Don't Cry For Me, Colorado
I’m telling you right now, I’m not going to cry at the end of the World Series. No matter how it turns out. Sure, if the Rockies win I’ll be doing my silly celebration dance (which makes Jonathan Papelbon’s Riverdance look sane), and screaming wildly and jumping up and down on my bed. (I’m not kidding.) And if the Rockies lose, I’ll feel sad about “what could have been.” But either way, my allergies will not be acting up as the champagne flows to the score of Joe Buck’s maudlin post-game monologue.
Fear not, Safeway, there will be no shortage of Kleenex in my house. Don’t overstock your shelves on my account.
This wasn’t the case in February of 2006, when my hometown Pittsburgh Steelers won Super Bowl XL. The tears fell heavy and thick with joy. They would have fallen equally heavy and thick had the team lost—as they had 10 years before following the Steelers’ defeat in Super Bowl XXX.
Win or lose, the Steelers will always make me cry. Most likely, the Rockies never will. It’s not that the Colorado 9 lack tear-inducing capabilities, it’s just that it takes time—generations, in fact—for a team to elicit the same sort of response as legendary franchises like the Boston Red Sox or the Chicago Cubs, something pointed out by Joel Warner in his Oct. 15 blog, “Baseball Fandom 101.” The Rockies have had only 15 years to build a fanbase. Multiply that by six and add a decade and that’s how long it’s been since the Cubs have won the World Series—their existence stretches even beyond that.
In the sports world, fan devotion is a form of currency. And in a sport like baseball, which depends on nostalgia for its very survival, it is hard to compete against ball clubs with a century-long head start.
But fear not, Dinger loyalists, the day may come when the Purple and Black taking the diamond will elicit that same deep-rooted nostalgia. The way I see it, there are three criteria for becoming a team with a fanbase defined by the term “nation.” Pull off this triple play and the Rockies Nation will be born.
#1 Time: Fan devotion of the variety that borders on psychosis is not a choice. You don’t choose or adopt a favorite team—it chooses you. You inherit it. It’s passed down through your DNA. And that sort of thing takes time—a lot of it. Sorry Rox fans (and I count myself among your number), but you don’t drop a few seeds, add water for 15 years and sprout a mighty oak. Sad to say, but there’s not much this sapling of an organization can do but be patient and keep nurturing its burgeoning fanbase.
Generation R is, at this point, truly a single generation. Consider a child born in Denver the day after the first Rockies game. That child still isn’t old enough to drive legally. And even if that child were promiscuous at a young age, and has already given birth to a (ostensibly) third-generation Rockies fan, that child can barely walk right now, let alone comprehend the complexities of the double switch.
#2 History: Future devotion is nurtured by past success. Look at the Mets. They have a fanbase that suggests that they’re part of baseball’s old guard, but really they’ve only been around since 1962. But the Miracle Mets of 1969 helped lay the foundation so that when the team won the World Series in 1986 they were an established franchise.
Making it to the World Series this year is a great step forward for the Rockies. Even if they win, though, the greater purpose of this postseason will be to establish a history, a team highlight video, a backstory. It’s like when Courtney Cox joined the cast of Family Ties as Alex P. Keaton’s love interest, Lauren Miller. She had no backstory, no context, and fans already liked Alex’s previous girlfriend. But half a season in, the audience had taken to Cox and to this day does anyone remember Alex’s old girlfriend? No, they remember the Lauren Miller character (and Nick… Aaaa).
Right now the Rox are that other girlfriend, the one before Cox. But this season will be a reference point for future generations of Rockies fans and therefore a launching pad for the organization to acquire Lauren Miller-like stature.
#3 Economic Collapse Followed by a Diaspora of Coloradans to All Corners of the Country: Alright, the first two criteria are doable. The third one, well, it’s a bit more challenging—and not very pleasant. What else do the old guard teams have in common besides time and history? They’re from old East Coast cities. As the West has developed over the last century, Easterners have steered their wagons toward the Pacific, shedding the economic hardships of old industrial towns but keeping their sports team loyalties.
The best example of this is the Pittsburgh Steelers, always a top merchandise seller around the world. Their fanbase is so widespread that the team was the subject of a 2006 NFL Films documentary, Steeler Nation, which looked at how the team had developed such a global following. Turns out that most of these out-of-town fans were not new recruits but rather former in-town fans.
By the 1980s the franchise had met the first two criteria: Time—they’d been around nearly half a century—and History—winning an unprecedented four Super Bowls in the ’70s. Then something else happened that turned them from Steel City favorites to nationwide darlings. The city’s economy shit the bed. In a major way. The collapse of the city’s steel industry resulted in an exodus that cut Pittsburgh’s population in two. All those folks went somewhere, and they took their Terrible Towels with them.
Herein lies the rub for Denver. Denver is a New West city—a city on the rise in a state with an ever-growing population. The old East Coast teams—in towns like Boston, New York, Pittsburgh, Cleveland—spread their loyalties across the country. But why the hell would anyone leave Colorado? Coloradans aren’t leaving the state in record numbers to spread the gospel of the Rockies in other communities. (And something tells me there ain’t no Rockies bars in Philadelphia.) Therefore, Rockies fandom remains an insular, i.e. in-state, experience.
Here’s what has to happen to change this. Denver needs to adjust its course from having a booming economy, a wealth of scenic beauty, awesome recreational opportunities and a constant influx of out-of-town money. There needs to be an historic economic crash similar to that of the steel industry in Pittsburgh and Cleveland and the auto industry in Detroit. The population of Denver needs to be cut in two while all the gentrification of LoDo reverts back into slums. The city has to struggle through hard times while displaced Denverites take up odd jobs in Boston and New York, but keep their loyalty to the Rockies. In fact, their loyalty to the Rockies must grow stronger despite their displacement because through the Rockies they stay connected to their roots, like prodigal children in exile. It has to get so bad that Bruce Springsteen writes a song about Denver (because you know your town has officially hit on hard times when the Boss writes a song about it).
Then 30 or 40 years down the line the Rockies have to make a dramatic resurgence, carrying on its back this downtrodden city and all its hard-luck, salt-of-the-earth inhabitants who have gutted out the hard times. Colorado fans dispersed all across the country embrace and cry in their beers, remembering their love for a once-proud city and garnering a newfound respect for a plucky little team that is just so symbolic of the plucky little city itself.
Of course, in Denver’s case, an economic crash of this magnitude would result in the team relocating to Florida. So never mind.
Oh well, at least the Rockies have time. And as of 2007 they have a history. Two out of three ain’t bad. And even though Rockies Nation will never pull at the country’s heartstrings like Red Sox Nation, that doesn’t mean the Rox can’t kick the ass off the Sox in one best-of-seven series.
Or maybe it does. Maybe the reward for these 2007 darlings of destiny is the journey itself. You’ve got to admit it’s been pretty sweet. I was at the one-game playoff against the Padres, and it’s a night I’ll never forget as long as I live. It’s been an improbable, incredible, joyful, unforgettable run.
Just don’t expect me to cry when it’s over.
-- Vince Darcangelo