By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Individual statistics tell a story, too. Before turning into Godzilla in Denver, Dante Bichette hit .260 and averaged under ten home runs a year in four full seasons with the Angels and Brewers. Before Andres Galarraga got to be the 1993 NL batting champ and thirty-home-run-per-year man as a Rockie, he hit .270 and averaged fifteen dingers a season in eight years with Montreal and St. Louis. Vinny Castilla was considered expendable by his old club, the Atlanta Braves, and Denver didn't even select him in the 1992 expansion draft until the second round. He's hitting .309 this year and has 22 home runs, but on the road, opposing pitchers could throw a basketball by him.
The two proven Rockies sluggers are the oft-injured Ellis Burks and former blue-chip free agent Larry Walker, who clearly can't wait to get back to the plate after breaking his collarbone in June. But Coors Field has vastly inflated their numbers, too: They're the Boys in the Bandbox, surrounded by mediocrities who turn into monsters whenever they put on the home whites.
Why does it happen? No one really knows. The sellout home crowds have to be a factor, and the home team is always more comfortable with the feel and the lighting and the resident spirits in its own ballpark--even if the spirits are only in their sophomore year. Rockies management, having breathed thin air before, has also stacked the lineup with available power hitters, consistent or not--guys who can usually out-muscle their opponents even if they can't outplay them. Since before the ribbon-cutting, everyone knew Coors would be a hitter's park; no one knew what a homeboy hitter's park it would be.
The rest must be mystique. John Elway can tell you that the Chargers and the Chiefs don't like coming to Mile High Stadium, and even the Rockies' shell-shocked pitchers can tell you that visiting baseball teams are beginning to feel equally snakebit on Blake Street. In June, for instance, the New York Mets, another middling club, swept the Rox in a three-game series at Shea Stadium. But when they visited Coors Field last week they couldn't catch a break. In three games played over a stretch of 36 hours, the two clubs combined for 51 runs on 87 hits. There were twelve home runs and seven errors, and the Rockies won all three games--10-7, 11-10 and 7-6.
At the end of this Bomber Ball onslaught last Wednesday night, the Mets staggered off the field as if they'd been hit by a beer truck. Up in the stands, meanwhile, the fans were wildly happy--except for the fans who still like real baseball and the distinct emotions provoked by real baseball. For instance, in game one of this series, Walt Weiss and Ellis Burks hit back-to-back el cheapo home runs, and when the cheers died down, nothing more than a murmur went through the crowd to acknowledge what used to be an extraordinary occurrence. In their brief history, the Rox have already hit back-to-back home runs 31 times.
In game two, Bichette, Galarraga and Castilla hit back-to-back-to-back home runs--the kind of stunning eruption loyal baseball fans used to see maybe once in a decade and talk about for the rest of their lives. At Coors Field, though, offensive achievement has been leveled and devalued. In a stadium built on ever-rising expectations, each new sensation must outrank the last one exponentially--like the explosions in a Schwarzenegger action flick. So three consecutive home runs didn't really cut it on Fake Street. The crowd cheered, but there was no oohing and aahing, no deep sense of Wow! Because the Wow! has been obliterated by hyperbole. Three homers in a row is just another day at the office for our boys. The 15-14 game and the seven-RBI performance are matter-of-fact. Now, if Bruce Willis and Demi Moore were to copulate at home plate, that might be something. That might be the day to tell the grandkids about.
But not as good as a 2-1 game, wethinks. Or a couple of quiet wins on the road.