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Harold Squared

On Channel 31's October 28 late newscast, correspondent Leland Vittert presented a hard-hitting exposé on beer — specifically, the oceans of brew consumed by LoDo patrons during a weekend that saw the Colorado Rockies host the Boston Red Sox for two games of the 2007 World Series. After revealing that the Tavern Downtown (or, as he called it, "the Downtown Tavern") moved chairs out of seating areas and served drinks in plastic cups for most of the day in case patrons decided to celebrate by trashing the joint, he tossed to anchor Libby Weaver, who offered the weary rejoinder, "Well, I don't think we need to worry about a riot tonight."

Talk about a colossal understatement. The Rockies' 4-3 loss transformed the Red Sox into hardball kingpins even as it brought the Colorado crew's astonishing late-season surge to a disheartening end. An eight-day layoff dictated in large part by TV schedules crushed the outfit's momentum, just as it did to the favored Detroit Tigers in 2006 following nearly as long a break. These quick defeats suggest that Major League Baseball may be undermining its marquee event by letting the desires of network partners supersede competitive concerns.

Prior to the Red Sox's coup, however, plenty of baseball lovers in these parts had convinced themselves that the Rockies were destined to triumph, since the only fitting conclusion to a fairy tale is a happy ending — and the area media joined in the merriment rather than tempering expectations with a more objective approach. Granted, journalists have a difficult task in such circumstances: They need to reflect the exuberance of the community without being swept up in it themselves or patronizing readers and audiences with faux fandom. Unfortunately, scribes or broadcasters who tried to strike this balance were far outnumbered by those who simply went with the lavender flow.

TV stations led this particular charge, figuratively waving pom-poms every chance they got. On October 16, personnel on Channel 4's morning show appeared wearing T-shirts and other paraphernalia commemorating the Rockies' National League Championship Series win — and every traffic update or weather report came complete with another ration of rah-rah. Luckily, they weren't confronted with horrific breaking news that would have required them to deliver tragic details while dressed like preteen boys bound for summer camp. Then, on that evening's 10 p.m. newscast, anchor Molly Hughes demonstrated her support, as it were, by donning a purple sweater whose coarse fabric failed to adequately cover the underthings beneath. Her chesticles positively glowed in the studio lights, sort of like the alien's heart in E.T. — except there were two of them.

Of course, Hughes wasn't the only television personality to ransack his or her closet for ill-advised purplish garb. In short order, the hue, which also turned up in graphics used by stations like Channel 31 and on the Rocky Mountain News's front-page banner, became the comic equivalent of an American flag pin on a U.S. politician's lapel. During one Channel 9 newscast, anchor Adele Arakawa and weather forecaster Kathy Sabine were decked out in purple from top to bottom, whereas colleague Bob Kendrick got away with nothing more than a purple tie — a situation that seemed patently unfair. At the very least, Kendrick should have been made to wear a '40s-vintage purple zoot suit, with a sweeping, fur-fringed purple pimp hat thrown in for good measure.

Likewise, TV outlets frequently allowed Rockies-related puffery to invade segments usually set aside for news. Note that Channel 9 assigned Adam Schrager, a reporter who concentrates on politics, to create so-called Rockies "baseball cards": minute-long profiles of assorted players that were apparently intended to get viewers who hadn't been paying attention to the squad up to speed. The items were fine in and of themselves, but each of them burned a minute that could have been used for non-sports purposes — and Schrager's work on them pulled him away from his regular duties. The same goes for Jodi Brooks, an outstanding hard-news reporter for Channel 4 (her Katrina coverage was excellent), whose World Series reportage included a roundup about the Boston faithful that found her asking one Red Sox devotee whether or not he wore red socks. Her effort, which ran before game two's outcome was final, concluded with her declaring, "The Series is not over yet. I believe." Eeesh.

For their part, the Rocky and the Denver Post filled lotsa pages prior to the Series' start with Rockies-related ephemera that often received far more prominent play than it deserved. An October 22 Post front-pager headlined "Designated Hugger," about an 82-year-old superfan, represented the nadir, but plenty of other candidates made the contest close.

Then, in the midst of such flotsam, actual news broke in connection with the Rockies online ticket sale. Under ordinary circumstances, the team would have been blistered for its methodology, which gave wealthy Red Sox aficionados nationwide as much of a chance to get tickets as Coloradans. (The success of so many explains why such a boisterous cheer went up at Coors Field when the Rockies recorded their final out in game four.) But matters were made infinitely worse when the system crashed, frustrating tens of thousands.

Rockies spokesman Jay Alves handled this kerfuffle with the sort of artlessness and arrogance that's fueled the Rockies' typically shaky press relations in the past — but the necessity of covering the actual competition prevented subsequent critiques from gaining much traction. Now that the games are over, reporters should be encouraged to look closely at the Rockies' dubious assertion that the ticket system went down due to a malicious hacker.

The Rocky and the Post have the resources to mount such an inquiry, since they took advantage of the Series to make a killing via special sections described in a Rocky memo as the "Sports Authority wrap" (named in honor of the retailer that provided primary backing). These supplements were labeled "collector's editions," and they could well have become treasured keepsakes had the Series evolved in a way anyone in these parts wanted to remember.

Too bad the dailies couldn't get the papers containing all these World Series extras to subscribers in a timely manner. Thanks to the complications of running off more color pages than ever before, coupled with a new agreement to print the Boulder Daily Camera, the dailies' expensive new press ground more slowly than ever. Hence, deliveries on October 24, the first day of the Series, were horrendously late citywide, and delays of varying lengths and severity continued for days, necessitating not one, but two published apologies from Rocky editor/publisher/president John Temple.

Predictably, Temple didn't say sorry for milking the Series for every last cent of revenue possible. On October 30, the day after the Rockies cleaned out their lockers, the dailies each published yet another World Series section — a cheery compendium that shrugged off the losses in favor of wait-'til-next-year sunniness. The same edition also featured a second sports-related special section, this one keyed to the impending start of the 2007-2008 Denver Nuggets season. At times like this, it seems that if the dailies were stripped of sports coverage, they'd be thin enough to fit into a business envelope.

Unlike the Rocky and the Post, Fox, which broadcast the Series games, treated the Colorado ballers like members of the supporting cast, not co-stars. Because broadcasters Joe Buck, Tim McCarver, Ken Rosenthal and Chris Meyers were much more familiar with (and more interested in) the Red Sox, their mentions of the Rockies tended toward tokenism. Of course, the Rockies brought much of this inequity upon themselves with their impression of the Not Ready for Prime-Time Players. But that's no excuse for the game-three moment when a long Matt Holliday fly-out that might have given his team new life was punctuated with John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High." What — were fans supposed to feel high because he came up short of a homer? Or should they have gotten high in an attempt to dull the pain?

Either way, the Rockies' swift exit from the Series meant that reality returned sooner than most locals expected, and the transition was bumpy. Right after the aforementioned Channel 31 report about beer, for instance, anchor Weaver said, "In other news..." and began reading a story about a gas-station robbery.

It was a sure sign that the dream was over, at least for now — and even the media had to wake up.


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