Growing up in East Tennessee in the 1950s and ’60s, I never felt much of a lure from professional baseball. The Braves weren’t in Atlanta yet, and Cincinnati seemed like a long way off. My friends pulled for the New York Yankees, so I did, too, but with no real enthusiasm. When I moved to the Boston area, I gave my heart to the Red Sox, whose Fenway Park seemed to exemplify real baseball, not these pleasure palace ballparks with all the box seats.
We moved to Boulder, Colorado in 1992, and the very next spring entered a lottery and won tickets the the very first Colorado Rockies home game. It was held in Mile High Stadium, home of the Denver Broncos, and 80,000 people were on hand–a record setting number of people to see a major league game. The very first Rockies batter to bat at home hit a home run. It was a wonderful day.
The Rockies weren’t very good. They had some good hitters, but just bumbled along. Then, for the 1995 season, they drafted a young man from the University of Tennessee, and Todd Helton came to Denver. A Knoxville native, Helton had played football and baseball at UT, and he began to make his mark on the Rockies. In 1997, he had a .372 average–he hit 42 home runs–and led the league with 147 RBI, but his teammates couldn’t produce as well, and over the years he became the star of a pretty dim constellation. Colorado fans loved him, however, and wondered if he would ever be on a championship team.
He now has that chance.
Last night Helton and Rockies won the National League pennant and will play in the World Series against either Cleveland or Boston. I’ll be pulling for the Rockies, and for a Tennessee boy who deserves a ring.