Fake Street Bombers

All right, then. Stay home. Seriously. Don't even bother with the road games. Forfeit the damn road games. That way, you guys will save the club a couple of million bucks in airplane tickets, and you'll always be able to have your eggs cooked the way you like them. You married men will probably start getting along with your wives better, too. Because you'll be spending a lot more hours around the house--taking out the garbage, fixing old leaks in the kitchen sink, making yourselves available for love in the afternoon. On the other hand, you single guys will now have time to finish reading War and Peace.

Don't ignore the other advantages. If the club plays only home games, Galarraga will be hitting about .480 by the end of the year--which might be good enough to win the NL batting title again--and Ellis Burks and the Big Cat will each have a home run for every two at-bats. Of course, a couple of your relief pitchers might gas themselves out in the garage before the end of August. But there's always a downside to baseball glory, isn't there? Besides, relief pitchers are a dime a dozen. Use 'em up and get rid of 'em, like those little cardboard cameras that come pre-loaded with their own rolls of film.

So. Stay home. Why not? If you guys simply give away your 29 remaining road games instead of wasting all that time at the park in Chicago or Los Angeles actually losing them, you'll have more free afternoons to play golf, and the risk of getting tired or hurt out on the diamond will drop markedly. Meanwhile, the team's chances to make the playoffs won't be hurt at all. If you win all 24 of your remaining home games--a pretty darn good bet--and just abandon the ones at Candlestick and Chavez and The Murph and all those other places where you play lousy ball even when you do show up, your record will be right around .500. In the National League West there are no monsters, so .500 will probably be good enough to return to postseason play. Besides, the Padres and Dodgers will be so tuckered out from standing around in the field for a full three hours every day that they won't put up much of a fight against a club that's fit, well-rested and unbeatable at 5,280 feet.

Only thing you'll need then, boys, is a good lawyer. Guy who can talk the Atlanta Braves into playing the entire playoff series at Coors Field. Hey, no problem. Take off your spikes. Put your feet up and wiggle your toes. Relax.

While we weren't looking, there's been a not-so-subtle change in the kind of jokes the belligerents in cradles of sophistication like, say, Philadelphia and Houston make about Denver. For a year or so there, the object of everyone's scorn was our problem-plagued new airport and its luggage system from hell. DIA this, DIA that. Newspaper columnists who'd never set foot in this town (or even flown over it) thought they knew all about the place. Ordinary citizens who ride three different subways to work through two hellish boroughs of New York were suddenly commercial-aviation experts. These are, of course, the same people who think that Denver is perched on a snowy mountaintop and that we ice-skate the streets in July.

Anyway, the new international joke--in baseball circles, at least--is Coors Field. From Montreal to Montana, it's regarded as the weirdest ballpark in the majors, where tattered journeymen batters are transformed into supermen, where visiting pitchers must confer with their psychotherapists before every inning, where the yakker doesn't break and banjo hitters park their bloopers in the cheap seats. But not even Bob Costas, the NBC hairdo who fancies himself a kind of TV poet/philosopher, can explain why the home team enjoys such a power advantage in Coors Field. Assorted muscle men wearing Phillies, Expos and Giants uniforms play in the same hitter-friendly conditions as the home team, but for some reason they don't make much of them. The Rockies have won 21 of their last 27 home games, including recent series sweeps against the Padres, Giants and Mets, and in the process, they have hit about 9,000 home runs.

The thing about this new smear on our fair city--the Coors Field smear--is that it's absolutely, completely true. All of it. It's a phony ballpark. The brand of baseball played over there is bad fiction. And the alleged sluggers wearing purple pinstripes in the place are the Fake Street Bombers.

Fact is, baseball numbers don't lie. As of last week, the Colorado Rockies were hitting .344 as a team at home and scoring more than eight runs per game. Everywhere else, they were batting .223 and scoring 2.3 runs--disparities so huge that they may set all-time season records. The Rox are tied with Atlanta for the best home winning percentage in baseball--.678--but their sorry road record, 16-32, is the third-worst in the game. They might have trouble with Grand Junction's Legion B club if the game was played over on the Western Slope, but they'd sweep the '27 Yankees in LoDo.

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.


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