Traditionally, hope springs eternal at the beginning of baseball season, and this year is no different for the Colorado Rockies.
Unlike past seasons, however, this year there are legitimate reasons to believe baseball will return to respectability to the Mile High City.
It has taken nearly half a decade to recover from the disasters that were the Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle signings. Long-time fans will remember the two overpriced contracts the Rockies gave to these starting pitchers and marked the tailspin of the team into the perennial National League West basement.
Since that dark winter, Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd took a grassroots method toward bringing talent to Coors Field. No longer is the team attracting regular sellouts and, conversely, no longer spending like a big-market team. Instead, the philosophies of the Minnesota Twins, Florida Marlins and Chicago White Sox have been adopted: invest in draft picks and grow your own talent on the cheap.
Last year saw the first stage of this process as the Rockies employed rookies for most of the year at third base, shortstop, center field and right field. All the young bucks slated to start these positions are designed to be the cogs in the wheel surrounding the hub that is first baseman Todd Helton.
Perhaps even more encouraging is the progress of the pitching staff that currently consists of homegrown talent and low budget imports hungry for a job. Aaron Cook has the potential to be absolutely lights-out, while Jason Jennings and Jeff Francis – all homegrown players – already have established themselves as solid major league starters. The bullpen has been shored up with the addition of some experienced middle relievers and the emergence of left-handed closer Brian Fuentes.
However, it would still be naive for any of us to begin the year with visions of baseball in October returning to Coors Field. If the young Rockies were learning to crawl last year, 2006 will likely be the year they learn to walk. The optimist in me would like to believe that next year we will see our boys of summer run.
But, have patience, Rockies faithful. Coming from a Cubs fan, believe me when I say that being a good fan means having patience – anyone can have a bad century. While I predict the Rockies will fight for respectability this year, and hopefully make a strong push for a .500 record, I am not delusional enough to believe they will contend for the playoffs in a division that sees the return of Barry Bonds and much-improved Diamondbacks and Dodgers teams.
Watching the team develop for the future still will be exciting in 2006. The team is loaded with young talent and more coming down the pipe. Take a chance, jump on the bandwagon now and you will look that much smarter come 2007.
JP Eichmiller is the editor in chief of the Collegian.