Thursday, June 30, 2016

Toronto Blue Jays at Colorado Rockies - June 27-29, 2016

My first sports road trip after I started this blog in 2009 was to Colorado and Arizona, including a stop at Coors Field. I revisited the ballpark before my NFL Road Trip in 2013 but both times, I neglected to post many pictures of what is one of the most beautiful stadiums out there. So I'll rectify that this time with a short photo essay.

Coors Field opened in 1995, in time for the Rockies third campaign after they played two seasons at Mile High Stadium. At that time, the LoDo area of Denver was midway through an ambitious revitalization program, and Coors Field became its cornerstone. The ballpark is now surrounded by dozens of bars and restaurants and the area is fun to visit even when there isn't a game on. Many of the buildings are over a hundred years old and red brick is the dominant theme in the area immediately around the ballpark, as you can see above.

The home plate entrance is at 20th and Blake, where a generic statue greets you with a quote from Branch Rickey. You can also get your water and peanuts here and bring them into the stadium.

Upon entering, you can see the Rockies starting lineup, a nice touch that helps you fill out your scorecard.

Coors Field has three seating levels, with the third level actually quite close to the field. There are only a couple of staircases to get to the upper level, compared to five at Citi Field, where there are two sections between the lower and upper levels. The purple row of seats near the top represents one mile above sea level. The outfield seats in the foreground above are known as the Pavilion and are not recommended on sunny afternoons as you will bake, even with copious amounts of sunscreen.

As you walk around the concourse, you will notice pennants honouring those achievements by past greats. Most of these related to offense as the stadium's high elevation leads to more hits and runs; Colorado players have earned nine batting titles in the 23 seasons the franchise has been around. I did spot the defensive pennants above though, noting Larry Walker's Gold Glove and the first triple play in franchise history, which was accomplished in the franchise's 11th season.

What makes Coors Field so beautiful is the surrounding area. From high atop the right field corner, you can see the mountains and sunset in the distance. The photo above was taken after a long rain delay so it was a bit cloudier than I would have liked, but still a very impressive view.

The iconic feature here is the Rockpile, a standalone seating area above center field. The photo above was taken from the Rooftop, Coors Field's new social area. The team removed several sections of seats here and installed a couple of bars with standing areas. Any fan can enter here and just hang around, drink some beer, and chat with friends. Many younger fans now see sports as a social event (i.e. they show up late, leave early, chat nonstop with their friends, and pay little attention to what happens on the field) as opposed to a game and the Rockies are capturing that demographic with this party area. Hey, to each his own, but needless to say, I did not stay long here.

Above is the view from the top of the Rockpile with downtown in the background.

Finally, a view from the upper level looking towards the Rooftop. Coors Field is truly one of the more inspiring ballparks and I love visiting Denver just for all the bars around the stadium. Having said that, I rarely enjoy the games I see here because they are usually high-scoring, drawn out affairs and that was no different on this trip.

The Games

I was in Denver to see the Jays in a three-game series, but ended up arriving a day early and checked out the Sunday afternoon battle between Arizona and the Rockies to get things started. My buddy Sharpy had flown in from Chicago and I met him at the airport after flying in from Omaha. It was just after 7 a.m., so we watched France dispose of Ireland in Euro 2016 before heading downtown. My friend Meg, a Denver resident, took us to the Jagged Mountain Brewing Company on 20th Street just a few blocks from Coors Field. After a couple of very nice IPAs, we entered the stadium and watched as the teams combined for 16 runs and 26 hits in a typical Coors contest. Carlos Gonzalez hit a grand slam and Mark Reynolds delivered a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 9th (surprisingly the first of his career) as the Rockies won 9-7. The game took 3:35 and I was so happy that it ended when it did as I was exhausted after that long day.

Monday was the first of three Jays tilts, and it started well with Toronto taking a 4-0 lead into the bottom of the 6th. Gonzalez hit a 3-run homer in that inning to make it close, and after starter Marco Estrada was pinch hit for in the top of the 7th, the bullpen had a meltdown, with Drew Storen and Jesse Chavez combining to allow 6 runs as the Rockies scored 9 for the second day in a row, taking the game 9-5.

On Tuesday, Meg joined Sharpy and I, but weather was a problem. The game was scheduled for 6:40, but before it got underway, the field was inundated with hail as part of a larger thunderstorm. The picture above shows the field nearly covered in hail and we thought that the game wouldn't be played. But the clouds cleared and the grounds crew did a top-notch job getting the field ready. First pitch was at 9:20 and by then, many fans had left (including Meg who had to get to work the next day). Those who stayed were treated to an offensive outburst with the teams combining for 32 hits. Thankfully Toronto won 14-9, but the game lasted 3:52, meaning it did not end until 1:12 a.m., just 12 hours before Wednesday's afternoon game was to start. This late finish put a serious dent in our ability to explore the area, but we did find one bar open late. Their website is astonishing.

The Wednesday afternoon game was the best of the bunch. First, the weather couldn't have been better, and then Aaron Sanchez lasted 8 strong innings while yielding just one run, giving the bullpen a much needed rest. Up 5-1 in the bottom of the ninth, closer Roberto Osuna came in and promptly walked Gonzalez and gave up back to back doubles that made it 5-3. A couple of strikeouts, another double and a hit batsman loaded the bases. Rockies manager Walt Weiss decided to leave Cristhian Adames in to hit despite having Trevor Story and DJ LeMahieu on the bench (though both were possibly nursing injuries). Anyway, Adames struck out swinging on a controversial call (home plate ump Nic Lentz did not ask for help) and the Jays held on to take the series 2-1 and make the journey to Denver worthwhile (final below). This game took 3:17, giving Sharpy and I plenty of time to enjoy the LoDo happy hour scene, which we did and then some. A great way to end the trip.

Next Up

I have a couple of minor league trips that will close out my summer, starting with a week in the Applachians to complete the rookie Appalachian League in mid-July. The schedule will be posted shortly, so check back for that.



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