No one expected the Big Cat to reproduce his spectacular 1993, in which he won the National League batting title with a .370 average. So he hasn't. Instead, the Venezuelan slugger hit 18 home runs by June 1 this year (he had 22 all last season) and stands near the top of the league in hits, RBIs, total bases, slugging average and runs scored. His great leather at first base and leadership in the clubhouse seal the deal.
Readers' choice: Andres Galarraga
Best New Rockie
That tendon problem in the swift center fielder's arm won't last forever. Before going on the disabled list May 19, the club's best free agent acquisition hit .354 in 34 games, with 8 doubles, 3 triples and 12 home runs. Along with shortstop Walt Weiss, the former Bosox and Chisox star solidifies the Rockies' crucial up-the-middle defense.
Best Future Rockie
Quinton McCracken, New Haven Ravens
Remember the name. At Single A Central Valley last season, the prospect from Wilmington, North Carolina, hit .292 and knocked in 58 runs. A burner, he legged out 17 doubles and 7 triples and stole 60 bases. The Rockies' minor-league player of the year last season at the age of 23, McCracken is putting together a fine season at AA New Haven this year after a slow start.
Best Homeric Measure by a Local Ballclub
The Rockies' new rule on home runs
Since so many lost souls in recent years have hopped on the Chicago Cubs' bandwagon, it shouldn't have come as a surprise that the cute little Wrigley Field practice of rejecting enemy homers caught on in Denver in the Rockies' first season. "Trow id baaack!" glassy-eyed followers of the beloved Cubbies bellow every time Barry Bonds or some mortal swats a Rockies fastball into the stratosphere. Wisely, the Rockies are doing their best to halt this creeping Chicago-ization by ordering bleacher bums to hold on to their balls. Advice to Cubophiles: Next time, don't throw it back--just stick it in your ear.
Best Place to Live and Breathe Baseball
Mile High Stadium
After spending an inaugural season involuntarily comparing the Merits of fellow fans, nonsmokers--and those Rockies fans too young to make their own decisions about inhaling mystery additives--can now breathe easier. In a policy that began with the Rockies' first game this spring, smoking is permitted only in designated areas at the stadium, allowing hackers and coughers to get their fix while preventing the summer game from going foul.
Best Major-League Tradition
The Rockpile at Mile High
Two and a half hours before each Rockies game, the management puts 2,100 cheap seats on sale. For a mere buck, you can watch the game from the rowdiest, most raucous sections of left center field--134, 135 and 136. The popular Rockpile almost always sells out to impulse buyers and shoestring operators--at least on weekends. Who's out there? "Everyday Joes," the ticket manager tells us. "Generation Xers." Don't forget, though: These are the infamous South Stands, and you know what that's meant through 35 years of football games. Wear a helmet.
The Rockies' record-breaking 1993 attendance figure might dip a little this season, and it's sure to be less gaudy when the team moves into cozy Coors Field (50,000 seats) next April. But the 4.5 million who watched the Rox make history in their inaugural will long be remembered--by thankful team ownership and the hawkers of No. 1-selling Rockies merchandise across the country. What do you suppose Phoenix would have drawn? Or Buffalo?
Best Sporting Activity With a Score
Classical Music River Journey
Dvorak's Kayak & Rafting
Adventurers need culture, too. Now they can have it, right along with a thrill. Dvorak's offers a summer raft trip on the Dolores or Green rivers, about a week long, in which guests can stretch out in the sun and enjoy music--right in the middle of nowhere, amid stark sandstone walls and dizzying whitewater rapids--performed by chamber musicians from major orchestras. You get your Mozart, Bach, Beethoven and, of course, Dvorak. No, we don't know how they keep the fiddles dry, but the performances are never out of tune.
Best Sports Color
"Rocky Mountain Evergreen"
That's what HOK architects and the wheels at the Denver Metropolitan Major League Baseball Stadium District call that rich, dark shade of green covering the ironwork at the new ballpark. It's custom-mixed, of course, and should go just fine with three strains of real live grass currently under cultivation at a Longmont turf farm--the actual field of dreams due to be planted at Coors Field come October.
Best Rockies Book
Colorado Rockies: The Inaugural Season
Half a dozen semiliterate ego trips and an equal number of blithering valentines purport to chronicle the agonies and ecstasies of expansion. This elegant, 175-page coffee-table volume tells the story largely in photographs (a tip of the cap to editor Rich Clarkson). Denver sportswriting legend Frank Haraway, Post beat writer Jim Armstrong and others wrote the restrained text.