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.

Waiting for the Light

“When are we going?”

“Not quite yet, Missy.”

That’s not an unusual exchange in our house at most times. Missy, after all, is one of the world’s quiet extroverts – a person of few words (due to her developmental disability) who loves to be around people. Even the most mundane errand often sprouts an eager tagalong, even if there’s barely time to smile at the checkout clerk.

But as the evenings get longer and the air gets colder, the question becomes The Question. When she asks after dark, Missy’s not looking for crowds.

She’s looking for lights.

And these days, she’s not alone.

If you regularly stop by this column, you may know that Missy and I make a series of holiday light runs across all of Longmont through the holiday season. And if you haven’t dropped in from Andromeda, you know the season for lights and other holiday decor keeps getting earlier and earlier.

Long, long ago, the excitement started on Christmas Eve, kicking off the celebrated “twelve days of Christmas.” In fact, it was considered bad luck to decorate any earlier than Dec. 24.

A few generations ago, that shifted to Thanksgiving. After a day of good turkey and bad football, it was time to dig out the ladder and start hanging up the roof lights … once you’d shaken off the exhaustion of consuming 10,000 calories in one go, of course.

These days, and especially since the pandemic, it seemed to be fair game any time after Halloween. Our own family’s earliest record is the day after Veterans Day (attention must be paid) but some homes seem to have the clock-change motto of “Spring Forward, Fall Back Into a Blaze of Glory.”

it’s not hard to guess why. In times that feel dark – both literally and metaphorically – it’s natural to reach for all the light we can get. Some studies have even shown that early decorating can lift spirits, tapping into a reservoir of nostalgic feelings.

For myself, I worry a little bit about making the magical mundane. When something special becomes ubiquitous, it risks losing some of its wonder. We start to tune out what’s always there, and it would be a shame to consign something so brilliant to the realm of the ordinary.

But here’s the thing: it’s not a hard boundary. Each of us knows what our heart needs. And if reaching for a strand of colored lights brings you joy at a moment you need it, I’m not going to be the Christmas cop. (Likewise, if reaching for NO lights keeps your soul content, that’s OK, too.)

We all push back the shadows however we can. And anytime we can strengthen joy or ease pain, we’ve made the world a little better – regardless of the season.

That doesn’t require lights on the house. Just lights in the heart, as often as we can kindle them.

So best wishes to you, whether your own seasonal colors are spread across the front lawn or tightly packed in cardboard. Whatever you celebrate, however you do it, may it give you the strength and reassurance you need in the time ahead.

And in a couple of weeks, when Missy and I hit the road at last, we’ll make sure to wave as we go by.

Oooh, Shiny!

I may have finally found my sport.

Mind you, I’m not without competitive talent. If someone announces a punning decathlon, I’ll be right at the starting line. The 100-meter deadline-anxiety dash has my name written all over it. And my skill at the Orchestra Pit Diving Invitational has become legend among Longmont actors, and at least one surprised musical director. (Hey, I didn’t miss my cue!)

But no, those are warmups. My new ideal venue is a Japanese tug-of-war. This one doesn’t require you to be Hercules – but Curly Howard would have a field day.

“Members of (Tsuruta City’s) Bald Men Club took turns competing in a unique game of tug-of-war by sticking a suction cup, which is attached to a single red rope, to each of their heads,” Megumi Lim of Reuters reported recently. “Both sides then attempt to pull the cup off of their opponent’s head.”

That’s right. This is a sport where you really use your head.

It’s true that I haven’t parted ways with my comb yet. But my hairline left on an expedition to the North Pole long ago and has begun sending back detailed reports of the Arctic Circle. As the old comics used to put it, I have wavy hair – it’s just that it’s mostly waving good-bye.

I come by my natural highlights honestly. The Rochat men typically wear their foreheads high enough for me to see my future in the reflection. My Dad likes to say, “They don’t put marble tops on cheap furniture,” and I know my place in the department store is coming.

“But wait,” someone’s bound to ask, “doesn’t baldness come from the mother’s side of the family?” Well, maybe – but Granddad Bill made the rest of us look like Rapunzel, so there’s not a lot of help there.

Bothered? Not as much as I used to be, and not just because I still have enough to need a trim. (“Short back and sides” is now a description as well as a haircut.) Yes, I know there is a difference between “balding” and “bald” and I don’t mind that I haven’t crossed over to the Mr. Clean side yet. But it’ll come.

And when it does, I hope I can celebrate it.

There are a lot of things to worry about  in this world – hate and prejudice, surveillance and privacy, factions breaking the human race into a jigsaw puzzle gone wild. But for most of us, the truly primal fear is aging and dying. A lot of money gets made off the difference between what we expect and what we see in the mirror, convincing us that our bodies are betraying us rather than doing what comes naturally.

Some of it’s understandable. Things wear out or wear down; repairs do become necessary, aches and pains never become welcome. Offer me a back that’s never been thrown out and I’d jump at the chance. But some is an attempt to freeze a moment or to hide from one.

I want to trust what I am and what I’m becoming.

Things will always change and some of it we’ll have to live with, from the minor to the major. But we need to be able to gauge which is which. We need to trust that our selves are more than our packaging, that there can still be joy despite change – or even in change.

And when we trust ourselves, maybe we can build a more trusting world.

Or at least one with plenty of ointment for those head-mounted suction cups.