Remember those Colorado Rockies’ “Generation R” ads from 2005?
It was an advertising campaign “intended to celebrate the youthful energy and veteran determination that will comprise the Rockies’ clubhouse in 2005.” As the March 2005 schedule put it, this was “the evolution of Rockies baseball.”
“Generation R? I’m not really sure what that is,” Helton, then 31, said. “I’m probably beyond Gen R, but maybe it will make me feel a little bit younger.”
After all, the Rockies had traded their proven veterans, save Helton, Preston Wilson, and a few pitchers, as the organization spent 2005 leaning into letting the kids play. (Back then, the “kids” would be players like Aaron Cook, Garrett Atkins, Clint Barmes, Jeff Francis, Matt Holliday, Ryan Spilborghs, and Cory Sullivan.)
On the surface, that season appears unsuccessful. After all, the team finished 67-95. Perhaps more concerning, at least to ownership, was attendance falling to an average of 23,930 per game. It was the only season in which the Rockies did not bring in 2 million fans.
But then what happened? Two years later, the Rockies had an epic Rocktober that ended in a trip to the World Series. (Let’s not discuss the October Classic itself. . . .)
Flash forward to 2024 at 20th and Blake.
Last year, the Rockies continued slogging through their “don’t-call-it-a-rebuild” rebuild. The fact that the organization refuses to acknowledge this has exacerbated the team’s lack of a clear identity. Probably, the ghosts of Generation R are haunting an owner who fears admitting a rebuild would invite a recurrence of that low-attendance season.
Reader, I’m here to argue the Rockies should absolutely embrace their rebuild, foreground it in their identity, and urge fans to take the journey with the youngsters.
It’s a new day (and a new era)
It turns out, 2005 was a long time ago, especially in baseball years. “Moneyball” was published in 2003, and fans today have a better understanding of rebuilds than they did then. Case in point: The 2023 World Series featured two teams with 100-loss seasons just two years prior. Add to that the rebuilt Baltimore Orioles are emerging as a powerhouse, and everyone knows how successful the Houston Astros were coming out of their rebuild (trash cans aside).
Fans get it. But they also need to know the organization has a plan Then they can feel invested in a rebuilding team because shared goals are essential to developing fandom.
Think back to September 2020 (when The Athletic still employed beat writers to cover teams outside New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Atlanta). Nick Groke and Corey Brock compared the Seattle Mariners and the Rockies in their article “What the Mariners Can Teach the Rockies About a Roster Rebuild (Er, ‘Stepback’).”
The piece describes how the Mariners undertook their rebuild and raised questions about whether the Rockies could pull off a similar feat. This passage from Brock has stayed with me:
Here’s the thing, too: They were very transparent with the fan base. This is why we’re doing this, etc. I think people got it and, even for a club that hasn’t been to the postseason since 2001, fans understood the reasoning behind it. Hell, they had waited 17 years at that point — what was two or three more years?
The Mariners, then, decided to cultivate fan buy-in as part of their rebuild process, so they would feel ownership when the team became successful. Plus, it kept them engaged rather than incentivizing them to tune out.
The Rockies would benefit from adopting that model.
Moreover, social media is a game changer in a way it wasn’t in 2005 — both for the organization and players. Prior to its advent, teams relied on billboards, radio spots, print media, and Coors Field signage to get the message out. They had limited opportunities to engage fans directly.
With social media, teams can communicate with fans and tell players’ stories, using those narratives as a way to introduce young players. Here’s a case in point from spring training:
Zac Veen just has it. This kind of media makes fans excited about the future.
Or consider the rookies’ annual Chicago coffee run:
The rookies participated in a wedding photo shoot? How nice!
Use YouTube to take fans to a Colorado Avalanche game with Nolan Jones. Let Ezequiel Tovar curate a Spotify playlist of his favorite Latin music artists. Visit Ryan Feltner’s art studio in an Instagram video. You get the idea.
Similarly, players have their own social media accounts they can use to explain who they are and what they care about.
None of this technology was widely utilized (or even existed) in 2005, but it does now. Take advantage of it, and use it as a foundation for a new identity and to get fans excited about the future.
The kids are really fun
Watching Ezequiel Tovar play shortstop? Very fun.
Watching Brenton Doyle and Nolan Jones? Also, very fun.
Keeping up with Justin Lawrence and a cast of young pitchers pitch? So very fun!
Justin Lawrence, 83mph Frisbee Sweeper.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 23, 2023
20 inches of horizontal break. pic.twitter.com/nua2MLndVR
That said, when any prospect learns a new skill — or advances to the Majors — it’s not without challenges. But if fans are invested in young players, those fans will provide the space (and support) prospects need to develop. After all, the best relationships are forged through the good times and the bad.
Despite the organization’s affection for aging veterans, it’s time to let the kids play.
That kind of investment — a promise that these are talented, compelling players with better days coming — is the product of embracing the rebuild, and it makes for a forward-looking identity.
The Rockies need to get serious about engaging fans outside of LoDo
That the Rockies can get fans to turn out at Coors Field is a fact illustrated by the team’s attendance numbers — even when the Rockies have had losing seasons. (And they have had many.) That is, it seems unlikely attendance would drop below 2 million again.
Since the Rockies will probably be streaming games via MLB.tv in 2024 and their viewing numbers have not been encouraging — as in third-lowest in MLB — the organization needs to turn its attention to engaging fans who do not regularly come to Coors Field. The Rockies will need those fans to pay for a subscription. They’re are more apt to do that if the players are familiar and the organizational direction is clear.
The Rockies have been criticized — justifiably — for lacking a clear identity. But it’s here: It’s the kids; it’s the rebuild; it’s Generation R, 2.0. And it’s good!
Lean into the rebuild. Help fans participate. And get ready for the contention window to re-open in a few years.
For your viewing pleasure
In looking through the old Rockies videos while reading about Generation R, I stumbled onto this:
Yes, Todd Helton belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Award season — kind of . . .
Nolan Jones won the obscure Baseball Isn’t Boring Breakout Hitter of the Year for 2024. (It’s a forward-looking award.) He talked with Rob Bradford, describing his first season in Colorado. It’s worth your time.
Morning podcast: Breakout star and @Rockies outfielder Nolan Jones joins @bradfo to accept his prestigious @BBisntBoring honor (while inspiring along the way).— Baseball Isn’t Boring (@BBisntBoring) January 4, 2024
Listen: https://t.co/QhPn6wdksj pic.twitter.com/q9iwlV30zl
Mike Petriello goes through the list of players we’re watching now who will be making a case for their induction into the Hall of Fam someday. The list is impressive: Mike Trout, Max Scherzer, Mookie Betts, Nolan Arenado — the list is impressive. What’s less impressive? Not a single current Rockie appears on that list.
Over the weekend, the Rockies announced signing RHP Dakota Hudson to a one-year contract with incentives. Thomas Harding explains the Rockies’ plans for the pitcher as well as Bud Black’s early scouting efforts when Hudson was at Mississippi State.
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