Reflections on a Tragedy: A Rockies Fan Commits the Greatest Sin of All

Tyler ThompsonCorrespondent IAugust 27, 2009

DENVER - AUGUST 24:  Ryan Spilborghs #19 of the Colorado Rockies heads for home to celebrate his game winning grand slam in the 14th inning against the San Francisco Giants at Coors Field on August 24, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the Giants 6-4 in 14 innings.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

I left early. I admit it. I am not going to make excuses for myself. In fact, I won’t even tell you why I left early, because it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it happened and now I have to deal with the consequences.


Two days later, I am still in a state of grief, and I am not positive this feeling is going away any time soon.


I was at the Rockies-Giants finale, the game in which Ryan Spilborghs hit his walk-off grand slam, ran around the bases like he just won the Little League World Series, then jumped into a heaving pile of purple and black.


I was there.


It was one of the most exciting games in franchise history and I saw every out of the game, every last one; but I didn’t see the home run. I left early.

This is my story. This is my apology.


What follows is a minute-by-minute account of my experience. Here’s the cast of major players:

Tyler – Me, Die hard Rockies fan (currently in mourning)

Bria – My fearless companion during the game

Corey – My best friend who added a running text commentary throughout the game

Troy Tulowitzki Rockies starting shortstop (plays both hero and villain in this story)

Carlos Gonzalez – Rockies outfielder unable to swing a bat due to hand laceration.

Adam Eaton – Converted relief pitcher, unable to get major league hitters out.

Ryan Spilborghs – Lovable reserve outfielder with a little pop in his bat

Brian Wilson – Entirely unhittable

7:18 p.m. - We are two innings late to the game. I am going with a friend who had to work late and she is doing me a favor by taking me to the airport tomorrow morning.


I don’t go to games two innings late. It’s not my style. I’m doing it for her.


We scalp tickets for $4 a piece, third deck behind the plate.


Side note: these are great seats. I highly recommend them to anyone who wants to see a game but needs to stay on a budget.


8:05 – It’s the bottom of the fifth inning and the Rockies have just tied the game at one a piece. Todd Helton (being Todd Helton) has just cashed in on a bases-loaded walk with two outs.


Troy Tulowitzki is up to bat and all he needs is a base knock to blow the game open. Instead, he hits a lazy fly to right field, leaving the game knotted in a 1-1 tie. My friend Corey knows how much I love Tulo and he takes the opportunity to dig me one.


8:06 – Text from Corey – Wow. Great hit Tulo. Well done. Hope you’re cheering for your favorite athlete.


9:33 – After escaping a frightening bottom of the ninth that began with a leadoff double from Ryan Garko, the Rockies are 90 feet away from winning the game.


Clint Barmes is at the plate with Ian Stewart standing at third. Giants closer Brian Wilson is pitching. (Just so you know, Brian Wilson is going to be pitching for a while tonight.)


Barmes, totally and completely overpowered by the former Beach Boy, strikes out on four pitches and looks silly doing it.


9:36 – Text to Corey – Barmes drives me crazy. I can’t deal.


He didn’t take one pitch. What the f*@#?

9:38 – Text from Corey – Whiffing on a 98 mph fastball seems excusable. And those sliders Wilson was throwing were as fast as most pitchers’ fastballs. Nasty stuff.


Still Tulo’s fault…


9:41 – In the top of the tenth, with Huston Street on the mound, Tulo makes an incredible diving stop up the middle to rob Randy Winn of a hit. He hops to his feet and tosses a bullet to Helton at first. It is literally one of the best plays I have ever seen in person (or at least that’s how I remember it).

9:42 – Text from Corey – Wow. Ok. Tulo’s making an attempt at redemption. Well done him.

9:44 – I tell Bria that there’s no way Tulo doesn’t pick up a big hit the next inning. I tell her that after the catch he just made, he’ll be operating on a simply ridiculous level of confidence and he will own Brian Wilson.


9:50 – Tulowitzki steps to the plate with Carlos Gonzalez at second and none out. I am giddy with excitement. His first swing is a cut I can feel from the third deck.


He’s going to pop one and I can feel it. We have the game won.


Tulowitzki takes the next pitch to right field, a crisp arcing line drive that I know immediately will win the game. Gonzalez, rounding third, stops dead, not risking getting thrown out and heads back to third base.


Tulowitzki, operating on a simply ridiculous level of confidence, over-runs first base and faces home, expecting to watch Gonzalez win the game for him. Instead, Tulo realizes his mistake too late and gets picked off the bag.


Now, instead of having runners at first and third with no out, we have a runner at third with one out. I am stunned; I am angry; and as far as I am concerned, Tulo just lost us the game.

9:51 – Text from Corey – So much for redemption. F*@#ing idiot.

9:52 – Text to Corey – I’m a little bit in shock. My god. It’s his f*@#ing job.


9:55 p.m. – Spilborghs comes to the plate after Wilson intentionally walks Brad Hawpe. Spilly hits into an easy double play to end the threat. Tulo and I are not getting along right now.

I can’t believe this game is not over.


10:02 – In what turns out to be one of the most bizarre half innings in the game, Bengie Molina hits a single and is replaced at first by Tim Lincecum as a pinch runner. Nate Schierholtz pops out to left before the pitcher’s spot is due.


Now, despite having already thrown an inning and two thirds, Bruce Bochy sends out Wilson to hit for himself. This is Wilson’s first at-bat of the year. To recap, the Giants now have their closer up to bat and their ace pinch running at first.


Wilson somehow gets the bunt down, but Rockies catcher Yorvit Torrealba pounces on it and starts the double play from second to first. The Giants closer has just bunted into an inning-ending double play in the 11th inning.


10:03 – Text to Corey – Silly game. This game is just silly.


10:07 – Brian Wilson continues carving up the Rockies lineup. Who knew this guy was such a powerhouse? Wow. This guy is dangerous.


10:09 – Text from Corey – Wilson just threw two 99 mph fastballs in a row and he’s at 30ish pitches. Scary.

10:14 – The inning ends and we head to the top of the 12th pitching the immortal Matt Daley. Things don’t look good. 


10:15 – Text to Corey – I can’t take the stress right now. I’m pulling my hair out. I can’t believe Tulo did that.

10:24 – Carlos Gonzalez steps to the plate. Two days ago he stabbed himself in the palm with a steak knife.


He can’t swing a bat. We are now sending guys to the plate who literally cannot swing.


This seems like the baseball equivalent of being at the bar at 2 a.m. with the goal of picking up women and realizing you are too drunk to see. You give up on the original plan and just start drinking more.


Rockies manager Jim Tracy is black out drunk at this point and we’re watching just to see what stupid thing he tries next. Simply hilarious.


Bria and I have a good chuckle in the stands about how ridiculous this whole situation is.


10:30 – I get a text from my dad who must be watching the game. It’s far past his bedtime.  


10:31 – Text from Dad – Will this ever be over?

10:32 – Text to Dad – I don’t honestly know. This game is silly.

10:34 – Omar Quintanilla, hitting .167 on the season, comes in to pinch hit with two out in the 12th. He swings at two balls in the dirt and stares at one down the middle. I can’t exaggerate how ugly the at-bat is.


10:34 – Text from Corey – That at-bat was just cute. Did they raffle off a free at-bat to random fan earlier in the game?


10:34 p.m. – Adam Eaton emerges from the bullpen. Besides Josh Fogg, who is scheduled to pitch Wednesday, Eaton is the last guy we have. The aging righthander was only recently promoted to the majors and was expected to serve in mop-up duty only.


10:35 – Text to Corey – You know if our new pitcher gets injured, we’re probably throwing Tulo… There’s no one else. This game is silly. 


10:39 - Eaton sends a pitch bouncing past Torrealba’s right side, allowing the runner to advance to second. The play eventually leads to two on and none out.


10:40 – Text from Corey – On the replay, that was Torrealba’s fault. Eaton got the signal wrong, but it was catchable. Just want to make sure you’re directing your rage in the right places.


10:42 – Upon getting this text message, I realize that Eaton and Torrealba literally don’t know the signs. They haven’t worked together enough.


This is awful. At this point, I am nearly positive we can’t win the game.


I only have one phrase running through my mind at this point. “I just tip my hat and call the Giants my daddy.” Then I start thinking about how if we had signed Pedro Martinez two months ago, I would have no doubts at all we would win this game.


For whatever reason, I think Pedro would single-handedly deliver this game for us. He’s a bulldog, and now without Street, Wilson, Sandoval, or Helton in the game, there aren’t any bulldogs left to play. We’re stuck watching the retrievers and the spaniels battle it out.


10:45 – With two outs in the top of the 13th and two on base, Adam Eaton throws a third strike to Schierholtz. The pitch is called a ball.


10:45 – Text from Corey – Not a strike. Stay calm.

10:50  – Relief pitcher Brandon Medders hits a searing line drive to third baseman Ian Stewart to end the inning. I curl up in my seat lying in the fetal position. I’m struggling just to make it through right now.


10:52  – My dad, ever the loving guy, checks in on my fearless companion.


10:55 – Text from Dad – How is Bria doing?


10:56 – Text to Dad – Amazingly well. I’m very impressed.


11:00 – In an inning in which we need to score, we look awful at the plate. The inning culminates in a swinging strikeout from Garrett Atkins. The ball he swings for is 48 inches off the plate and bounces twice.


11:01 – Text to Corey – I think Atkins is throwing the game.


11:02 – Text from Corey – Atkins? You mean Eaton?


11:04 – Text to Corey – He’s not good enough to throw it. No one thought he’d ever pitch an important out…


11:05 – Text from Corey - This game is like the South Park episode about Little League where all the teams try to lose so they don’t have to make the playoffs and prolong their season.


11:05 – I turn to Bria. “You know what’s sad,” I say. “We just spent the last four hours watching this game and now we’re going to have to sit here and watch Eaton screw it up in the fourteenth inning. There is no way he is getting out of here alive. You can see how scared he is from here.”


She nods in agreement. At this point, she has stopped responding to me.


I have been going through a slew of dramatic and sometimes ugly emotions. She is a little ashamed to be sitting next to me.


She also only pretends to like baseball. She will deny this, but I know it’s true.


As far as I’m concerned, it just means she is a good friend. Sitting through this much baseball when you don’t even enjoy the sport is an admirable feat. I should send her a gift.

11:06 p.m. – Edgar Renteria ropes a triple into the right field corner. I see the flight of the ball and close my eyes, my head in my hands.


I look up at Bria a few moments later. “That was a triple, wasn’t it?” She nods sadly.


11:08  – Eugenio Velez triples to left field, scoring two and breaking the game open. I am oddly calm, at least outwardly.


11:09 – Text from Corey – Feel free to start walking to your car. Please don’t kick any small children on the way out.


11:11 – The Rockies are down 4-1 and haven’t scored in eight innings. We don’t have a chance at winning this game, but I have every intention of showing my support and sticking it out.


As an added bonus, Carlos Gonzalez is coming up and we both want to see him make the last out of the game by bunting to the pitcher. The comedic possibilities here are just too good to pass up.


11:12 – Text to Corey - We’re staying to watch Gonz bunt with two outs in the bottom of the fourteenth. I feel it’s our duty.


11:16 – Text from Corey – Rockies due up = 0-11. They’re bound for a hit, right? I mean, it’s statistically inevitable.

11:16 – I laugh at this text and ignore the blaring red siren going off in the back corner of my brain.

11:17 – Dexter Fowler fouls a ball off his kneecap and collapses to the ground for four minutes, not moving. He finally gets up but has a hefty limp. He takes a walk and heads to first because there are no other options off the bench.

11:21 – Text from Corey – One of the announcers just said 99 percent of Fowler’s game is his legs, so this isn’t good… Apparently arms are no longer required to play baseball, so that’s new.


11:22 – I’m glad that someone can still make jokes at a time like this. I am beginning to feel sick to my stomach.


11:26 – Text from Corey – Just mentioned pinch running Fogg for Fowler. Amazing.


11:30 – Justin Miller comes in to replace Brandon Medders.


11:31 – Text from Corey – Miller has 195 appearances and 0 saves. You might be a part of history.


11:32 – As Miller warms up, Bria and I leave the stadium. (I won’t tell you why because real men don’t make excuses.)


I notice that no one else is leaving the stadium despite the outlook of success being just shy of impossible.


As we walk down the concourse steps, I mention this to her. She says, “Maybe we should stay.” We don’t.

11:32 p.m. to 11:38  p.m. – We leisurely walk to the car, not even hesitating when we hear cheering coming from the stadium.


This will be the last few blissful moments of my evening. I don’t treasure them the way I should. Tragedy comes when you least expect it.


11:38 – We get in the car and turn on the radio. Inexplicably, the bases are loaded. Spilborghs is up to bat with facing an 0-1 count.


I turn oh-so-slowly to look at Bria in the driver’s seat. Without any words, she sees what I am saying. “This. Is. Not. Happening.”


I hear the crack of the bat and Jeff Kingery literally starts screaming over the radio speakers. Spilborghs hits a walk-off grand slam to win the game. When I try to think back on this moment, I’m pretty sure I blacked out. 


11:38 – I am hyperventilating, punching myself in the face and crying at the same time. I am screaming in agony. I think this is the fourth rung of hell.


This is perhaps the single most heart breaking moment in any sports fan’s life and I am in the thick of it.


I don’t know how I didn’t jump out of the car and run directly into oncoming traffic. In retrospect, I feel like that would have been an understandable, justifiable response.

11:39 – Text from Davis – Tell me you’re still there!


11:42 – Text from Davis - Dude… dude. You heard on the radio right? Dude!

11:43 – Text from Joe – Are you f*cking kidding me!?!


11:43 – Text from Corey – You’re joking.


11:44 – Text to Corey, Davis, Dad and others – I left four batters ago.


Note: I didn’t have the heart to write anything else. I just stared at my cell phone trying to put into words what was happening and I didn’t know what to say. I felt like a child, incapable of complex thought.


11:46 – Corey – HAHAHAHA wow. Oh my god. You just made my night/week.


Man. Your life sucks.


11:47 – Text to Corey – Can you imagine what I’m going through?


11:49 – Before waiting for a response, I call Corey. I am distraught right now.


“Tell me how this is okay,” I plead with him. “I don’t get it. I don’t know how this happened.”


Corey just laughs at me. It’s all he did.


There are tears running down my face and my voice is all high and whiny. Corey is laughing at me from the other end of the phone and Bria is laughing at me from the driver’s seat. I am experiencing what I imagine to be an out of body experience.


For the next ten minutes on the drive home, Bria tries to distract me by talking about other things. My responses are either completely nonexistent or terse and angry. I am incapable of conversation at this point and she’s beginning to become seriously concerned.

11:55 p.m. – Corey listens to the post-game interview with Rockies manager Jim Tracy. Corey seems to be quite entertained.


11:57 – Text from Corey – God, Tracy is a real great guy. He’s just amazing. I want great things for him after watching this interview.


11:59 – Text from Corey – He explained he refuses to say the words “wild card” because he’s set on the division.


What a man. He says they’re four games up “in those other” standings.


12:05 a.m. – I think that my night cannot get any worse. I feel like I have experienced the worst of it, that I have weathered the storm. Then, Corey, like any friend should in a situation like this, puts the final nail in the coffin.


12:06 – Text from Corey – Spilborghs just said the best part was that it was almost midnight and 20,000 fans stuck around to show support despite trailing three runs. He teared up as he said it.


12:07 – Looking at this text, I have a sinking feeling in my stomach. I feel physically ill. This may be the most heartbreaking text I have ever received in my life.

12:09 – Text to Corey – Why would you say something like that? I’m broken right now.


2:58 – After finishing a bottle of wine, I prepare myself for the worst and flip the television over to ESPN. I need to see Spilborghs’ shot.


Within two minutes, the guys at SportsCenter play the clip.


I see Spilborghs flying around the bases. I see the uncontained smile on his face. I see the team jumping up and down together.


I see the fans going berserk in the stands.


I am utterly crushed, probably the only Rockies fan in the world who can’t bear to watch this video.


3:01 – Tyler – I just saw it. I might need to talk to someone. For real.

3:07 - Corey – HAHAHAHAHA that’s all I have to say. I’m expecting your best article ever as you reflect on this experience. No joke.