Doesn't matter to Colorado fans. In the opener of the Philadelphia series, with the Rockies trailing 11-3 in the fifth, second baseman Eric Young singled to right—and got a standing ovation. In the press box a grizzled baseball writer held his head in his hands and muttered, "God forbid that this team should start winning."
After Colorado's 18-1 loss two days later, one woman, who had yelled from the start of the game to the very end, smiled bravely as she began to pack up her belongings. "I'm still glad they're here," she said, "and not somewhere else."
Five thousand people showed up to watch the Rockies' first workout the day before the home opener. Four thousand people bought tickets during a rain delay in a game with the New York Mets on April 12, and by the time that game was postponed the Rockies had sold $70,000 worth of team merchandise. In fact, you could wrap up compost in a Rockies' purple Glad bag and get $4.95 for it.
Rocky merchandise is already the No. 2 seller in baseball, behind only that of the Chicago White Sox. Demand for the Opening Day game program (with the built-in microchip that plays Take Me Out to the Ballgame) was so high that in the interest of public safety, the team stopped selling them after 220,000 had been moved. The forklifts bearing another 100,000 programs couldn't get through the people.
In Colorado's first four home Sunday games combined, the Rocky Horror Pitching Show gave up more runs than the Broncos did points in their first four Sunday home games against AFC West teams last season—19 to the Montreal Expos, 11 to the Florida Marlins, 12 to the Braves and 18 to Philly for a total of 60. The Broncos coughed up only 51. Slugging catcher Darren Daulton had three homers and eight RBIs in the Phillies' three-game blitz, and yet he couldn't wait to catch the first plane out. "This isn't a big league ball-yard," he said. "I'm not sure this is baseball."
Well, no wonder. Mile High is, at heart, a football stadium. The 76,000 seats are painted Bronco blue or Bronco orange. The heroic names in huge letters ringing the stadium are those of guys like Floyd Little and Haven Moses—and neither hit a home run there. The third tier of seats is so high and so packed with fans that outfielders are having trouble seeing fly balls day and night. One evening Pittsburgh Pirate outfielder Al Martin lost a ball in the crowd, leading to two unearned runs. The next night Pirate outfielder Andy Van Slyke never saw a ball that landed 15 feet from his cleats. "Tell them, in baseball, they've got to point some of the lights toward the sky," he muttered.
And if the balls aren't falling at outfielders' feet, they're dropping into patrons' laps. It is only 335 feet to the leftfield wall—though, as Atlanta's Sid Bream says, "it feels like 275." Bream should know. He hit perhaps the only check-swing grand slam in history here. It was a swing that wouldn't have bruised an overripe banana. "I thought that was a sacrifice fly," Bream said with a grin. The Braves' muscular menace, Mark Lemke, nearly 5'9" in stature, hit two home runs in one game here. Pirate manager Jim Leyland actually hit a fungo out.
Worse, centerfield and rightfield are just the opposite of left—great expanses. "I've seen herds of cattle with less room to roam," said Phillie reliever Larry Andersen. Plus, the grass is about the height of the rough at the U.S. Open. It is so long that one night Philadelphia hulk Pete Incaviglia slid into second with a double on a ball that never got past the outfielders. "Any ball that gets into the left-center alley is definitely a double," says Rocky centerfielder Alex Cole ruefully. "And any ball that gets into the right-center alley is definitely a triple."
Pitchers are learning to come down with a 96-hour flu when their team flies into Denver. In the thin mile-high air, baseballs fly farther and breaking pitches hang longer. The Braves' starting rotation left town with a Rocky Mountain high ERA of 7.97 for four games. "I feel real sorry for those guys over there," Atlanta starter Tom Glavine said, "having to pitch here all year long."
Still, if Colorado ever finds some pitchers who can keep the ball down and some lawn mowers that actually mow, playing the Rockies could be about as much fun for visitors as the gout. "Would somebody please tell me why I can't get any oxygen up here?" Natalie Merchant, lead singer of 10,000 Maniacs, said one May night this year at a concert at the Red Rocks amphitheater. It's a question a lot of National League players are asking. Word is, if the batter ahead of you gets a double, you've got to take a pitch or two just to let him find his lungs again. "If I get on base," Incaviglia told his teammates before one game, "all of you hold your breath so I can get some air."