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Maybe that's it. Maybe the people of Colorado are addicted to turnstiles. You get a state this big without subways, and you've got to get your fix somewhere.
Why else would Coloradans keep cramming themselves into Mile High Stadium to watch the worst team in the big leagues? The 1993 Colorado Rockies are hanging loss-for-loss with the 1962 New York Mets in expansion-team futility, and their new fans are treating them like freed hostages. The fans aren't sure yet about what to do at a baseball game, but they come just the same. Some of them yell "Balk!" every time an opposing pitcher throws to first base. They wear suits and ties, and they bring baseball gloves even when they're sitting under the stadium overhangs. They chant "Dee-fense!" They do (gasp!) the Wave.
The other day a middle-aged couple came trundling down the aisle of section 105, blankets and binoculars hanging off one set of arms, thermos and grocery bag off the other. Their heads were down, trying to decipher row numbers and watch their step at the same time. Finally, when they saw their seats, they took a moment to look up. The portly wife smiled a big smile. "Look, honey!" she said. "We're right on the goal line!"
O.K., so Coloradans are a little new at this. The point is, they are showing up in numbers that would make an accountant's horn-rims melt. Through last week the Rockies had already had one crowd of more than 80,000, two of more than 70,000 and four of more than 60,000. Their average attendance of 57,074 equaled the total draw for a typical San Diego Padre three-game series. After its first 21 home dates, Colorado had topped the Cleveland Indians' entire 1992 attendance. In two months the Rockies have already broken four major league attendance records: largest crowd ever to watch an Opening Day baseball game (80,227), attendance for a three-game series (212,475) and a four-game series (251,447), and fewest games needed to draw a million (17).
If the Rockies don't sell another ticket, they will still draw 3.4 million for the year. They're on pace to smash the Toronto Blue Jays' single-season attendance record of 4,028,318 without breathing hard. And summer hasn't even started yet. "We have a saying around here," says Rocky ticket czar Bernie Mullin. " 'When school gets out, attendance ought to pick up.' "
Oh, maybe that's it. Maybe the fans are afraid if they don't warm every seat every night, baseball will start repossession procedures. After all, this is a city that has loved and been jilted by baseball before. For 30 years, teams like the Seattle Mariners, the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants flirted with Denver but never moved there. Even at the end, Colorado got dissed when the National League almost awarded the expansion team to Washington, D.C., instead. "There aren't even enough people there to fill the stadium," groused Washington Post columnist Tony Kornheiser. "They'll have to truck in every bighorn sheep from Salt Lake to Laramie to make it look good."
"Looks like baseball made a very big mistake [by not coming here sooner]," says the Rockies' owner Jerry McMorris, who has the only living, breathing big league team in the mountain time zone, an area that evidently was famished for the game. "It's unbelievable," says 62-year-old baseball creature Don Zimmer, a Colorado coach. "We finally win a game the other night, and these people are cheering us like we're in first place."
Manager Don Baylor could put nine toaster ovens on the field and attendance might not be different. Come to think of it, neither might the results. At week's end, the Rockies had a 16-40 record, the worst in the big leagues (the Mets had an identical record at the same point in their inaugural season), and a death grip on last place in the National League West. They also ranked at the bottom of the majors in team ERA, shutouts pitched, hits allowed, runs allowed, walks allowed and fielding. National League hitters are sending stretch limos for Colorado pitchers. Opponents had hit .312 against them—21 points higher than the average against the next worst team.
The Giants got 42 hits in three games against the Rockies. The Atlanta Braves scored 46 runs in four. In a three-game series from May 28 to May 30, the Philadelphia Phillies, front-runners in the National League East, beat Colorado 15-9, 6-0 and 18-1. Philly got 47 hits, including eight home runs, for a team batting average of .382. "The Rockies may be the first team in history," says Denver Post columnist Woody Paige, "to draw four million fans and give up four million runs."