan Ritter and Skyler Messinger both hit RBI doubles and Jake Snider and Luis Mendez each hit RBI singles to tie the game. Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, the Ports rallied back to score a run in the top of the ninth on two singles and a fielder’s choice to retake the lead at 5-4. Fresno’s comeback attempt came up short in the bottom of the ninth when Snider doubled and Mendez walked. They advanced to third and second, respectively, but were left there when Kody Huff struck out.

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