Thursday, March 21, 2013

March 21- Colorado Rockies

During my baseball related travels of 2012 there were unfortunately three stadiums that I never had the opportunity to visit (Tuner Field, Target Field and Coors Field), but more importantly, there was only one team I have still yet to see play live at home or one the road… the Colorado Rockies. I didn’t really put two and two together until one night when I had a two hour layover in Denver International Airport. DEN is one of the few airports that still have smoking facilities on the inside so I made sure to pay a visit to relax having just been stuck on a plane that had left Kansas City, Missouri a few hours prior. It was September 10, and not exactly a particular day that I wanted to be flying, especially considering I hate flying. I was in the bar watching the Oakland Raiders versus the San Diego Chargers on Monday Night Football with the Rockies game tucked in the back corner on a significantly smaller television. What I didn’t realize until that moment was that the Rockies were playing at home against the San Francisco Giants. It was also in that moment that I realized that moment was the closest I had ever been to seeing the Rockies play in person.

It’s kind of a weird personal stat for me to carry around, especially when considering that I’ve had so many opportunities to catch them when I was living in Bakersfield, California. The Los Angeles Dodgers were two hours away from me, and the Giants were four hours away. But even with such proximity, I always blew the Rockies off. It’s really kind of sad how much love the Colorado Rockies never seem to get. Granted, they’ve only been in Major League Baseball since 1993; however, there are a lot of stats the team compiled in a short time frame which may be unbreakable, at least for the rest of my lifetime. For instance, did you know that the Rockies set the single season attendance record in their inaugural year? Yup! 4,483,350 people went to go see an unproven ball club play in Mile High Stadium. Granted, it did help their figures on account that they played in a NFL stadium, but it’s still impressive nonetheless.

I think one of the things that’s even more impressive is that in the upcoming 20 years the team has been around they managed to hang on to this one baseball cap. The all black with a purple button and purple/white interior “CR” has been one of the few hats to last the test of time. I’ll admit, I don’t give this hat much love, but it is still considered to be one of the best looking hats in baseball by fans and critics. Hell, this was actually the hat the high school (Columbia River) I attended in Vancouver, Washington for my senior year repped the most. It also helped that we had the same colors.

With the Rockies celebrating their 20th birthday this season I figured I had to do something really special to mark this cap up with. I doubt I’ll get much of an argument. I should also point out that the order in which I threw these numbers on was not by accident. I’ll explain at the end.

#26- Ellis Burks is one of those few guys that many know the name, but very few remember what kind of a career he had despite the fact he played for 18 seasons. He was drafted by the Boston Red Sox with the 20th overall pick in 1983 and made his debut in Bean Town in 1987. His best year came in 1990 when he went .296/21/89 which was good enough for his first of two trips to the All-Star game, 15th on the American League MVP list and he even got himself a Gold Glove that season. Through 1992 the rest of his Red Sox career was mediocre at best; the same could be said about his one year with the Chicago White Sox in 1993. At the end of ’93 the Rockies came knocking and signed Burks to a five-year deal. He got off to a great start his first season, but the players strike cut it short. 1995 didn’t pan out all that wonderful; however, it was 1996 when Burks make his mark in MLB history. That season he finished third in the National League MVP vote after slugging a career high 40 home runs, a career high 128 runs batted in and even a career high in runs scored at 142. Oh, and he also had a .344 batting average which led the NL that season. Yah, Burks really got hosed that year. Thanks a lot Ken Caminiti. Burks never quite mustered anything even close to the same season he had in ’96 for the rest of his career. His finished at .291/352/1206.

#9- Vinny Castilla is arguably one of the greatest players in MLB history to be born in Mexico. The only other guy I might put ahead of him is Fernando Valenzuela. Castilla’s career began in 1991 with a two-year stint with the Atlanta Braves. He only played 21 games in that time frame so it made the decision easier for the Braves to allow him to get picked up by the Rockies in the 1992 Expansion Draft. From 1993-2000 Castilla was, and still is, one of the most beloved players in Rockies history. His time from 1996-1997 was especially magical as he went .304/40/113 both years. Yes! He posted the exact stats back-to-back years! What are the odds on that happening? I have no clue, and I sure as hell won’t try to figure it out either. In 1998 he went .319/46/144 which was somehow only good enough for 11th in the NL MVP voting that season. Ludicrous!!! For his career Castilla made only two All-Star game appearances and won three Silver Slugger awards. Should have been more.

#14- Andres “The Big Cat” Galarraga was hands down one of my favorite players growing up, especially during his time on the Montreal Expos (1985-1991 and 2002), but it was his time with the Rockies that he truly shined. From 1993-1997 Galarraga finished in the top 10 in NL MVP voting every season except 1995 when he finished in 16th. His two best years in that stretch, statistically that is, came in 1996 and 1997. In ’96 he went .304/47/150 which put him three spots behind Birks in the voting that season. In ’97 The Big Cat went .318/41/140 which was good enough for seventh in NL MVP voting. Granted, the man did hit a career/League high .370 in his first year with the Rockies, but give the guy a break. Back-to-back 40 home run and 100 RBI seasons, are you kidding me!? (More on Galarraga’s accolades in a future post)

#33- Larry “Booger” Walker, like Burks, was another long term contract signing for the Rockies, but this time right before the start of the 1995 season. From 1989-1994 Walker was a member of the Expos and one of the key offensive factors in their storybook season that was cut short by the players strike. He also had a pretty solid glove, winning two Gold Gloves with the ‘Spos in 1992 and 1993. In 1997; however, Walker played out of his mind batting .366 while crushing a League high 49 home runs and raked in 130 RBI; all good enough for his one and only MVP that season. Walker then went on to win three batting titles in 1998, 1999 and 2001. He finished his career going .313/383/1311 while making five All-Star game appearances and winning seven Gold Gloves. He also served as one of the coaches for the Canadian World Baseball Classic team.

Now, as I mentioned above, there is a particular order in which I put their jerseys numbers on my hat which pertains to a record in MLB history which has only occurred twice. In 1996 Burks, Castilla and Galarraga became the first set of three teammates to record 40+ home runs and 100+ RBI in a season (26-9-14 jerseys). In 1997 Castilla, Galarraga and Walker became the second set of three teammates to go 40+/100+ in a season (9-14-33 jerseys). So, from start to finish, the numbers all line up.

Now, while I probably should have given a bit more focus to the 1995 season in which they became the first NL team to win the Wild Card that season, I didn’t find it to be as impressive, especially considering that the 2007 Rockies made the World Series. One last thing that should be pointed out is that 1997 was also the third time in which four teammates hit 100+ RBI in a season. The four: Castilla, Galarraga, Walker and Dante Bichette.

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