Wednesday, September 25, 2013

July 21- Portland Rockies

It’s time to get a little bit old school on y’all. Follow me as we whisk away back to the year 2000. Ok, so it’s not that far back, but it was certainly a life-changing time for me as I had just moved to the Pacific Northwest which I captured so beautifully in my first Portland Beavers post back on March 6th. It was a harsh reality coming face-to-face with the fact that the only professional baseball team within my proximity happened to be a short season-A club named the Portland Rockies. Portland’s population back in those days hovered in around 530,000 people; however, with Vancouver, Washington to the north (where I lived) there was an added 147,000 people, and another 137,000 people to the south in Oregon’s capital city, Salem. Mix that with all the surrounding towns within a 75-mile circumference and you could probably have over 1 million people. My point with this is that Portland was just too big of a city to be stuck with only a short season-A club, and they did it from 1995-2000.

Now, if you read my previous Beavers post you’d know that the former AAA Beavers were packed up and relocated to Salt Lake City, Utah by then-owner Joe Buzas at the end of the 1993 season. Luckily for Portland there was another team within the state that was having a difficult time drawing crowds and wins who was in the market for relocating themselves. So, at the end of the 1994 season the Bend Rockies, who had only been in existence since the 1992 season, made their way north and set up shop in the desperately-in-need-of-renovation Civic Stadium for the start of the 1995 season.

Had I moved up there prior to their final season I probably would have given a bit more care to the team; however, even in that final year I still made it to 10 games in which they went 4-6 and finished the year with a 32-44 record. For a city of over 500,000 people they were lucky to pull in 1,000 people per game. It was pathetic, especially considering the fact that the stadium is in downtown Portland and pretty easy to get to. Either way, I was one of the few to see the up and coming careers of the likes of Brad Hawpe, Garrett Atkins, Clint Barmes and Cory Vance before they all moved up and on to bigger and brighter futures. But this post isn’t really about them; it’s about the one year in which a team full of nobodies led by then-manager Jim Eppard did the unthinkable in 1997.

In the team’s third year in Portland, Eppard’s first, the Rockies had two players that would touch the Major Leagues even for just a few games, pitcher Justin Miller and first baseman Todd Sears. Sears’s Major League career would last only 40 games in two years with the Minnesota Twins and the San Diego Padres while Miller’s went seven years with Toronto Blue Jays, Florida Marlins San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers and a brief stint in Japan. Both of their minor league careers stretch for more than 11 years each and neither were that big of a factor for the Rockies in 1997; however, both were a part of the team that went 44-32 which was good enough for their first division title as they then went on to win their only Northwest League title. After that, the only bit of success the Rockies found was in their second division title in 1999 under then-manager Alan Cockrell.

This cap, which lasted all six years, is one of the last relics from a team that only exists through records and memorabilia. Like a lot of teams whose name is derived from their Major League affiliation, the Portland Rockies logo was designed in the same styling as the Colorado Rockies, but with a few personal touches. Obviously the “PR” is the same as the “CR,” but the added rose is a tribute to the city which is known as the City of Roses which got its name from the perfect climate to grow roses as displayed in the International Rose Test Garden, one of the city’s most famous attractions. The other added feature is the mountain backdrop which could be said is Mount Hood, which can easily be seen from Civic Stadium; however, it is the same pattern which has been featured in the Rockies logo since their inaugural season in 1993. The thing that is most interesting about the use of the mountain is that the Colorado Rockies have only used this graphic on their twice in the team’s history. The first came in 1999 on their Turn Ahead the Clock jerseys, which were used for one game on August 18th, which the second came this season with the team’s Diamond Era batting practice cap. The only time any team used the graphic before this came before the Colorado Rockies took the field for their first official game. That’s right, the 1992 Bend Rockies. 

Due to the fact that most of the people I listed above had mediocre careers with the Portland Rockies I decided to roll with two guys who actually had profound careers whose talents then translated to the Major League level. The only problem is that I can’t find any record of what jersey number they wore. And while I could assume that the first number they wore in the Majors was in fact their number in the minors, in this case that assumption doesn’t fly as they both played in Portland in 1998.

???- A fourth round draft pick by the Rockies out of Brandon High School in Brandon, Florida in 1997, Chone Figgins had the makings of being a superstar in the Major Leagues. Figgins only played one season in Portland and had a pretty successful season. In 69 games Figgins hit .283 with nine doubles, three triples, one home run, 26 RBI and 25 stolen bases. His three triples led the team and his 25 stolen bases were the second best. Figgins was traded to the Anaheim Angels in 2000 and made his Major League debut on August 25, 2002.

Contrary to popular belief Figgins is not a bust. While his time with the Seattle Mariners (three years) was rather lackluster, the eight years he spent with the Angels were incredibly productive. He made one All-Star Game appearance in his final season in Anaheim in 2009 when he led the league with 101 walks along with his .298 average, 30 doubles and 42 stolen bases. Figgins led the American League in stolen bases in 2005 with 62 and cracked the top-25 in AL MVP voting four times (2004-2005, 2007 and 2009). When Figgins made his debut he wore the #6 all the way through the end of the 2003 season.

???- The other mystery guest was drafted three times, twice by the Mariners in 1995 and 1996 in the lower rounds and then a third time by the Rockies in the 13th round in 1998 out of the University of South Alabama. 

Juan "Pornstache" Pierre’s first year as a professional came that season in Portland with Figgins, with Pierre having a borderline Hall of Fame first season… for the minors. In 64 games Pierre hit .352 with 93 hits, nine doubles, two triples, 30 RBI, 55 runs scored and a team-leading 38 stolen bases. How the Rockies didn’t win a NWL title that season as well is beyond me.

Pierre only spent two more successful seasons in the minors before getting called up on August 7, 2000 where he finished in sixth place for the National League Rookie of the Year Award batting .310. The following season Pierre would swipe a NL-leading 46 bases and hit .327 in 156 games, but get no love outside of that. Just wrong. Pierre’s Rockies career would only last until the end of the 2002 season as he and pitcher Mike Hampton were traded to the Florida Marlins right before the Winter Meetings. Pierre would end up leading the NL in stolen bases again with 65 while leading the Marlins to their second World Series victory in their 11-year history.

Pierre, somehow, has never made an All-Star team. His two best season came with the Marlins in 2003 and 2004 as he finished in the top-16 in NL MVP voting both of those years behind batting averages of .305 and .326 respectively, a lot of stolen bases and a ton of runs scored. Basically he was the prototypical leadoff hitter of the 2000s.

What’s really interesting about Pierre and Figgins is that they both elected to go with the #6 in their first year(s) in the Majors and then they both changed it to the #9 right afterward. I’d like to think that there is some kind of connection between the two of them to make them do that, but wouldn’t know unless I asked them. Until I get that opportunity, or until a reader has photos of either of them playing in Portland, I’ll have to keep this cap blank and update it accordingly.

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