“Baseball exemplifies a tension in the American mind, the constant pull between our atomistic individualism and our yearning for community.” ~ George F. Will
Game 13. Denver. Rockies vs Astros.
We arrived in Denver Wednesday evening, and were immediately greeted on the motel elevator.
“You guys in town for the game?”
“We are. We sure are,” we replied.
“So are we! We’re from San Diego. We’ll be rooting for the Astros.”
“Terrific. Thanks for the help!”
We considered driving west out of Denver for the day, before the game, up into the Rocky Mountains, but, thinking we might stay up there too long and be late for the game, drove south instead to the Garden of the Gods. Donated to the city of Colorado Springs by the Charles Perkins family in 1909, it is now a registered U. S. National Natural Landmark. The hogback ridges and red spires and uplifts were once horizontal beds of limestone and sandstone that were, through many years of geological faulting, lifted vertically into the fanciful formations we see today. (We watched the film in the Visitor Center.)
Pike’s Peak, at 14,115 feet, looms off to the west. We had the thought of adding it to our day, but 50-plus mph winds at the top, and the blowing snow, had the last two miles of the summit road closed. So we hang around amongst the fanciful uplifts.
We stop at the McDonald’s in Colorado Springs for a smoothie, and ok, a couple of cookies to keep us alive until we get to the Blake Street Tavern in downtown Denver.
“Are you guys going to the game tonight?”
I turn around.
“Yes, we are!”
“Me, too!” he grins.
He is from Louisiana, and Houston is his team, he tells us. He is well-dressed, in his mid-20’s. He has recently moved to Colorado.
“I see you’ve got the shirt with the new colors,” he says. And he nods his approval.
He asks our names, tells us his, and offers his hand.
“It was nice meeting you,” he tells us both, as we start to leave.
We decide we should give Joel one of our cards with the blog address on it, and I go back inside, but he has left already.
Our plan is to be in the Blake Street Tavern an hour before the gates open at Coors Field, and we’re close to that schedule, if you don’t count the 20 minutes spent driving around the stadium looking for a parking lot BEFORE driving past it. We finally accomplish that, and make the not-too-long walk to Blake Street, that runs along the 1st base side of the ballpark. Blake Street Tavern is an old warehouse turned sportsbar, with lots of red brick, lofted and sloped ceilings, and exposed beams. And 127 or so televisions. I pick an area with pub tables and chairs, and the waitress walks us over.
In front of us is the one television in the house showing golf. I wish for Tiger to miss his putt, but he doesn’t.
“I don’t think he’ll catch Jack,” I tell Vicki.
“Don’t be funny.”
“Who is Jack?”
She’s not being funny.
“It is funny that we landed in front of the one television showing golf,” she says.
I tell her I picked this spot so we could engage the Rockies fans when they start pouring in.
Only the Rockies fans don’t pour in. At least not while we’re there. But the Blake Street Nachos are delicious, and the pale ale and Fat Tire drafts are cold. ESPN baseball highlights arrive finally on our tv, and we watch for awhile.
Blake Street Tavern is just one block north of the ballpark. As we walk, we come to pre-game, roasted peanut street vendor. He sees us, and stops hawking.
“Houston Astros?!” he calls out.
We grin back.
“They’re the worst team in baseball!”
“They might not be tonight,” I tell him. He laughs.
“I don’t know how you can support those guys.”
We’re past him now. “They’re my team,” I call back.
“You guys have fun,” he says. And he’s back to selling roasted peanuts.
We walk to the home plate entrance to Coors Field, where there is a large bronze statue of an unnamed baseball player, simply called ‘The Player’. It is a tribute to Branch Rickey, the groundbreaking president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who brought Jackie Robinson into major league baseball in 1947. There is a Branch Rickey award presented each year to the player, coach or baseball executive whose contributions to society reflect the courage and generosity of spirit embodied by Mr. Rickey.
There are two fans wearing old school Astro jerseys standing near the statue.
“Hey!” they sing out as we walk up.
We all shake hands.
“Astros!” they shout. They are glad to see us. We swap stories.
They travel somewhere to watch Houston play on the road every year. It’s just something they do. They are fired up about our story.
“Hey man, that’s awesome!”
We all shake hands again, and head inside. Coors Field absolutely has the vintage look of an old ballpark, with red brick on the upper facade, and Colorado limestone below. The home plate entrance is reminiscent of Ebbet’s Field. There is a clock tower above the entrance, and dark green girders exposed at the upper levels.
Our ticket taker peers into Vicki’s bag, looking for explosive devices. There is a lot of stuff in that bag. Vicki offers the explanation that we are travelling. When he hears our story, he stops rummaging, and looks up.
“Are you really. That’s wonderful.” Then, “Have you been to St. Louis?”
“You’ll love St. Louis,” he says. “You won’t want to leave.” He directs fans walking up to one of the other gates while he talks to us. He tells us Todd Helton, longtime Rockie favorite, is in the lineup tonight.
“This is his last year. He’s retiring.”
We start to leave.
“You folks enjoy the game. And come back and talk to me later if you get restless.”
We go to the seats behind Houston’s dugout, to watch batting practice. There’s a twenty-something fan already seated, watching. He sees us.
“Hey!” He lights up.
I kneel down in the aisle while we talk. He is from Houston, and moved to Denver in the past year. We talk about the team, the new owner, the new signs they should have never put up in Minute Maid Park because they block the view of the train, and out the giant window in left field.
He’s a better fan than I am. He knows all the players’ names. As Jason Castro heads to the dugout after batting practice, my new friend calls out to him.
“Hey, Mr. Castro, can I have your batting glove?” Mr. Castro is pulling off his glove anyway, looks like he’s going to throw it to him, then doesn’t.
“No, man. I need it. Sorry.”
They exchange waves.
The fan asks Chris Carter for his glove a minute later, but gets the same sort of answer. But he also gets the same sort of acknowledgement. He is not discouraged.
“Sometimes they give ’em to you.”
Jose Altuve, Houston’s 5’5″ 2nd baseman, and their only star player so far this year, walks toward the dugout, with no batting glove.
“Mr. Altuve, will you sign this?” And he holds out his ticket stub. Altuve looks up and nods at him. My friend heads down to the dugout, and tosses his pen and ticket stub across the dugout roof. Immediately there are a half dozen (yes, I know that’s not very many) fans with Astro hats and shirts gathered at the dugout, tossing baseballs and various other things to Jose Altuve.
I think about my old Houston batting practice ball from the Astrodome, with the big black ‘H’ written on the cover, lying in the back seat of the car. Fifteen minutes away. I’ve never been interested in autographs, but right now, I’m wishing desperately that that ball was in my hand.
After bp, we head to our seats, still full from Blake Street Nachos. The usher greets us at our section.
“Didn’t you get the memo?” she asks, looking at my blue and orange Astro stuff. “It’s purple tonight.”
Nothing clever comes to me, so I just smile back.
Our seats are in the upper section, but on the 1st row, and directly behind home plate. They are great seats. The purple ‘Rockies’, and the mountain logo look good above the scoreboard in left center. I don’t see the mountains beyond the outfield that I’ve heard so much about, so I tell Vicki I’m going exploring. Back in the concourse, I head down the first base line, toward right field, then enter one of the sections there. The usher greets me. I tell him I’m just there to check out the view.
“Awesome, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” I agree, though I’m not sure I mean it. The mountains are actually fairly low on the horizon, and don’t dominate the landscape the way I expected.
“You from Houston?” he asks me.
I tell him I am.
“Me, too!” And he very deliberately offers me his hand. “Welcome to Coors Field.” He has just moved to Denver from Houston. It’s his first chance to see them play this year.
“They’ll get better,” he assures us both.
“Sure they will.”
He shakes my hand again. “Glad you came tonight!”
I head back to our seats. Our usher greets me again.
“I can’t find purple Astro shirts anywhere!” I tell her. She laughs.
“I’ll see if I can’t find you one.”
Back in my seat, I no longer see the mountains. But the ballpark still looks good, including the fountain and mountain landscaping just beyond centerfield. The lush grass looks good in the afternoon sun. And we watch baseball.
Houston looks terrible. Fielding errors. Throwing errors. Three in one inning. A catcher’s throw on an attempted steal of 3rd to an uncovered third base, the 3rd baseman making a leaping catch from deep behind the bag to keep the ball from rolling to the left field wall. Lucas Harrell, Houston’s starting pitcher, manages to limit the damage, and Colorado scores a single run in each of the first three innings. But, I’m becoming resigned, telling myself it’s great to be here. And it is.
The fourth inning finds me in Famous Dave’s Barbecue line, waiting for my Manhandler. I peek over the line, and see Jason Castro’s lead off double. I’m still in line when he scores on a double play. Vicki arrives with her footlong Rockie Dog.
“Hey, that’s the way they come,” she explains. She also has hot chocolate. It’s getting chilly in Denver.
My Manhandler arrives, and we return to our seats.
We didn’t see the Houston 6-run 6th inning coming. Neither did the Rockies. Four straight hits, a couple of runs, then a 3-run Chris Carter homerun, followed by a Matt Dominguez solo shot, and it’s 7 – 3 Houston. It’s simple, really.
This is an awesome night for baseball, I quickly decide.
But it’s Colorado, where balls fly out eagerly, and it’s a Houston bullpen that is supportive of that sort of thing, so I don’t assume anything until the end. Houston wins 7 – 5.
There are not many Rockies fans left to see the end. We’ve had no conversations with Rockies fans today, we realize. Just Houston fans, and very friendly Coors Field staffers. Our Coors Field usher, decked in purple, high fives us as we leave. I think back to the Detroit fan I spoke to in Houston before that game, and his delight in seeing me again inside the stadium.
But outside, two more Astros fans, strangers to me, offer high fives as they walk by. It feels like I’ve been greeted by each and every one of them tonight.