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The expansion Colorado Rockies wear the colors of a bruise, and their spring-training complex is the former home of the Cleveland Indians, and their workouts are buzzed daily by A-10 Warthog fighter planes, and there is not always hot water in the showers, and there is an outfielder in camp who has handicapped license plates on his car....
Then again, the Rockies may draw four million fans to Mile High Stadium this summer, and they've already sold 26,000 season tickets, and they will set an Opening Day record of 80,000 fans on April 9 if the Denver fire chief will allow it, and they have a promising poster boy in pitcher David Nied, their first pick in the expansion draft....
"[Manager] Don Baylor and I signed autographs at a card show in Colorado, and 700 people were in line before we even got there," says the 24-year-old Nied, who has spent 23 innings in the major leagues. "I try to tell people I haven't done anything here yet."
So there were good signs and bad signs as Colorado pitchers and catchers reported to Hi Corbett Field in Tucson for their first workout, on Feb. 19. This suggests either that the Rockies will be wildly popular underdogs who gloriously overachieve or that they will suck mountain air. At season's end their highlight reel may be Rocky, or it may be The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But spring is a time of beginnings, not ends. So for now we celebrate the Creation, the Genesis of this ball club.
On the first day, the Rockies reported.
Michelangelo Buonarroti hewed his David from a column of marble abandoned by another sculptor. Larry (the Bear) Bearnarth will hew his pitching staff from a column of names abandoned in the expansion draft.
Bearnarth never said he would create a perfect rotation. "Michelangelo never said he made a perfect sculpture," says Bearnarth, patron of the arts, reader of books, solver of crosswords, speaker of French, smoker of Merits and pitching coach of the Rockies. "He said only that he chipped away the excess. Now, I'm not comparing myself to Michelangelo. He spent half his life on his back, looking up at the ceiling."
And the Bear is always on his feet, chipping away the excess among the 36 pitchers in the Rockies' camp in an attempt to liberate the David encased therein, the 11 future Cy Young winners who will make up the Colorado pitching staff. Or not. "You guys are some badass ladies!" shouts ever-smiling spring instructor Frank Funk, who is hitting ground balls back to the mound. Jim Neidlinger takes a one-hopper off the cup. "Whoa, keep your skirt down, honey," says Funk.
Among the pitching candidates are two Denverites. Mark Knudson, a 32-year-old nonroster invitee, is the second-oldest player in camp. A journalism major when he was at Colorado State, Knudson would be happy just to cover the Rockies a couple of years after they move to Coors Field in the LoDo section of Denver in 1995. "We have waited for 30 years for a major league team," says Knudson. "We've been teased by Marvin Davis and Charlie Finley, so the community kind of held its breath until the stadium bill passed. Playing here was always in the back of my mind. And occasionally on the front of my T-shirt."
Knudson was the Opening Day starter for the Milwaukee Brewers two years ago, but he spent 1992 wearing a Rockies' T-shirt beneath his uniform at Triple A Las Vegas. His fellow Coloradan in camp is righthander Clint Zavaras. Was. Ghoulishly, Zavaras, the son of a former Denver police chief, suffered a torn cartilage and a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee this morning, the first day of the first camp, while covering first base.