Rockies fans enjoying playoff ride
Colorado faithful adjusting to baseball in mid-October
DENVER -- In years past, when the balloons flew on Opening Day and the visiting team started turning the scoreboard numbers in the first inning, local broadcasting legend Joe Cullinane, a veteran of 53 years behind the microphone, would lean over to a colleague and ask a rhetorical question: "Will this season never end?"
In mid-October, Rockies fans throughout the region are asking that question once more, hope filling their voices as they watch their miraculous ballclub march through the postseason without stopping long enough to lose. The prospect of playing -- and winning -- the season's final game has warmed this city's hearts even as the falling temperatures chill their bones.
What does it mean to be a Rockies fan? It means equal measures of patience, loyalty, heartiness, stealth, surprise, luck and elation.
"Are we dreamers?" asked Cheryl Boren, 61, a Colorado native living in the suburb of Lone Tree. "I think we were dreaming about 40 games ago. I think 30 games ago we were dreaming. Now our dream's coming true."
Cheryl and daughter Kelly were elated at their luck in walking up to the Coors Field ticket window just as a handful of obstructed view seats were released for Sunday's National League Championship Series Game 3.
"We've been watching the Rockies ever since they started in Denver in '93," Kelly said. "We met them all in Tucson [at Spring Training] the first year. Ever since then we've been huge fans. I remember the Blake Street Bombers from when I was a kid. This is the payoff."
Mirroring the confidence and faith the team maintained in itself as it slowly put the pieces together, Rockies fans are believers.
"You gotta be positive," said Tina DeVita, 40, a Lakewood resident who came to Colorado from Southern California five years before big league baseball made the trip. "It's so uplifting. It's just an awesome feeling. The Rockies hadn't been winning for all these years, but it's just like any other team. Eventually they're going to sink or swim. You gotta keep your faith."
But even with faith, a little superstition can go a long way. DeVita saw the Rockies lose the only game they've lost in the last three weeks, and though she scoffed at her coworkers who predicted the defeat -- "I will not have that negativity in my presence," she chided -- she has not returned to Coors Field since, willing to keep clear if the club can keep winning.
"That was my fault," said her friend Randy Cardenas, a Denver transplant since '74. "I wore my Larry Walker jersey. Every time I put that thing on, they lose."
"I've been rooting for the Rockies ever since they started," Cardenas said. "Now it's like a totally different ballgame. Everything is elevated. We were here when they were losing big time. We'll always come back. "Even my dad stayed up late to watch the game [Friday night, 11 innings, 4 hours and 26 minutes]. He said 'I made it 'til midnight. I fell asleep because I felt the game was never going to end.'"
Though skeptics talk of an increasingly crowded bandwagon, Rockies fans debunk the myth that they're fair-weather fans. The team set a Major League attendance record that still stands in the Rockies' inaugural season, drawing 4,483,350 Rock Heads to Mile High Stadium. They led the Majors in attendance their first seven years of existence, and they entered '07 with the most total attendance from their inception in '93 through the end of '06.
"I think there are a lot of Rockies fans in hiding," Patrick Healy, 23, said, noting the half-filled park through much of the season. "But a lot of people are starting to come to the games. Obviously they've been selling out every game now. A lot of the fans are starting to show more support. I came from Massachusetts, so I come from the Red Sox, and to get here with the Rockies just on fire right now, it's really exciting."
Rockies fans are patient, enduring six straight losing seasons before relishing their reward, and they're hearty, braving extremes of temperatures ranging from 97 to 28, from sunshine to snowfall.
"Tomorrow, we'll probably see a little of both," said Jim Barron, a Lakewood native ready for Sunday's Rocky Mountain weather when he attends Game 3 with his wife, Sue. "We've got tickets for tomorrow and the next day, and then we're going to be in line for the World Series tickets."
Notice the omission of an only-if-necessary NLCS Game 5 on Wednesday. Being a Rockies fan means being optimistic.
"It's kind of neat -- I've been following Todd Helton," said Luke Graber of Commerce City. "This is what he's been waiting for. He's never been there. It's not like one person doing it. It's a team effort. I just think it's cool. I caught the fever the game they played San Diego, [the 13-inning Wild Card tiebreaker]. I just think it's their time."
And for Carol Hopp, an Arvada native, being a Rockies fan can mean being flat. She and her husband Steve were outside Coors Field on Saturday taking pictures of Flat Stanley, a character from children's literature their kindergartener nephew shared with them. Adorned with a "Go Rockies" hat and T-shirt, Flat Stanley was undaunted by the adventure in front of him.
"We don't throw water bottles," Carol pointed out of her fellow fans. "After watching the Diamondback fans, oh my gosh! That makes our fans look so great. Those fans were pathetic. They couldn't even sell the game out. They were quiet. We're good fans."
Like many of their purple-pinstriped peers, the Hopps understand that being a Rockies fan means being a Broncos fan first and foremost. But as the Rockies roll on through October, they are learning to adapt.
"This is so unexpected," said Steve. "I guess it caught everyone by surprise. It's really odd to be rooting for the Rockies in October. Usually they're long gone."
Like the team they cherish and the park they adore, Rockies fans love "baseball with altitude," basking in the validation of their championship-caliber confidence.
"We used to come down here for the beautiful stadium," Carol summed up. "Now we come down here to see them win!"
Will this season never end? If Rockies fans have their way, they'll be there when it does, cheering their team to the game's highest peak.
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.