Sports are made of competition, coach vs. coach, team vs. team, man vs. man. Sometimes, deep within all the blood, sweat and tears that are expended during a grueling season—magic happens.
Something as unbelievable as a player hitting for the cycle and getting an unassisted triple play in his career, one of only two MLB players ever. Something as magical as a player sticking with his team and being one of 50 MLB players to eclipse the 500 doubles mark. Something as astounding and awe-inspiring as a team being down three runs going into the 14th inning only to have their reserve outfielder hit the first ever walk-off grand slam in team history for the win. Then winning the next night on a walk-off as well.
That’s the thing about magical moments, they happen in the blink of an eye—that is most of the time.
For the Colorado Rockies, magic spanned the final four months of the season, as the moments like the ones I described above seemed to happen night-in, night-out.
To begin the year, the Rockies were plain bad, at 19-28 and looking at another season as the basement dweller in the NL West, it was clear a change needed to happen. In his eighth season as Colorado’s manager, Clint Hurdle was handed a pink slip on May 29 and bench coach Jim Tracy was promoted to manager.
Since Tracy has taken the reigns of the Rockies in late May, Colorado has gone an incredible 73-40 overall, and has been in wild card contention since late June. Everything seemed to turn around for the Rockies in June, as they won 11 straight games and 17-18 during one stretch. When the month was over, they had amassed 21 wins, the most ever in franchise history for one month.
In the dog-days of summer, Colorado stayed tough and on the ball as they went four games over .500 in both July and August, and were an awesome nine games over in the month of September, stretch time in baseball. The Rockies won all those games the right way, coming to the ball park every day with a champion’s work ethic—with many strengths including their strong starting pitching, great bullpen, and a lineup with athletic hitters from one-eight.
Today, as October was brought in at Coors Field, the Rockies sat just one win away from clinching the wild card against the Milwalkee Brewers. The Brewers, after losing the first two games of the series, were no match for this Colorado team that has seemed destined for greatness since June.
Aaron Cook, the ace of the squad, made his second start since June 28th and pitched extremely well. Cook went eight innings with only four hits given up and an earned run on a Ryan Braun homerun. "It's not been as crazy a ride coming down the stretch but it's been just as fun," Cook said after the game. "So, we're going to enjoy it just as much."
The Rockies showed once again they are not a one dimensional team, with four batters getting multiple hits on the day, as Colorado won at home 9-2. Troy Tulowitzki, a rising star on the team and in the league, went 3-3 and scored two runs on the day, and post game had this to say about the Rockies making the postseason again. “It’s exciting. I’m happy for guys like Todd that have been here for a long time…we could do some special things.”
Helton, the 13-year veteran leader of the Rockies, who has spent his entire career in the mile high city, spent most of that time a mile low as part of a perennial loser in Colorado. Even though he was one of the best hitters in the game from 1999-04, Helton stuck with the Rockies and it seems his patience is finally paying off as he gets prepared for Colorado’s second postseason appearance in the last three years.
And as the season winds down, Helton has been ramping up his hitting as of late. He was business-like after the big win saying, “It’s just an exciting day. We knew we had to come out and do a job and we did it.” With the win, the Rockies became one of only six teams in MLB history to start 12+ games under .500 to make the playoffs.
But the real reason the Rockies have improved so greatly in such a short time lies in Manager Jim Tracy. Tracy brings a relaxed attitude and allows players to just go out and play, where Hurdle was a perfectionist, always asking more of his players than they could produce. Tracy is the opposite of most nose-grinding managers too worried about bottom lines and records, Tracy legitimately cares about his players. How many MLB Managers would embrace their player for seemingly minutes after they hit a walk-off homerun during the middle of the season? Not many.
If you don’t believe me, check out this quote by the Rockies Manager, “How much do I love them? I don't have words to describe it," he said. "The best thing about this club, look around this clubhouse and the veteran leadership that we have and the youth and the mix that we have here. The young people will be able to feed off this for a long time. I guarantee if you get this taste in your mouth and it won't go away."
He also made some gutsy personnel decisions, including benching veteran third-baseman Garrett Atkins for a youngster named Ian Stewart. As Atkins struggled early in the season, Stewart stepped in gracefully, hitting 25 homeruns, and 19 doubles good for 70 RBI. On top of that, Tracy put youngster Carlos Gonzalez in to play the outfield, a decision that was berated by the local media, but one that has proven Tracy a genius in evaluating talent. In his 87 games with the Rockies this year, Gonzalez has hit 13 homers, 14 doubles, and seven triples with a .285 batting average.
Following the game, Tracy, seen tearing in an interview proclaimed, “This is one of the proudest moments in my 33-year baseball career. Their (players) unselfishness and their dedication towards one another, and to climb out of the hole we were in when we started, it says a whole lot about these kids, not only right now but moving forward. There’s still a lot for us to accomplish this year, but moving forward, this is quite an organization.”
The Manager with the biggest heart in the MLB couldn’t stop his emotions from getting the best of him as he experienced a truly special moment with his team in front of over 38,000 Rockies fans that braved the cold October weather. Now let’s hope Tracy’s power of perception is as deft as his interpersonal skills and the Rockies really do have more to accomplish this year in Rocktober ’09.