Stuck on the Rox

Opening Day has always been a little special to me. A new baseball season. A fresh start. All the possibilities waiting ….

Wait a second.

How many runs?

Oh, dear.

For those of you who missed the disaster Thursday, you have my envy. An unnamed genius scheduled the Arizona Diamondbacks – holders of the National League pennant – to start the season against our Colorado Rockies, holders of national embarrassment after their first-ever 100-loss season. The results should have been predictable.

They weren’t. If only because no one could have predicted the third inning of our first game.

Fourteen runs. Fourteen runs. For the curious, that’s the highest one-inning total that has been recorded in an Opening Day game since 1900. It’s a baseball Titanic … except the Titanic at least had a chance of avoiding the iceberg.

The season has barely started and we’re already a team of legend.

Now, we’re not the first franchise to ever have an extended stay in the baseball doldrums. Back in junior high school days, I can still remember shaking my head in sympathy for a teacher who was a fan of the Chicago Cubs AND the Boston Red Sox at the same time. Both have since returned to respectability and even to glory within recent memory.

I can already hear the sighs of my fellow fans. Yes, our team still has to take step one: actually trying to get out of the basement. And even that’s not a fair statement. Everyone on the team –  as in, the folks in the gloves and ball caps – probably is doing the best they can with what they’ve got. The trouble starts higher up and we all know it, with an ownership that says it’s tired of losing but has taken few if any steps to address it.

But as our Rox muddle through their Rocky Mountain Low, we can at least take an example and a lesson. Because a lot of us are in the position of the Men in Purple: having to keep going day after day in a tiring situation that seems to have no end.

We all spend some time there. Some practically have long-term leases. And it’s not always clear how to get out.

Time and again, the same answer floats to the surface: not alone.

I keep a music playlist on hand for harder days. One song that keeps leading the pack is “The Mary Ellen Carter” by Stan Rogers, about a ship sunk by a drunken captain, abandoned by an apathetic owner … and raised by a determined crew. One of the final verses is one that I’ve quoted to myself and others many times:

“And you to whom adversity has dealt the final blow,

With smiling b******s lying to you everywhere you go,

Turn to, and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain,

And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again!”

The thing is, the Mary Ellen Carter couldn’t spontaneously rise by itself. It needed the help of the crew who loved it, the ones who had been saved by the ship so many times and who repaid it with their work and dedication.

That’s us.

Asking anyone to haul themselves off the rocks is a cruelty. We need to be there for each other, ready to lift and haul and repair. That’s how we rise again: through community and mutual strength.

None of us are in a position to raise up a baseball team with anything more than cheers (alas). But we can raise up those around us. We can be the love that helps them rise again and accept that love from others.

Set the example. Help it spread. Others will notice.

And if some of those others are in a position to move mountains – or at least Rockies – maybe the next Opening Day will be worth the wait at last.

Out of the Park

For the first time in too long, Colorado Rockies fans can stand proud. And once more, Todd Helton is the reason.

For fans of a team that just endured a franchise-record 103 losses, Helton’s election brought sunshine in winter. Suddenly, memories of better times could come back to life. Granted, we’ve never had the equivalent of the 1927 Yankees (or even the 1987 Twins) but there’s still been plenty to light up a mental scoreboard. The early days watching Andres “The Big Cat” Galarraga. Larry Walker’s pursuit of a .400 batting average. And of course, the miracle of Rocktober before it wilted in the glare of a Fenway Park evening.

And in the midst of so much of it stood The Toddfather. The face of the Rockies for 17 years. Feared at the bat, cheered in the lineup, jeered for being the beneficiary of Coors Field.

Oh, wait. That last bit came from the commentators. For way too long. The same ones who’ve gotten very quiet all of a sudden.

If Helton’s election does nothing else, it’ll hopefully shatter the myth that Rockies hitters are Fake News. And not just because Mister Rockie had road warrior stats that were right up there with George Brett, Ricky Henderson and Tony Gwynn.

Rather, he did what every star does in any field. He took what he was given and he ran with it.

Yes, Coors Field is a batter’s paradise. I said it. I’d be foolish to deny it. Even in the Humidor Era with baseballs specially treated to handle the thin air, hitters come to the plate eagerly and often leave satisfied. The overall effect has sometimes been exaggerated (the way some sportscasters describe it, you’d think the Rockies played on the Moon) but it’s real.

But still – so what?

I’ll say it again for those in the back row. So what?

Baseball is not played under sterile laboratory conditions.  Far from it. Every player faces a unique environment, whether it’s the quirks of the local ballpark or the latest brainstorm rules-change from the commissioner’s office.  And yet, somehow, we still cheer excellence.

Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale didn’t have to apologize for the pitcher-friendly confines of Dodger Stadium. Ted Williams and Wade Boggs didn’t have to give back their Hall of Fame status for playing half their games in the bandbox of Fenway. And any hitter that benefits from a “live” ball, a lower pitcher’s mound or even something as simple as batting gloves has an edge on those who came before.

So what’s the big deal about a Rocky Mountain High?

It’s a truth that goes beyond the ballpark. Everyone’s starting from different points, working with different gifts, facing different journeys and challenges. But if we let our preconceptions discount a real accomplishment, then we’ve sold someone short. Maybe even ourselves.

I’m not saying that differences never make a difference. When someone outright rigs the game, on the field or off, attention needs to be paid. When someone’s “excellence” comes at another’s expense, the harm shouldn’t be ignored.

 But there’s a difference between that and using what you have, where you are. And when that effort produces something worthy, by all means, celebrate it.

There have been many Colorado Rockies ballplayers. There has been one Todd Helton. And the Hall has shown that it can finally look past Coors and give him the honor he deserves.  

Never mind the losses for now. Today, we’re all feeling a mile high.

Using Your Head

I’ve been a baseball fan for years. But somehow, I had never seen the Canseco Bounce. 

If you just said “Huh?”, you owe it to yourself to start the New Year right. Go to YouTube. Look up the words Canseco, Ball and Head. And don’t drink anything while you’re watching. 

What you’ll see is a 1993 clip of outfielder Jose Canseco going back for a fly ball in deep right field … a fly ball that hits him on top of the head and bounces OVER the wall for a home run.

“Look at this!” the announcer laughs as it gets replayed over and over and over again. “Boink!! And it’s out of here!” 

I made the belated discovery through a book I got for Christmas on 50 memorable baseball moments. (Thanks, Mom!) And while many of the other entries had more significance, drama or heart, this one keeps coming back and making me chuckle. 

First, because Canseco clearly isn’t hurt. (Lasting injury is never funny.) In fact, he’s even smiling. 

Second, because the moment is just so Looney Tunes. You could put it in the middle of a Rowan Atkinson or Jim Carrey movie without alteration – especially since the ball only clears the wall *because* of the head bounce. Way to go, Mr. Bean! 

Third and most of all, because I suspect we’ve all been there. You know what I mean: those moments where you’re trying to do the right thing and somehow manage to make matters hilariously worse. 

Having spent a fair chunk of my life in newspapers and amateur theatre – two highly public arenas – I’ve had my share of misplaced fly balls. Like writing a headline about the discovery of a “Viking horde” in Britain instead of a “Viking hoard.” (No, England did not get invaded.) Or walking on stage with a ringing cell phone in my pocket. Or for that matter, walking *off* stage and into the orchestra pit in the middle of a solo. 

But it doesn’t have to be in front of a mass audience or on the JumboTron to have an impact. Most of us are quite capable of replaying those moments endlessly, right behind our own eyeballs.

And so, besides starting the New Year with a harmless laugh, I hope this also starts us with a few reminders.

First: give yourself grace.

We’re not going to win all the time – even if we judge the fly ball perfectly. One of my favorite Star Trek quotes (geek alert!) says simply that “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose.” And we will commit mistakes. Holding yourself to a standard of perfection is a good way to break yourself; forgiving yourself for falling short helps you forgive others, too.

Next, learn from what happened. Laugh if you can. Tell it on yourself afterward if you like. After all, you’re going to remember it anyway – if you can make it a story, you can take out a lot of the sting and maybe even create a rueful smile. “I’m never going to do THAT again …”

And most importantly, get back in the game. There are a lot of innings left to play. Mark the moment, but don’t stay stuck in it. That’s sometimes easier said than done, I know, especially with bigger goofs that take a while to deal with. (As I said, lasting injury is never funny.)  Take the time you need. Reach out to someone if you can. And then, when you’re ready, play ball.

That kind of focus and mindfulness is a great way to keep your head in the game.

One way or another.

Rock Doubt

Well, at least we’re not Oakland. 

Small consolation at the best of times, I know. But it’s all I’ve got left to offer. 

If you’re a fellow Colorado Rockies fan, you get it. And if you’re a fellow Colorado Rockies fan, I am so, so sorry. 

One. Hundred. Losses. 

And beyond, naturally. The count stood at 102 when I wrote this and may have added one or two more by the time our final out of the year was recorded on Sunday. But as usual, it’s the big round number that stands out, the mark of infamy that no Rockies team had ever before reached. 

One hundred losses.

We’re not the first team to ever get here, of course. We’re not even the first one this season. The aforementioned Oakland A’s (111 losses at this writing) had a year that almost gave the tragic 1962 Mets a run for their money. Lest anyone forget, that was the year manager Casey Stengel uttered the immortal words “Can’t anybody here play this game?” 

So yeah. We’re not the worst of the worst of the worst.  

Um … yay?

It’s not just the bad season, of course. Everyone gets them eventually. It’s that there have been so many for so long, years where even “mediocre” has seemed like an aspirational goal.  It’s been 16 years since “Rocktober” now. Only four of those have seen winning seasons. The last one – admittedly, one of our best teams since those brief World Series days – was five years ago. 

But even there, it’s not just that it’s happened. It’s how. Get any group of Rockies fans together for longer than ten minutes and you’ll hear the same grumbles. “The owners don’t care. They don’t have to. People keep coming … they could lose every game and still make money.” 

I don’t live in the Monforts’ heads, so I can’t swear to whether that’s true, though I have my theories. (That’s half the fun of being a fan, after all.) But the fact that it’s even credible is toxic. 

After all, it’s a problem that goes beyond baseball. A problem that can be summed up in four words. 

“It’s all about me.” 

It fills the headlines every day. We see it in political showdowns that play poker with people’s lives and well-being. We see it in collisions at every level, where the fears or ambitions of a few can run roughshod over everyone else. During the height of the pandemic, it was an opponent almost as dangerous as the virus itself, when all of us had to remember that our actions affected more than just ourselves.

To be honest, we’re better at that than we give ourselves credit for. Most of us know that we should be looking beyond our own skin, that our neighbors matter. But like a person standing in a doorway, it only takes a few to get in the way of everyone else – not just by what they do or prevent, but by building a feeling of despair that accelerates the cycle. When you start to feel like nothing can be done, you’re less likely to do anything.

Heavy thoughts for something as light as a bad baseball season, I know. But the answer’s the same. Awareness. Hope. Determination. Not to give up, not to wait for things to magically get better, but to act. To remind the self-focused – in the owner’s box or in the nation – that we’re here and we won’t be taken for granted.

Interesting stat – out of all the baseball teams that have lost 100 games, about one in eight had a winning season the next year. Even the “average” mega-loser made their way back to the playoffs in about seven years. Change can happen … once there’s the willingness to do it.

It’s time to play ball. Push hard. And remember, we’re not Oakland.

It’s not much of a battle cry, but it’s a start.   

On the Flip Side

The day after the All-Star Game, it felt like I had entered Bizarro World. 

Even if you’re not a certified geek like me (nobody’s perfect), you’ve probably heard of Bizarro World, the Superman setting where everything is ridiculously reversed. Bizarro World’s residents put curtains outside their windows. Their greatest celebrities are hideously ugly. And of course their Superman equivalent, the clumsy and Frankenstein-ish Bizarro himself, gains power from Green Kryptonite and has a penetrating gaze that can ONLY see through lead. 

So when our own Elias Díaz became the All-Star MVP with a game-winning home run – the first  of the Rockies ever to win the honor – the fan reaction would have made Bizarro feel right at home. 

“Well, it’s been nice knowing him.”

“Yeah, he ought to get traded any day now.” 

Mind you, I get it. It’s been a long, long, LONG time since the glory days of Rocktober in 2007. The current ownership has pretty much dedicated itself to the pursuit of mediocrity … and then not even taken the steps to secure that. Stars get cut or traded before they become expensive, endless streaks of losing are tolerated as long as Coors Field keeps filling up and a .500 record is treated as aspirational to the point of being unrealistic. 

Rebuilding years get bad, I know. But this isn’t rebuilding. This is marking time. To steal a quip from Abraham Lincoln, if the Monforts don’t want to use the Rockies, would they mind letting someone else borrow them for a while? 

But while they’re dithering, let’s not let them steal our joy. However brief it may prove. 

I have a little experience there. 

If you’re a regular reader here, you know that my wife Heather has just a few medical issues. Which is kind of like saying that Hollywood has just a few people on strike right now. We’re talking good stuff like Crohn’s disease. Or MS. Or ankylosing spondylitis. And often, some special guest star that we struggle to identify at all. 

Draining? Yes. Discouraging? Sure. There have been a lot of grinding days where we’ve both felt like we’re walking to the North Pole while trying to drag Pike’s Peak with us. The next moment can never really be counted on and every plan has a just-in-case contingency. 

But here’s the thing. It’s not unrelieved gray. Somehow, some way, sunlight does sneak in. And we’ve learned to treasure it for however long it lasts. 

It might be laughter at a silly joke or horrid pun. Or a “what the heck?” moment in the Chinese action melodramas Heather loves. It could be a moment of peace in the mountains or a cheer from Missy at getting to help us wash dishes. (Yes, our Missy celebrates dish washing – I told you this was Bizarro World.)

Whatever the form it takes, joy finds a way in. And when that happens, there’s nothing wrong with holding it if you can.

It’s not easy, I know. On a grand scale, it sometimes even sounds a little frivolous. “How can you enjoy (x) when (y) is going on?” But the mind can attend to a number of different things.  And while I never want to be the one fiddling while Rome burns to the ground, I also don’t want to be a grim soul who’s closed himself off to anything but pain.

So yes. Celebrate the good when it comes, however small it might be. Touch the joy. Feel the now, no matter what tomorrow holds.

And if someday it holds a change of ownership for the Colorado Rockies, maybe we can all rejoice a little more.

Bizarro? Maybe. But you’ve got to start somewhere.

For Just a Moment

“It’s not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It’s the HOPE!”  

– John Cleese, “Clockwise”

Oh, my Colorado Rockies. You do know how to break our hearts, don’t you?

We go through an entire offseason remembering how bad things have been. We grumble at an ownership that sees .500 as a lofty aspiration – even while we know in our heart of hearts that that’s absolutely right.

And then you do it. You go out and win your first two games against a team that played for the National League pennant last year. Not just lucky squeakers, but actual, solid wins.

What’s a fan supposed to do?

I admit it. On Friday night, I was singing a certain score to the tune of “Cleveland Rocks”: “4-1 ROX! 4-1 ROX! 4-1 ROX! 4-1 ROX!”

“Don’t fall for the ‘opening days’ of hope,” a friend advised on Facebook. Cynical, but basically sound. Smart, even. After all, the Rockies are past masters of April Love: a beautiful opening month followed by a loud ker-SPLAT.

I pondered it. Considered it. And then rejected it.

“I refuse to let the present be poisoned by the future,” I wrote back. “Especially when it’s this much fun.”

We’re often advised to follow the classic Mel Brooks proverb: “Hope for the best, expect the worst.” It’s good advice. Aspirations should always be high, plans should always account for challenges and disruptions. But somewhere along the line, a lot of us lost the first half of that saying.

It’s so easy to forget how to hope.

Mind you, I’m not talking about tolerating abuse or a dangerous situation. I’m not even talking about waiting for things to magically get better instead of backing up your dreams with action (something the Rockies ownership has been accused of on multiple occasions). As I’ve said before, hope is optimism plus sweat.

This is something simpler. When you have a good thing, even for a moment, why not allow yourself to enjoy it? Even if it’s likely not to last?

Maybe especially then. That’s when it becomes all the more valuable.

It’s easy to get grim. Heaven knows the world gives us enough reason. Sometimes it inspires a drive to sally forth and make things better. Often it just inspires exhaustion from trying to survive one more day.

But when it inspires nothing but despair … that’s when it gets deadly. Because despair is inertia. it allows no joy, no effort, no hope. It expects nothing and then immediately fulfills its own prophecy.

I’m not making light of it. I get it. There are days that crush me under their weight. In a perverse way, I suppose that’s why I reach for joy when I can. It’s a way to take even one step forward, even if it’s at a limp.

And when a moment gives light – even something as trivial as a baseball game – I hold it close. Because we need all the light we can get.

By the time this appears in the paper, the Rockies may have fallen back down to Earth … or still be soaring. Either way, we had the moment, however long it lasted. And that’s something.

So have at it, my Men in Purple. Break my heart one more time.

At least for today, you’ve made it beat a little faster.

Tellers of the Tale

It’s a truism that we lose celebrities in bunches. We lose everyone in bunches, really, famous or otherwise.

But when the bunch includes some of our storytellers, I pay a little more attention.

And so, in a time when Hollywood passings fill the headlines, my own eye wanders to the microphone and the keyboard. Simple places. Places of magic.

Places that, for a while, were the homes of Vin and David.

**

Vin Scully was the greatest of American baseball announcers. No argument. Also, no frills. In a television era, he brought the tools of his radio days: constant description, constant stories, with no signature catchphrase or verbal pyrotechnics. Baseball suited him like no other sport could have, with a pace that allowed him to put just the right word in just the right place … or even no words at all, in times when a few seconds of silence would say it all.

David McCullough? So often, the subjects of his histories were the overlooked: landmarks so common that we’d stopped thinking about them or presidents we’d passed by. The Brooklyn Bridge. The Panama Canal. Harry Truman. All gained a new day in the spotlight through his pen. One of his best-known biographies even wound up turning John Adams into a television star – a fate the notoriously cranky Massachusetts lawyer might have regarded with a bit of bemusement.

And somewhere along the line, the Voice of the Dodgers and the popular historian reminded us that there aren’t’ any ordinary moments. Not really.

Because if you look closely enough, the extraordinary can wait anywhere.

**

When I used to work as a newspaper reporter, I spoke to a lot of kids about the profession. I always said that my favorite part was that everyone had a story waiting to be told.

Not everyone, they’d insist. Not me. And so I’d spend a few minutes asking questions, listening to the answers, sharing the neat stuff. We never once failed to find a story worth hearing.

I still believe it. We’re walking story generators, each and every one of us. We live, we learn, we experience. In the words of the musical Hamilton, “We rise and we fall and we break and we make our mistakes.”

And a lot of times, we fail to notice it.

No surprise, really. We’re all busy living that life, after all. We have bills to pay and families to worry about and a million things knocking at our door (some of them with car warranty offers). It’s easy to get pulled into the illusion of sameness, to think that most things don’t really matter all that much.

That’s the power of a storyteller. To pull back the cloak of the ordinary and reveal the magic that we’ve forgotten to see.

Wonder and purpose. Humor and sympathy. The same no more, but truly unique.

Even in a forgotten bench player in a midsummer baseball game.

Even in a one-term president from an age no longer our own.

And yes, even in each of us.

**

And so, here’s to Scully and McCullough … no, that sounds like a law firm. To Vin and David. Here’s to the words they shaped and the moments they opened.

Thank you for the stories you saw and shared with all of us.

May your own stories never be forgotten.

Clocking Out

Once again, it’s time for the timeless. At least for this season.

Yes, baseball has finally returned with all its glorious rituals. The crack of the bat. The sounds of the organ. Even that slight bit of hope beating in the hearts of all Colorado Rockies fans … and destined to last all of three innings.

But it’s not about winning, right? (At least, not if you live in the Denver area.) Like any good show, it’s about stepping outside of normal life for a while. You leave behind a hurried world and enter a reality that works to its own rhythm, where outs matter more than hours. It’s a place where time doesn’t run out, only chances.

But that may change in 2023.

Next year, for the first time, Major League Baseball may add a pitch clock.

“It is something that remains high on the priority list of ownership,” commissioner Rob Manfred told ESPN. “We have a great game, but historically, I think the game was a little crisper the way it moved along.”  

One could argue that maybe less off-the-field drama and fewer lockouts would do more to bring fans back to the game. But hey, that would be petty.

It’s not an unambiguous argument. Pitch clocks have been part of the minor leagues for a few years now (typically giving the pitcher 20 seconds to make his delivery) and when first introduced, they did shave about 11 minutes off the game. But as Baseball America notes, that didn’t last. Even with the attempt to push the pace, the time crept back up again … in fact, Double-A and Triple-A games are now 12 minutes longer than they were before the pitch clock was introduced.

Pretty crisp, huh?

Mind you, I’m not a total curmudgeon. Baseball has been tinkering with itself since the very start. It’s altered the pitch count, the strike zone, the lineups, the gear. Most of the changes have become second nature by now. Some remain controversial, like the now-universal designated hitter or instant replay. (Everyone who believed replay would cause less arguing about an umpire’s calls has never watched an NFL game.)

But the object should always be to make a better game. Not just a faster one.

No, baseball doesn’t have the relentless march of a rigorously timed (and just as long) NFL football game. It’s a different game with a different lesson. Football is about seizing the moment before it slips away from you, making use of your time … and possibly staring in despair when you realize there’s some situations you just can’t come back from.

Baseball teaches hope.

Any at-bat may be the one that turns it around. Any pitch may be the one that snuffs a rally. No matter the deficit, if there’s even one out left, there’s a chance – a forlorn chance, maybe, but a chance. And every fan, at some point, has seen that chance fulfilled.

It’s a more patient view of life. One where things take as long as they take. Where you can always look for another opportunity and strive to make up for past mistakes.

That sort of forgiving outlook doesn’t have to stay between the white lines. It’s a kinder way to live with each other. And with ourselves, too.

Baseball, like life, happens best when it’s not pushed. Let the story tell itself again, with all its quirks and curiosities. On the field and off, leave room for hope to happen.

And with that, I’ll wind up.

I might even do it in less than 20 seconds.  

Game On

It’s an exciting time to be a sports fan in Colorado.

This year, the Denver Nuggets have BLASTED their way through the first round of the NBA playoffs!

This year, the Colorado Avalanche are setting themselves up as the NHL’s TEAM TO BEAT!

And this year, the Colorado Rockies are … are …

Hmm.

Well, they’re showing up. I think.

If you’re a longtime Rockies fan, this is probably a familiar refrain. Most seasons, the Rockies get some April love, a fast start, and then quietly sink into the mire of “Maybe next year.” But this year – ah, this year, the Rockies set out to accomplish something different. And did.

Yes, this year Colorado’s Men In Purple managed to burn their record to the ground before even getting out of April. Woohoo! Go, team!

We could argue about the reasons forever (after all, that’s what the internet is for). It could be the fault of the ownership. Or the space aliens beneath DIA. Or maybe even space aliens in the ownership – it’s been that kind of season.

Whatever the reasons, this is when we see That Fan start to emerge. You know the one.

“Who needs that bandwagon crowd, anyway? This is when you find out who the REAL Rockies fans are! If you can’t stick with the team in the bad years, we don’t want to see you in the good ones!”  

I understand the attitude. Heck, I’ve suffered through some bad Rockies baseball myself. At the same time, this isn’t Valley Forge in the American Revolution, where we’re called on to say who the sunshine soldiers are and who’s ready to fight for life and liberty.

It’s a game. It’s meant to be fun.

For some of us, the fun is in the art of baseball itself, the tactics and psychology that lie behind every pitch and swing. For some, it’s the familiar faces and personalities, the players that have become almost as familiar as next-door neighbors.

And yeah, for some, it’s the excitement of being part of a crowd that’s watching a team of skilled athletes (and even the worst players are a lot more skilled than me and thee) taking the game to another level. Winning. Winning regularly. Feeling the electricity that comes when you KNOW you’re truly seeing the best around.

That’s just as legitimate. And if they fade into the background in the in-between years, it’s not that they’re fake fans … just less intense ones. Ones that demand more than just nine purple suits and a start time.

The priorities are different.

And if we’ve learned about anything over this past year, it’s about priorities.

When your life gets upended by a worldwide crisis, you quickly learn what’s important to you. The things you must do. The things you can’t do that you miss – or that you realize to your shock that you can do just fine without. The things you never had time for before that suddenly become a means of survival.

In particular, we found we needed people. We needed their stories (and streamed an awful lot of them). We needed their faces, their voices, their reminders that they existed at all, even if at a distance. Some of us found we were ok with the distance, while others were straining at the leash for something more.

As this country slowly comes out the other side, I hope we remember those discoveries. I hope we remember what worked in our life and the ways we found joy in a stressful time. Most of all, I hope we remember how important the people around us are, and don’t dismiss them until the next time they’re taken away.

I also hope, someday, that we remember what good baseball looks like in Colorado.

Maybe it’s time to talk with the space aliens.

Bottom of the Order

It’s almost time for the Colorado Rockies to break our hearts again.

We all know what I’m talking about. This is the team that routinely leads the league in home runs, batting average, and shattered expectations from about mid-April onward. Possessors of the loveliest field in baseball and the lowliest pitching staff. Blessed with forbearingly loyal fans and cursed with a mascot that’s … well … Dinger.

This is no Curse of the Bambino, where the Red Sox were doomed for decades to be almost the best, almost good enough. This is having to play the game for the love of the game, because even the playoffs are a quixotic dream, never mind the World Series. (Save for one strange, wonderful, painful year, of course.)

Yes, even the worst big leaguer has tools beyond what most people could dream of. Even so, I think a number of us Rockies fans can empathize. We know what it’s like to have the dream but not the reach, especially on a field of grass and dirt.

After all, an awful lot of us played right field.

“Playing right field, it’s easy, you know,

You can be awkward and you can be slow …”

— Willy Welch

I came by my love of baseball early. By the time I was in sixth grade, I could quote all the classic World Series moments and tell you who was up or down in the National League. I had my bat and glove, a batter’s tee, even a “pitchback” – netting stretched tightly to return a thrown ball – to practice my brilliant mound moves.

The one thing I didn’t have was any hint of talent whatsoever.

OK, I could move around a little on the bases. That helped on the rare occasions I drew a walk or (once) got hit by a pitch. But otherwise, my one actual summer on a team wasn’t marred by anything as crass as achievement. My bat lived in a different universe from the ball that was being pitched, my cannon arm was more of a leaky water pistol, and my attempts to catch (dodge? Not be crushed by?) a fly ball probably belonged in a Chevy Chase movie.

Naturally, I wound up in right field. Not the right field of Hank Aaron and Carlos Gonzales. This was the grade school Siberia, where fly balls and grounders rarely intruded upon the peace of one’s meditation.

The funny thing was, I didn’t really mind. (In a way, I may have even guessed what was coming, since I deliberately chose No. 13 for a uniform.) Every game, I was out there, keeping up enough “chatter” for three other players combined, letting my enthusiasm make up for the lack of a stat sheet.

Sure, my glory moment consisted of tapping one bunt that dropped right in front of the plate for the Easiest Out In The Known Universe. But who cared? I was on the team, playing baseball! Sort of!

I didn’t come back for a second season. But I never regretted playing the first one. I still don’t.

After all, it’s important to do things you’re not good at, too.

Sounds un-American, I know. We’re about looking for ways to excel – even if we sometimes put it a little more nicely, like “discovering your gifts and how you can make your own contribution.” But it can be an interesting thing to step away from your talents and struggle.

You break new ground, adding experiences and insights you might not have had. You learn humility and empathy, and how to appreciate the gifts of others. Maybe you even walk away with a little more skill than you had before – my own struggles with math in school, for example, made me an invaluable tutor to my little sister because it hadn’t come naturally to me and I could explain it in a way that made sense.

All in all, a lot of neat things can come at you from right field.

And if an unlikely championship ever does come to our Rocks, we’ll be screaming the loudest of all.