Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Anyone who knows me to any degree (or has read this blog) knows that I've been a bit taken with the Colorado Rockies of late. Sports have always been a big deal for me - my dad, whom I respect more than I have words to tell, watched a lot of sports when I was a kid, so I started following them, too. We lived in Colorado Springs when I started paying attention to sports, so I naturally formed an insoluble bond with any and all Colorado-based team. (The Buffaloes of the University of Colorado at Boulder were first. I watched them through their epic 1994 season, in which they finished ranked third in the nation. More on that later.) In all honesty, I follow sports more for the abundance of statistics than anything else; I'm a meticulous and details-oriented person by nature, so knowing precisely how many steals or interceptions a player averages over a given span of time is not only interesting to me, but fascinating.
Sports have a pretty iconic hold over Americans, too. Clearly, it's just a game, but when a player or team pulls off a particularly impressive play, it can take on a larger-than-life aspect. That's part of what I enjoy most about following any team. The Buffs were just the first team I can remember that swept me up as part of something bigger. I remember watching Colorado playing then fourth-ranked Michigan - in Ann Arbor - in September of 1994. Colorado was down by twelve points with less than three minutes to play, and things looked grim. They were having a great season already, but even just one loss could have spelled doom for them. (In college football, you nearly always have to go undefeated to win a national championship. With over 100 teams in the running, there isn't much room for error.) And then, somehow, they scored a touchdown. And got the ball back. And with six seconds to go, quarterback Kordell Stewart, standing on his own 36-yard line, throws the ball seventy-three yards - that's all in the air, folks, none of it bouncing or anything like that - into the end zone where wide receiver Michael Westbrook snatches it up for the improbable comeback.
It's thirteen years later, and even just reading about it makes me giddy. For one moment there, I was part of that team. I was lined up with my heroes, wearing a black jersey and a gold helmet. I stood tall in the pocket, looking down the field at my target. I was running down the field, trying to get away from the Michigan defenders and get into that end zone to give my team the chance to win.
And you'd better believe that I reenacted that play about a thousand times in my back yard.
While they are just games, they allow you to become someone else for a moment. They allow you to become part of something big. They tie you together. The American culture is mostly one of shared references, and sports are no exception. I can meet a total stranger and become an instant friend if we both remember John Elway diving headfirst for that first down in Super Bowl XXXII against the Green Bay Packers. (That's another moment that gives me tingles. Elway's determination was amazing.) Ask any member of the Red Sox Nation. You think there wasn't a feeling of brotherhood in Boston during October 2004 when they came back in the ALCS after losing the first three to the Yankees, the bane of their collective existence? I wouldn't be surprised if there was singing and dancing in the streets.
And this is why the Rockies have meant so much to me over the last month. For those of you unaware, they've now won 21 of their last 22 games, which is nearly unheard of. They've swept two teams out of the playoffs, which has only happened once before in the history of baseball. And it's the Colorado Rockies, a team that didn't even exist fifteen years ago. Denver hasn't had a particularly impressive sports history (with the notable exception of the 1998 Broncos), so for a team that most people considered out of playoff contention six weeks ago to be completely dominating everyone they face, it's a pretty big deal. Big enough, in fact, that the mayor of Denver and the governor of Colorado temporarily renamed the street in front of Coors Field "Rockies Road" last night.
They're calling it "Rocktober."
This team finds a new way to win every night, and every time they play, I'm right there with them. I feel like I'm part of them. It completely energizes me whenever I think about them. (Even as I sit here writing this now, I'm excited. Giddy. I have an urge to jump and make bat-swinging motions.) I can deal with unpleasant calls at work because I have Matt Holliday in front of me hitting a three-run homer in the fourth inning to put the Rockies up for good. I can manage annoying people around me when I've got Troy Tulowitzki at my side turning an unassisted triple play - something that only eleven other people in history have done. I can survive just about anything that comes my way knowing I have Todd Helton - the incredibly long-suffering Todd Helton - at my back making that final out and shouting in elation to the heavens after slogging through eleven years of mediocrity in Denver.
I'm part of something bigger. For a little while, I can be part of the Colorado Rockies and share in this wild ride, even if I'm just watching from my swivel chair at work. That's what the Rockies mean to me. That's why I'm so excited about them.