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Randy Hollis: Baseball is in a good place, and so are the Rockies

Published: Saturday, April 19 2014 6:38 p.m. MDT

Colorado Rockies owner Dick Monfort shovels snow from the field before the start of a scheduled baseball double-header between the New York Mets and the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday, April 16, 2013, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

JACK DEMPSEY, ASSOCIATED PRESS

SALT LAKE CITY — When you're a team like the Colorado Rockies, opportunities to enjoy a sweet ride like the one they took in 2007 just don't come around very often.

And if you're a Rockies fan, you can't help but wonder: Will it every happen again?

Yes, 2007 was the year the Rockies reached the World Series for the only time in franchise history, and the way they did so was downright magical.

Colorado won 13 of its final 14 regular-season games that year to climb into a one-game, winner-take-all duel with the San Diego Padres for the National League wild card, and the Rockies won that showdown in wildly memorable fashion, 9-8 in 13 innings.

They then swept both the National League Division Series over Philadelphia and the National League Championship Series over Arizona, giving the Rockies an amazing mark of 21-1 over 22 games, many of them filled with intense pennant pressure.

But the glass slipper was soon shattered, as Colorado's Cinderella season came to an abrupt end in the 2007 World Series, where the Rockies were swept in four games by the Boston Red Sox.

However, for a franchise that has reached the NL playoffs only once since then (2009), and only three times in all during its 21-year existence, getting a chance to take that thrilling postseason joy ride again is what keeps ’em going day after day.

"I think that once you taste something like that, you want it again," team owner and CEO Dick Monfort said during a business trip to Salt Lake City this past week. "You get confidence in yourself and your teammates. And if you did it once, you start thinking there's no reason why you can't do it two or three or four times more right away. So I think the expectations are high in Colorado.

"I remember (former team owner) Jerry McMorris telling me maybe the worst thing they did was getting in the playoffs two or three years after we became a franchise (1995), because then the expectations were, 'Well, we can do this, so let's go do it every year.'

"One of the problems is there's 29 other teams that have the exact same goal in mind, and they've all got smart people and everybody's working for that. And there's only eight of ’em that get to go to the playoffs," Monfort said. "It's tough."

Monfort said that there are very few franchises like the big-spending New York Yankees whose rich winning tradition, bright-lights-big-city lure and deep, deep pockets can make that "let's go do it every year" mentality a reality.

After all, when the Yankees missed out on last year's postseason party, it marked the first time since 2008 — and only the second time in 19 years — that the "Evil Empire" did not make the playoffs.

Unfortunately for Monfort and the Rockies, it doesn't quite work that way in places like Colorado, where they've experienced seven winning seasons in 21 years, including only three in the last 13 years.

"You look at the Yankees last year with all their injuries and all the people they had down, they didn't make the playoffs and they didn't run out there the greatest 25 guys in the world," the Rockies' owner said. "And yet they won more games than they lost (85-77). It's their culture, it's the way they are.

"The Yankees expect to win, so we've got to get our organization where we expect to win and we are playing meaningful games in September. That's what we strive for every year. We've got to make that sort of a ritual, like that's the way it goes around here.

"They didn't make the playoffs last year, so they go out this year and spend some really big bucks to try to make sure that doesn't happen again," he said of those envied players in Yankee pinstripes. "We don't have that luxury. We have to maintain the players we've got, we've got to make sure we're developing players to take the places of those that are gonna leave and that we're prudent in the guys that we get that we do sign to come in.

"Their model may be a little easier, I don't know, but you've still got to get the right players. And there's an art to that and you've just got to make sure you're turning every stone to find those right players."

One great thing the Rockies do have going for them, Monfort says, is their geographical location. They're sandwiched nicely between the West Coast/Pacific Northwest teams and those franchises in the Midwest and Southwest, thus making them arguably the best option for Major League Baseball fans living in the Rocky Mountains.

"We're in a great geographical position because we have a lot of people that live right in downtown Denver," Monfort said. "We've got great weather and we offer soup to nuts. We offer a $2 ticket and we offer a $200 ticket. So whatever your fancy is, we try to make it to where anybody that wants to come to the game can come to the game.

"That's one of our goals," he said of the Rockies' regional profile and popularity. "Not only in Utah, where Salt Lake is a one-hour flight away, but you look at the other neighboring states. You look at Wyoming, and we have a lot of people that come down from Cheyenne and Laramie, and Nebraska, even people from Kansas and New Mexico.

"We'd like to be more than the Colorado Rockies, we'd like to be the Rocky Mountain Rockies. And that's a goal of ours to build the brand, not only with the surrounding states but everywhere."

Monfort is an advocate for baseball's expanded use of instant replay this year, and he commends the sport for the way it has handled the ugly steroids allegations that plagued professional sports for several years.

"We're trying to get the game to where it doesn't last three hours, and I know this isn't helping it," he said of using instant replay to review umpires' calls. "But there's other ways that we can speed up the game. So if you've got to take two minutes or five minutes in a game to get the right call and it means something to somebody down the road, then we ought to try to do that. I think with the technology you have today … we ought to be using it.

"I think baseball's in a great spot. I think there are some challenges, but I think they've faced most of their challenges, and I think they've faced it a lot more than any of the other leagues — the steroids — and I think a lot of that has to do with baseball and the players union working together. I don't know what percentage of the players it is, but the players that aren't using anything are definitely not for anybody else using it. They want a level playing field, and I think it's worked out great that they've sort of led the drive on this.

"So I think baseball is in a great place," he said. "It's a good sport, and it's the only real summertime sport. I do think we need to get the games a little quicker. The money's getting a little absurd, but I guess that's what happens. But I think it's in a great place, and I think the Rockies are in a great place. We've got all the wheels moving. We've got a great farm system; we're developing our players a little differently than some of the other teams. We've got a great academy in the Dominican; we've got a great spring training facility in Scottsdale, and we've got a beautiful stadium in a great city in Denver. So I think we're in a very good place."

Even if they're not, nor ever will be, those darned deep-pocket Yankees playing in the more desirable market of the Big Apple.

EMAIL: rhollis@desnews.com

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