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Within minutes of my getting together with Jared Polis, he almost kills me. Twice.
My near-death experiences take place toward the end of April, after Polis, an idiosyncratic Boulder businessman, politician and philanthropist just shy of his 29th birthday, picks me up at Westword's offices on the way to Coors Field, where the ill-fated Colorado Rockies are taking on the world-champion Florida Marlins. The temperature is well into the 80s, but Polis wears black slacks and a purple pullover far too heavy for the weather -- not that he minds. After all, the outfit, which he supplements with silver sunglasses that give off a goofy, Jetsons vibe, has an attribute more important to Polis than comfort. "Rockies colors," he points out.
Settling into Polis's mammoth Lincoln Navigator is something of a chore, considering the number of items scattered inside it. A Rocky Mountain News piece about his New America School, a two-campus charter high school for immigrants and non-English speakers that opens its doors on September 7, is spread across the dash, and random food wrappers and the like litter the front portion of the passenger compartment. The back seat holds an array of baseball paraphernalia, including two gloves he got when he was a kid.
The mitt he's taking with him to Coors Field sports his given name, Jared Schutz, written in amateurish cursive alongside various childhood phone numbers. As he cranes over the seat to gesture to it, a dreamy expression on his face, he blows past a stop sign and enters an intersection where a minivan containing what looks to be a substantial family has already started to turn in front of him. The man driving the van skids to avoid a collision, punching the horn and shouting angrily as he does so.
If he notices the van or its driver's distress, Polis doesn't let on. Instead, he zigs and zags erratically, but at high speed, from one side street to another. "I have a horrible sense of direction," he says, quite accurately. "I'm probably taking the longest possible route."
Within sight of the ballpark, Polis tries to veer into a parking lot just as a sedan is attempting to exit. This time it's Polis who takes evasive action, jamming on the brakes. He misses the sedan by inches -- about the same distance my head comes from bouncing off a Ken Salazar-for-Senate bumper sticker affixed to the Navigator's dashboard.
After Polis parks against a curb, I'm overwhelmed by the urge to kiss the pavement in relief, but he's entirely unruffled. He smacks his timeworn glove, ready for anything that comes his way.
When he isn't eager to bird-dog fly balls, Polis can seem like the oldest twenty-something in America. His obligations on the Colorado State Board of Education, which he chairs, not to mention his devotion to Democratic Party politics, means he spends big chunks of his days hanging out with folks who are frequently decades older than him -- and he fits right in.
When the subject is baseball, though, Polis seems more like someone who attends elementary school than the person who oversees them. He plays on multiple softball teams, spends much of his free time practicing his pitching at area facilities, and serves as commissioner of an online fantasy-baseball league. This hobby has provided him with detailed knowledge of professional baseball personnel, and at the Rockies-Marlins pairing, he happily debates the skills of players on both squads between handfuls of Cracker Jack and slurps of soda. He's got killer season tickets at Coors Field (they're directly behind home plate, just over a dozen rows back), and he shares a suite at the Pepsi Center as well -- but he mainly uses the latter for concerts, not Nuggets or Avalanche matches. A recent show by Metallica wasn't to his taste, but he really dug Christina Aguilera and Shakira.
He loves the Rockies, too, but he can't afford to spend an entire weekday afternoon hanging out at the diamond. After just over two innings, with the Rockies trailing in a contest they'll lose 9-4, Polis announces that he's got to leave to attend a Democratic Party function at which officials from the Colorado Education Association will be present. He only gets lost two or three times on the way back to Westword, and when he arrives at the paper's headquarters, he has no time to spare. The instant I disembark, he hits the gas, and the Navigator squeals forward like a battering ram on rocket fuel.
Oh, the humanity.
Polis's entire life is a wild ride, and he has the fiscal wherewithal to keep the pedal to the metal for the foreseeable future.
In 1998, Polis sold American Information Systems -- an Internet service company he started in his dorm room at Princeton University, where he majored in political science -- for over $22 million in cash, a deal that looked even better after the tech bubble burst. The 1999 sale of Bluemountain.com, a greeting-card business he guided in conjunction with his parents, Stephen Schutz and Susan Polis Schutz, proved to be awfully lucrative, too, topping out at over $900 million -- a ludicrous tally in just about every respect, but characteristic of that cyber-crazy era. Polis took home $150 million personally, with a sizable portion of the sum coming in the form of legal tender that wasn't devalued by the stock-market swoon. Last year, Fortune estimated his net worth at $174 million, a total that landed him on the magazine's list of the forty richest Americans under forty, as well as on a secondary roster of the dozen most affluent U.S. bachelors within those parameters. Appearing alongside him were Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, Shaquille O'Neal and Tiger Woods.