Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
Forcing It
2007-11-04 22:54
by Mark T.R. Donohue

You know what, I'm not over it. I still don't want to think about baseball in the least. The other day I was driving somewhere with my friend Tim and he kept wanting to turn the conversation to what the Rockies were going to do in the offseason and I finally had to raise my voice and tell him I needed very much to not talk about that. Until a few months ago, everyone I know in Colorado had to yell at me to tell me to stop talking about the Rockies. So positive developments have taken place. I can grasp this intellectually but I'm still too sad right now to start weighing Garrett Atkins trades and free-agent centerfielders.

On Monday night, the night I would have attended World Series Game 5 at Coors Field had it taken place (the unused ticket is still magneted to the refrigerator, forlornly) I went rather to Invesco Field to see the Broncos and Packers. This was a surreal evening for many reasons. For one thing, after frigid conditions for most of the home baseball games in Denver in October, the weather that night was so nice I didn't even need a jacket. It was also I suppose quite a treat seeing Brett Favre have a classic game in what will surely be his last appearance in Denver, although at the time I was still too wrapped in Rockies misery to appreciate it in the least. What mostly struck me about going to an NFL game in person for the first time in a couple of years was how drastic a personal reversal it was from the sporting events I usually attend (i.e., baseball games and lots of them). When I am at a ballgame, I sit in my seat the whole time with my eyes focused on the field. I keep score. Between innings, I study my scorecard intently and pointedly ignore any and all sideshows taking place on the Jumbotron and/or field. The point of going to a baseball game is watching baseball. I practically never eat or drink anything, partly because with the volume of games I go to I could never possibly afford it, but also because I wouldn't want to miss anything having to go to the bathroom. I treat a baseball game like the movies: I get to my seat, I sit there, focus my eyes ahead, and other than criticizing Clint Hurdle and Willy Taveras under my breath and mostly to myself I don't really say much of much.

But a football game? For heaven's sake, there are only about four minutes of actual onfield activity during an NFL game. At Invesco last week, I got to act like the casual fans at Coors at whom I always seethe when they make me get up out of my aisle seat so they can go buy more useless junk or nutritionless food items. I got food, I wandered around the stadium, I basically ignored the game until the fourth quarter, and in the immediate aftermath of so many games in which I had a strong personal stake, it was just the thing.

Now it's seven days later, though, and after yesterday sleeping through one of the two significant NFL games that will take place all this season and directing my attention to the first week of NBA action more out of a sense of obligation than anything else, I am feeling the baseball vacuum ever more acutely.

My ray of light, unbelievably, is Alex Rodriguez.

What, you ask? The Rockies have no shot at A-Rod, for any one of a million reasons. I feel like an idiot for even having to write this paragraph here explaining that that's not what I meant. Forget that the franchise has been scorched before with long-term deals. Never mind that Dan O'Dowd isn't even willing to negotiate with Scott Boras about a Matt Holliday extension, let alone adding one of his other clients. This is Denver. Dude. Human beings who have long since stopped thinking of themselves as singular people but rather identify as ubiquitous corporate brands do not live, as a rule, in the Mile High City. This is one of the very reasons that I choose to live here.

Anyway, by jumping the gun on the Hot Stove league and treating the Rockies with even less respect than the Red Sox did by assuming the World Series was already over after Game 3 (which, OK, it was, but he didn't know that at the time), Boras reminded us all that the baseball season is 12 months long now, at least so long as you're a fan of one of the teams that's trying to win. The last couple of years, the Hot Stove has been anything but for Colorado, as O'Dowd concentrated on his build-from-within plan that we all now have to admit was completely brilliant. (Wow, that hurt to write, but I did it. I must be growing up.) Now, the Rockies are in a new mode. One they've never been in before. They're not rebuilding, they're reloading. They have assets -- in some departments, like young starting pitching and third basemen, they have assets to spare -- and there are tons of targets out there that Colorado realistically can acquire without compromising their roster or their finances. In an offseason where there's no significant free-agent pitching available, the Rockies have pitching to deal. In an offseason when the one position where the market is glutted is center field, the Rockies have a glaring need for a centerfielder. It's enough to make you think that the magnificent September/October run this team made wasn't merely a cosmic fluke but a complete, lasting reversal of fortunes.

The stars, apparently, are aligned for the Rockies, which is so weird it's enough to make you forget that recent on-field evidence strongly suggests that Colorado is maybe not that close to a championship. The NL-AL disparity (and also the rather spooky collapse of the Mets, who were really the best theoretical team in the NL last season) should be enough to make even the optimistic fan realize that just because the Rockies were one of the last two teams standing does not necessarily mean that they are the second-best team.

But: They could be the best team in the NL (again) next year, and for the whole season instead of just the last two weeks. They have work to do. But for the first time in a while -- I'm sorry, the first time ever -- it's all in place for them. They'll have to be smart and they'll have to continue to be lucky, but they've got trading chips galore and that fresh playoff run mystique, about which you should talk to David Eckstein's agent regarding such an aura's very real monetary/trade value.

I can't analyze yet. If I went and looked at the ESPN sortable stats page or the Rockies' 40-man roster on today, I would probably have a nervous breakdown and miss the editing work I have to do huddled in the corner under my framed Francis Channel SI cover sobbing, clutching my Jeromy Burnitz home run ball, and singing R. Kelly's "I'm a Flirt" in a soulless monotone.

But maybe next week, guys!

Update: I told you the Rockies were going to be alive in the Hot Stove this season like never before. Was I wrong? Now they even have their own subheading in a Jon Heyman column. "The Rockies are not interested in trading third baseman Garrett Atkins and instead plan to try third-base prospect Ian Stewart at second base," Heyman writes, and "reports on Stewart at second have been decent so far." Do not for one second assume that the fact that Dan O'Dowd has said he won't trade Atkins means that he actually won't trade Atkins.

2007-11-05 13:01:24
1.   Kels
I must say I'm glad all the bandwagoners in my office jumped off the ship. The last couple of weeks was like sharing a toy that I had all to myself for the last couple of sucked.
2007-11-05 13:16:33
2.   Mark T.R. Donohue
1 I've been thinking a lot about how big of a "name" the Rockies would have to land in the offseason in order to enter next April with the same kind of buzz (or at least a remnant of it). And I've also been thinking about whether it would be a good idea or not to try and make this a goal.

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