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.
Best Front-Office Executive
Bob Gebhard, Rockies
The club drew an unbelievable 4.5 million fans in its rookie year, and it finished with a respectable 67-95 record, but senior vice president and general manager Bob Gebhard didn't rest on those laurels. A tiger in the off-season market, he tripled the Rockies' player salary total from $8 million to $24 million by re-signing NL batting champ Andres Galarraga and landing a clutch of talented (if oft-injured) free agents--shortstop Walt Weiss, center fielder Ellis Burks, slugger Howard Johnson and pitchers Marvin Freeman and Mike Harkey. They won't win a pennant for a while, but Gebhard won't quit trying.
Best Team Trainer
Dave Cilladi, Rockies
Hey, he had to be. The injury-riddled Rox roster kept Dr. Dave moving tirelessly from bed to bed last season. Most notably, he tended a certain Cat with a sore hind leg, getting him back into the lineup often enough to win a batting title. There's no rest for the wicked, though: This season the former Chicago Cubs conditioner has already had major injuries to Ellis Burks, Armando Reynoso and Kent Bottenfield to contend with. And HoJo's back? Keep your fingers Red-Crossed.
Best Local Sports Team
Who else but the Dreamers? Dan Issel's youthful club not only put together its first winning season in five years (42-40) but startled the NBA world with a first-round upset of Seattle in the playoffs before running out of gas against Utah. Streaky point guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf could be the odd man out next season, but emerging stars Bryant Stith, Rodney Rogers, LaPhonso Ellis and Robert Pack will provide a hopeful supporting cast at the base of Mount Mutombo. Team architect Bernie Bickerstaff has finally lost lottery dibs, and he couldn't be happier about it.
Readers' choice: Denver Nuggets
The linchpin of Denver's startling "We Have a Dream" season, the 7-2 center from Zaire came into his own as one of the NBA's dominant defensive players. Knocked for two years as "the third best Georgetown center in the league," Mutombo led the NBA in blocked shots with 336 (breaking his own franchise mark), then swatted 31 of them away in the Nuggs' shocking playoff upset of Seattle, a record for a five-game series. Against Utah he blocked 38 more, the new seven-game standard. And what can you say of a man who literally dreams of victory--in nine languages?
Readers' choice: Dikembe Mutombo
Best New Nugget
The sturdy first-round draft choice from Wake Forest grew up fast on the Mile High merry-go-round. At 6-7 and 260 pounds, he looms as a physical force in future NBA seasons and as the likely successor to starting forward Reggie Williams, who at age thirty is the old man of the young Nuggets. In 17.8 minutes per game this year, Rogers averaged 8.1 points and 2.9 rebounds, and he led the team in 3-point shooting accuracy with 38 percent. Look for those numbers to jump up next season.
Best Local Sports Coach
Dan Issel, Nuggets
In just two years, the Horse has yanked what was a laughable NBA club out of the doldrums and started it on the road to glory. The Nuggets' 42-40 mark this year earned them their first trip to the playoffs in four seasons, and Issel's cool, we-have-nothing-to-lose posture helped fuel an upset of the powerful Supersonics that captured the country's imagination. Midseason, rumors floated around that Issel was down in the mouth and ready to quit: Now you can bet your last two bucks he won't mind coaching on Derby Day next year, either.
Readers' choice: Dan Issel
Best Coach Quote
George Karl, Seattle Supersonics
Upon seeing his top-seeded team get upset in the first round of the NBA playoffs by eighth seed Denver (the first time in NBA history for such a shock), Karl burbled thusly: "I don't know what to do. I don't know where to go. I can't sleep at night. I'm not myself. We weren't ourselves."
Best Local Sports Mascot
Rocky, Denver Nuggets
You didn't really expect us to pick that lifeless purple blob staggering around Mile High Stadium, did you? That thing could use a good hard beaning, and fast. By contrast, the Nuggets' nimble Rocky (aka Kenn Solomon, late of Utah State University), the mountain lion with the bolt of lightning shooting out of his butt, does everything a mascot should in an era when mascots might better be eliminated altogether. Rocky does handsprings. He unicycles. He flings little footballs deep to the cheaps. He trampolines into slam-dunk position. He slam-dunks. He leads cheers, flirts with skirts, rappels from the rafters and rags refs. What he rarely does is rest. What he always does is earn his money.
Readers' choice: Rocky, Denver Nuggets
Best Easter Parade
The resort's closing day fell on a sunny Easter Sunday this year, but about fifty skiers decided to forgo the traditional parade of frilly bonnets, opting instead to flaunt their birthday suits. Not everyone was amused. You would have been, though, to see a bunch of naked people belly up to the bar at the Paradise Warming House.
Still the key to the mint after eleven seasons, Biff put together MVP passing numbers last year--and were it not for the, ahem, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and your Donks' ancient nemeses, the L.A. Raiders, he might have found himself at the helm in a fourth Super Bowl. The Elway arm strength is still there, and in the absence of Dan Reeves, that Stanford-trained brain works better than ever. Can you say "Finally!" in 1994?
Readers' choice: John Elway
Best New Bronco
He'd better be. After paying a king's ransom for this perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver whose hands may not be the greatest, the Broncos must wait and see what a top-of-the-line quarterback like Elway can do to soup up Miller Time. Not quite as swift as first choice Tim Brown (who remained with the Black and Silver), Miller runs better patterns and he's trickier. Is this the hot ticket back to the Super Bowl? Time will tell.
Jerome Hill, middleweight
At the recent Holyfield/Moorer title fight in Las Vegas, this Aurora native fought substantial middleweight Joe Lipsey on the undercard and was clearly leading on points before getting head-butted in the eighth round and KO'd in the aftermath. Hill is just 16-5-1 (4 KOs) as a pro, but since he has slimmed down from cruiserweight (185 pounds) to the middleweight (160) and super-middleweight (168) ranks, his superior punching power and artistic boxing skills have come to the fore. There might be a top-ten contender fight in the near future, but Hill needs to hurry: He's 32 years old.
Proprietor of East Colfax's Cheyenne Fencing Society (no, they don't receive stolen goods, goofball, they teach you to duel!), Cheris is a national champion and a worthy opponent of the world's best artists of epee. She has a great shot at competing in the Atlanta Olympics, but for now she gets herself to Hamburg and Paris at her own expense--sans her coach. The unkindest cut of all is the way Americans ignore her ancient and beautiful sport.
Best Race Driver
Okay, so former Indy 500 winner Danny Sullivan and a couple of other leadfoots claim Aspen as their mailing address. Our choice is still Michael Pettiford of Louisville, a grassroots kind of guy who drives his Camaro to the front pretty regularly in local and regional races and usually finishes mid-pack in pro events. A versatile competitor, he drives in several classes and teaches 'em too: Periodically, he runs a race-driving school for newcomers at Second Creek Raceway.
Best Private Golf Course
Castle Pines Golf Club
Home since 1986 to the International, Colorado's only annual PGA Tour event, the par-72, 7,559-yard layout at Castle Pines Golf Club, lined with thousands of ponderosa pines, is daunting enough for the pros each August, though the jury remains out on the tournament's controversial Modified Stableford scoring system. But the 350 club members are impressed every day by hole No. 9, a 425-yard par four featuring an elevated, pond-clearing tee shot, four waterfalls and holding ponds down the right side of the fairway and a narrow, sloping green. Then there's No. 18, the course's signature hole, a long (450-yard) par four that doglegs left from the tee and is lined with eleven pothole bunkers. Three more traps surround it. Good luck.
Readers' choice: Hiwan Golf Club, Evergreen
Best Public Golf Course
Fox Hollow at Lakewood
13410 W. Morrison Rd., Lakewood
An inventive gem that opened August 1, 1993, Fox Hollow is actually three nine-hole courses. The Links is a hilly, wide-open, Scottish-style layout. The Canyon is a scenic, tree-lined round, and the Meadow is a flat, tree-laden nine that meanders along a creek. Everywhere, the native grasses have been preserved, and the resident wildlife--deer and coyotes, foxes and skunks--still wander about as they please. Eighteen holes of glorious golfing variety costs $22 if you're a Jeffco resident, $27 if you're not.
Readers' choice: Wellshire Golf Course
Best Place to Hit a Bucket of Balls in the Middle of Nowhere
Adventure Mountain Driving Range
18000 E. Colfax Ave., Aurora
Out past Buckley Road, where the Colorado landscape flattens way out, you'll see a big pink cement lump surrounded by bright green stripes of Astroturf--this is Adventure Mountain. There are two miniature golf courses; $4 gets you 18 holes, and $7 gets you all 36. The driving range (temporarily closed for repairs and set to reopen in midsummer) is a short-shot range; you pay $5 for a large bucket of balls. The folks at Adventure Mountain are looking to expand the range for long shot--as soon as the City of Aurora will allow it.
Best Golf Hole
Arrowhead Golf Club
10850 W. Sundown Tr., Littleton
The dramatic par three at Arrowhead requires little more than a chip shot from the elevated tee--but what a chip shot. The postage-stamp green lies far below, protected by a water fountain and pond. Before you ever get there, the fairway is flanked by the course's photogenic red-rock cliffs. Scrub pine and additional rocks present other challenges to nerve and concentration.
Best Golf Shot
No. 11, Park Hill Golf Club
No one can quite place the date or time that Holman, a grizzled veteran campaigner of both the links and the 19th hole, aced the long par-three 11th, except to say it was a month or so ago. Nobody seems to know what club he used or what the foursome was playing for. We haven't been able to track down our old pal Dave of late, either, to extract the details. But we do know this: Holman's recent feat on No. 11 was not the first hole-in-one of his fifty-year golfing career, nor the second. It was, by all accounts, the seventh. Anyway, he's not a man to sweat the details. Guess if you've seen one one, you've seen 'em all.
Best Place to Meet an Eagle
Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Area Eagle Watch
Access at 56th Ave. and Buckley Rd.
The Rocky Mountain Arsenal has many claims to fame, most of them unpleasant, but if it's good enough for bald eagles, then check it out. The all-American birds roost there all winter--it's one of the reasons part of this godforsaken place has been transmuted into a national wildlife area. Between November and March, early birders can test their eagle eyes from 6:30 to 8 a.m. daily--the regal raptors can be seen up close from an eagle watch equipped with powerful spotting scopes.
Best Public Tennis Courts
Fresh resurfacing, new divider fences and the high quality of challenge-court play make former hellhole Washington Park our 1994 choice over perennial winners Congress Park and the Gates Tennis Center (where they nick you for a couple of bucks). Wash Park netters are generally a congenial bunch, too, which means something in a world that gave us John McEnroe and Goran Ivanisevic.
Best Ski Run for Aging Knees
The terrain at Heavenly Days is beautiful and has its challenges, but the real attraction here is that at exactly 1 p.m. on most days of the season, former U.S. Olympic medalist Billy Kidd--feather-banded cowboy hat and all--meets at the top of the run with ordinary skiers, then imparts a mini-lesson to them on the way down. Kidd, Steamboat's director of skiing, couldn't have chosen a more appealing publicity tool. And you could hardly choose a finer ski partner. Just be sure to check the sign at the gondola loading station to see if Bill's on the hill that day.
Readers' choice: Cranmer, Winter Park
Best Shredder Run
Floral Park provides boundless excitement for snowboarders--and naturally, it's out of bounds. The area is super-steep and seemingly bottomless, an endless run of untracked powder broken only by some challenging stands of trees. It's perfect for new-schoolers--lots of banking and tweaking. And avalanche danger is an added bonus. Super dope!
Readers' choice: East Wall, A-Basin
Best Bump Run
Fasten your seat belt--it's going to be a very bumpy ride. From the top of the Zephyr lift, the black-diamond Outhouse plunges like a spill of giant marbles to the bottom of the mountain. If you can ski Outhouse without stopping--let alone falling--you'll be talking about it for quite a while (most likely to your orthoscopic surgeon, who'll have to repair the damage to your knees).
Readers' choice: Outhouse
Best Ski Runs for Beginners
A newly opened novice area, Discovery Park features three or four gentle, linked runs, completely fenced off from the rest of the mountain but bathed in the same sunshine. They're manicured, confidence-building breezers for parents and children alike.
Best Ski Run--Extreme
Suffice it to say that the U.S. Extreme Skiing Championships were held at this Crested Butte site in March. This daunting "technical chute" descends 1,475 feet from a summit of 11,400 feet, at an average slope of 35 to 38 degrees. That's steep, folks, even for hotshots. Not only that, but the whole thing is studded with boulders and trees. Clearly not for the fainthearted. Or for visiting Texans.
Best Dog Run
Eagle Open Area
55th St., north of the Boulder Reservoir
Some dogs pop a wheelie and race around like terriers on espresso beans without any stimulation other than an open field. Others, however, require some human interaction (e.g., human-propelled tennis ball). This is where the Eagle Open Area comes in handy. Somebody helpfully stocked the area with about a gazillion prairie dogs, which, unlike the squirrels in city parks, are still possessed of a survival instinct. With little urging, your hound should be sprinting from one hole to another as the prairie critters pop up and down. You, meanwhile, stroll about leisurely. When your dog is exhausted, place him gently in the back of the car and return to the city.
Best Skiing Within an Hour of Denver
I-70 at Loveland Pass
Loveland spares the big-ticket resort trappings in order to spoil the skier--acres of champagne terrain ranging from heavenly slopes for beginners to extreme inferno for technical experts. Loveland's no-frills style is reflected in the low-price lift tickets and the easy commute--from Colfax to cold powder in a little less than an hour. You won't find any "ski village," expensive sleepovers or celebrities--this area is strictly for people who think skiing is a challenging mountain sport, not a chillier substitute for Hollywood. Best way to be mistaken for a local? Ski here instead of Vail.
end of part 1