By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Matt Holliday is sick to death of being asked if he was really safe.
"I get tired of hearing people talk about whether I touched the plate or not," the Colorado Rockies slugger tells me as he's seated in front of his locker, taking down a bowl of oatmeal before he heads out for practice.
Holliday's referring to the now-legendary play when, in the bottom of the thirteenth inning against the San Diego Padres, with the Rockies tied in a one-game playoff to clinch the NL Wild Card spot, he tagged up from third and slid into home, narrowly beating the throw to the plate. You remember. The bloody chin, the wild celebration, downtown Denver going apeshit. Although no photograph, no video ever proved conclusively that he'd touched the plate, that doesn't matter to a Rockies fan. The moment has come to characterize the greatest run in franchise history.
And if you're a San Diego fan, well, what do you expect me to say? Cry me a goddamn river.
For his part, Troy Tulowitzki is sick of being asked if the Rockies' incredible run last season was a fluke.
"People always ask us if we're still for real," the second-year shortstop phenom says while stretching on the clubhouse floor. "Like somehow it was too good to be true. I just tell them we'll see what happens. We believe in our abilities and we know how to take care of business."
And with that, Tulo and Holliday and the rest of your Colorado Rockies take the field to prepare for today's game against the Chicago White Sox.
What exactly is the angle of your story?" Jay Alves, the Rockies PR guy, had asked when I called to inquire about press credentials.
"What do you intend to write?"
Off the top of my head, I mentioned how last season I wrote a column asking Matt Holliday to play catch with me as a birthday present and how Holliday never responded. I told Alves that maybe it was time I followed up in person.
"Yeah, you're not going to be playing catch with Matt Holliday," he responded.
Other angles — me throwing batting practice, groupie-trolling through Tucson with new players — were suggested and rejected before we eventually decided that perhaps I should simply come down to spring training and report on my observations as a Cactus League virgin. I agreed, and hung up the phone with three questions in mind for every player I met: 1) Do you want to chest-bump? 2) Do you want to go for a beer? 3) Do you want to see if you can hit my knuckleball, because you probably can't? Follow up question: No, seriously, because it's pretty good.
But really, it didn't matter what questions I fired off at the Rockies. Because I was beside-myself psyched just to be going.
Imagine that you'd grown up in a cowtown playing baseball as one of your primary sports, and then one day, when you're thirteen and at the height of your zeal for the game, your city gets an expansion team and your old man gets season tickets. You ditch school for opening day. You go to dozens of games every summer. You watch the city fall in love with the squad, attendance records shattered, studs called the Blake Street Bombers hitting the ball into the ether — and you watch them reach the playoffs after only two years in existence! Then, with horror, you witness the tide turn like a tsunami. You watch mismanagement and failed experiments, and fans leaving the field in droves. You watch shitty baseball summer after summer and get to the point where you wish your heroes would vacate to other cities, simply because you want them to know how it feels to win. But the important thing is you keep watching. You take it all in, seated in an empty stadium with your peanuts and lemonade, because you're a baseball fan, goddamnit, win or lose.
And then, slowly, things start to change. Strange devices called humidors enter the picture, young guys who actually know how to play ball start coming through the minors, the club begins talking crazy about building, not buying a future. And in return, you start thinking crazy, like maybe this could actually work. And one season, it does! The team plays well all year — peaks and valleys, but solid, honest ball. And then, in one heroic, desperate swoop, the boys go 21 for 22! They play fearless, fire-eating baseball, refusing to lose, not caring about the outside world, just each other and the game, providing you with the most exciting finish to a baseball season you can remember! And at the end of it all, they somehow bring home a pennant.
It makes you feel vindicated; it makes you feel thirteen again. It turns you into a dazed, smiling, unabashed Rockies fool. You omit the World Series from your memory like a trauma victim, you wait until spring rolls around, and then you get your ass to the airport. You ignore all the other possible destinations, you pay no mind to the legions of ugly people with tiny heads boarding your plane to Tucson, you forget that the flight attendants tell you six fucking times that the plane has a picture of a bison named Humphrey on it.