© 2007 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
DENVER -- People wonder how these Rockies have gone on one of the most magical runs in baseball history, winning 17 of 18 and advancing to the National League Division Series.
When they wonder, manager Clint Hurdle says, "Shame on you for not seeing our club more." But all a curious one would have to do is check out Rockies batting practice.
Close your eyes and listen to the sound that the ball makes when it hits Matt Holliday's bat, like a firecracker set off on each connection. Watch Garrett Atkins repeat his textbook swing over and over again as the ball lands in the left-field seats over and over again. Watch as Brad Hawpe effortlessly floats the ball to the right-field upper deck.
"[Hawpe] can hit the ball out of sight," Holliday said.
Then watch the Major League-leading RBI trio interact. This success. This team. It's no coincidence.
"It's been great, because you're playing with your friends every day," Atkins said. "It's easy to pull for them. A lot of teams there might be some fighting with some of the big players, but there's none of that on this team. Nobody cares who the hero is for that given night."
The Rockies' success -- and three of their biggest heroes -- have been three years in the making. In 2005, Hawpe and Atkins joined Holliday on the big league team as the Blake Street Baby Bombers. Holliday had played almost a full season in 2004 after injuries to Preston Wilson and Larry Walker in mid-April.
Holliday had his best professional statistical season his rookie year. He was a .275 lifetime hitter in the Minor Leagues and had never hit above .300 since hitting .342 in the Arizona Rookie League in 1998.
"When I first saw Holliday, obviously, you see all the tools that he brings and you're surprised when he's struggling," Atkins said. "And to see him in struggle in the Minor Leagues, you know it's only a matter of time before it clicks for him and he's going to be a superstar."
The last two seasons, Holliday has reached superstar status. This year, he became the fifth player in the last 59 years to lead the National League in both batting average (.340) and RBIs (137). He also led the NL in hits (216), total bases (382), extra-base hits (92) and doubles (50). His 34 homers ranked fourth in the NL, and in September, he had one stretch where he hit 11 in 12 games.
"You could see it coming," Hawpe said. "He had it in him and it was just a matter of time before he got it right. And not only is he right now, he's unbelievable."
While Holliday is sure to get all the accolades this season, Atkins might have been the team's second-half MVP and Hawpe the Rockies' MVP during their late-September surge.
Atkins started the season struggling, a surprise after he led the team with a .329 average in 2006. He hit .317 through his Minor League career, led the Pacific Coast League with a .366 average for Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2004 and was always the most consistent out of the three Baby Bombers.
"Through the Minor Leagues, Atkins was always one of the better hitters I'd ever seen, just as pure as he can be," Hawpe said.
But Atkins slumped in May, hitting .188, and had just a .259 average at the All Star break. He finished the season at .301, hitting .345 in the second half and .390 over the final 27 games as the Rockies made their push.
Hawpe was the last of the three to blossom in the Majors, and he also waited to make his biggest impact this season. He had two game-winning homers during the 11-game winning streak, drove in 20 runs in the last 11 regular season games and figured out left-handed pitching, which had haunted him all year and kept him out of the lineup against lefty starters.
"Hawper, he's always had to prove himself at every level and he's done it," Atkins said.
Hawpe had to prove himself again in September. He wanted to be in the lineup every day, but the Rockies couldn't afford to bat him against lefties because of his .179 average against. But in the final 14 games of the 162-game regular season, Hawpe went 7-for-13 against southpaws with two doubles and two homers -- one a game-winner.
Holliday, Hawpe, and Atkins are no longer are just names on the statistical leader board in the National League. They've taken their bats, their bond and their dreams and made the Rockies a team everybody is watching ... and it's about time.
"You always have that dream of all being able to play on the same team in the big leagues and do well," Holliday said. "I think that has been a huge part of our success. You really bond with these guys. We enjoy spending time together on and off the field, and to get a chance to win with them, it's been a lot of fun."