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Stealing Home

The Colorado Rockies protect their turf--both on and off the field.
When fans trying to avoid opening-day traffic bicycled to Coors Field, the team called the cops, and the bikes--which had been chained to the stadium built with taxpayer money--were impounded.

When vendors outside Coors Field began cutting into the team's take, the Rockies strongly encouraged Denver City Council to pass a measure requiring that peddlers pack in their supplies rather than wheel their inventory to stationary locations near the stadium built with taxpayer money. (This despite the fact that the perceived competition was, in some cases, literally peanuts.)

When a seminary student wearing a T-shirt bearing the slogan "Give me a ticket, I'll buy you a beer" stood outside the stadium built with taxpayer money, he missed the game altogether and spent twenty hours in jail for scalping.

And when independent publishers tried to distribute their own newspapers and programs--publications that cost much less than the $4 official program available inside the ballpark--the Rockies took a swing at free speech.

Bert Matthews, who publishes the Homestand Flyer, was first arrested for "huckstering" when he tried to sell his publication near Mile High Stadium. His legal problems didn't end when the Rockies moved to Coors Field--that stadium built with taxpayer money. And Matthews had company. During the two years he published the Game Program, self-described "baseball buff" Robert Lewis was arrested three times for trespassing--even though, on all three occasions, he was standing outside the ballpark. Lewis went to jail twice.

Finally, Matthews and Lewis filed a complaint against the Colorado Rockies and the Denver Metropolitan Major League Baseball Stadium District, the entity that built the stadium--with taxpayer money. The Rockies were trying to shut them down and shut them up, the two publishers argued. They wanted relief from the Rockies' policy of preventing vendors unaffiliated with the team from distributing their products near Coors Field. This was not just a matter of free enterprise, they argued, but of free speech.

Denver District Judge Herbert Stern agreed. On April 4 he ruled that the Rockies do not own the sidewalks outside the stadium built with taxpayer money. "The streets and sidewalks and walkways around Coors Field are a public forum," he determined. "The purpose of the restrictions is to maximize income. That purpose is not a legitimate goal in the free-speech area."

This summer Matthews is back by the ballpark, selling his program. Stern's decision, he says, "really made it possible for us to go out on the streets and not look over our shoulders."

But by the start of this season, Lewis was already looking in a different direction, at "the last frontier of the true publisher," he says. At the World Wide Web.

Lewis had been scouting this territory for some time. In January 1995, as he was gearing up for Game Program's second season (the first at Coors Field), he detoured onto the information highway and registered several domain names. One was www.broncos.com; another was www.rockies.com. (Later, Lewis added coorsfield. com, dinger.com and diaweb.com.) At the time, the Internet sounded like some kind of hairspray to most people; when he mentioned the Web to the Rockies, Lewis says, they "scoffed" at the new technology.

He soon had a hit on his hands. About 25,000 hits a day, to be exact. So many people were dialing up his Rockies site--billed as "The Daily Rockies Web"--that it quickly proved a far more rewarding way of getting the word out than publishing a program in paper form. (This season, in fact, Lewis is giving away his cardboard scorecard, using it as a promotion for his Web sites.) Budweiser signed on as the site's official sponsor (the irony of ironies, given the many photos of Coors Field on the page), and Lewis's Storefronts in Cyberspace had no problem selling links to other businesses. Current features on rockies.com range from a guide to the views from certain sections in the ballpark to unofficial pages for assorted players (Andres Galarraga, Dante Bichette, Jason Bates and Eric Young) to an "Official Rockies Merchandise Corner" and even a ticket exchange.

Lewis's move to electronic publishing had other, unexpected benefits. Since he now distributes his publication through cyberspace, he doesn't have to go to Coors Field for anything but enjoyment. "It's good for the marriage, too," he says. "I don't have to attend all 81 Rockies home games."

But the honeymoon may be over. The first clue that the Rockies were about to tangle with Lewis's Web came about eight months ago, when he received a letter from Major League Baseball officials. They wanted more disclaimers on rockies.com, they said, and they also wanted to be kept informed of all baseball activities of one Robert Lewis. Lewis's attorney, Michael O'Malley, fired back with a fastball, saying that his client would add more disclaimers (he has) but would not inform them of his "activities" (he hasn't). Laughs Lewis: "Would that mean I have to call the Rockies if I want to join a softball team?"

Not when the Rockies apparently want to play hardball.
Lewis thinks the team is trying to knock him out of the publishing game altogether. The first strike came when the Rockies refused to renew his press credentials this season.

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