Wednesday, April 25, 2012
How to Be a New York Fan in Colorado
The Mets are on their way to Denver to play the Colorado Rockies. I realize I’m a little late unless you’re going anything other than last-minute, but this is the only roadtrip there this season. Yet another thing that Interleague play has screwed up.
Disclaimer: I have only been to Denver twice, and that was to change planes going to and from Las Vegas many years ago. I have never set foot outside the old Stapleton Airport, much less visited Coors Field. But it does look like one of the best ballparks, so I would like to visit and recommend it.
Before You Go. The Denver Post is predicting a 20 percent chance of rain for all 3 days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Temperatures should be in the low 60s during the day and the low 40s at night. This will be Mets vs. Rockies, not Jets vs. Broncos, but, still, bring a warm jacket and an umbrella.
The Post is a good paper, but don't bother looking for the Rocky Mountain News: It went out of business in 2009.
Denver is in the Mountain Time Zone, so you’ll be 2 hours behind New York time. And there’s a reason it’s called the Mile High City: The elevation means the air will be thinner. Although the Rocky Mountain region is renowned for outdoor recreation, if you’re not used to it, try not to exert yourself too much. Cheering at a sporting event shouldn’t bother you too much, but don’t go rock-climbing or any other such activity unless you’ve done it before and know what you’re doing.
Getting There. It’s 1,779 miles from Times Square in New York to the Denver plaza that contains the State House and the City-County complex, and 1,790 miles from Citi Field to Coors Field. You’re probably thinking that you should be flying.
The good news: Flying to Denver, considering how far it is, is relatively cheap. You can get a round-trip flight on Friday morning, and buy it today, for $850. The bad news: It won’t be nonstop. While the old Stapleton International Airport was a major change-planes-here spot for going to the West Coast and Las Vegas, the new Denver International Airport isn’t. You want to fly there, you’ll have to change planes, most likely in either Chicago or Dallas.
Going by train or bus would have been possible – but you’d have to have left today, Wednesday, in order to get there by Friday and the start of the series. Sorry, but posting this earlier couldn't be done, due to real-life commitments.
Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited leaves Penn Station at 3:45 PM Wednesday, arrives at Union Station in Chicago at 9:45 AM Thursday (that’s Central Time). The California Zephyr leaves Chicago at 2:00 PM Thursday and arrives at Denver’s Union Station at 7:15 PM Friday. The return trip would leave Denver at 7:10 PM Sunday (enough time to get out of Coors Field), arrives in Chicago at 2:50 PM Monday, leaves Chicago at 9:30 PM Monday, and gets back to New York at 6:35 PM Tuesday. The round-trip fare is $477. Conveniently, Union Station is at 20th Street & Delgany Street, right across from Coors Field.
Greyhound allows you to leave Port Authority Bus Terminal at 4:00 PM Wednesday, and arrive at Denver at 11:15 AM on Friday, a trip of 45 hours and 15 minutes, without having to change buses. That 45:15 does, however, include layovers of 40 minutes in Philadelphia, an hour and a half in Pittsburgh, an hour in Columbus, an hour in Indianapolis, and 2 hours and 40 minutes in St. Louis, plus half-hour meal stops in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Kansas. Round-trip fare is $337. You can get a bus back at 7:15 PM Sunday and be back in New York at 3:00 PM Tuesday. The Denver Bus Center is at 1055 19th Street, 5 blocks from Coors Field.
If you actually think it’s worth it to drive, get someone to go with you so you’ll have someone to talk to and one of you can drive while the other sleeps. You’ll be taking Interstate 80 most of the way, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska, before taking Interstate 76 from Nebraska to Colorado, and then Interstate 25 into Denver. (An alternate route: Take the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Turnpikes to I-70 and then I-70 through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Colorado into downtown Denver. It won’t save you an appreciable amount of time, though.)
If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 4 hours in Ohio, 2 hours and 30 minutes in Indiana, 2 hours and 45 minutes in Illinois, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Iowa, 6 hours in Nebraska, and 3 hours and 15 minutes in Colorado. Including rest stops, and accounting for traffic (you’ll be bypassing Cleveland and Chicago, unless that’s where you want to make rest stops), we’re talking about a 40-hour trip.
Even if you’re only going for one game, no matter how you got there, get a hotel and spend a night. You’ll be exhausted otherwise. Trust me, I know: Trains and buses are not good ways to get sleep.
Tickets. When the Rockies began play in 1993, there had never been a major league team in the entire Mountain Time Zone, and the Denver Bears and their successors the Denver Zephyrs had been among the best-attended teams in the minor leagues. That, plus the huge capacity of Mile High Stadium, allowed Colorado fans to set several major league attendance records, including most fans for an Opening Day game (80,227), most fans in a single season (4,483,350 in that first season of 1993) and most fans per home game (56,094 in the strike-shortened 1994 season).
When Coors Field opened in 1995, with a capacity around 47,000 (now officially 50,490), every game was still sold out, until 1999. The Rockies still do very well: Their 35,923 average for 2011 was 12th in the major leagues, 7th in the National League, and only 300 or so behind the Dodgers for 2nd in the Western Division. So tickets may not be easy to come by.
For tickets that are available: Infield Boxes are $85, Outfield Boxes are $50, Upper Reserved Infield seats are $31, Upper Reserved Outfield seats are $26, Pavilion (left field bleacher) seats are $37, Upper Rightfield Reserved are $18, and the center field "Rockpile" seats -- a holdover from the bleachers of that nickname at Mile High Stadium -- are just $4.
Going In. Coors Field is in the Lower Downtown, or LoDo, section of Denver, a mile and a half northwest of the government center. The Number 60 bus will get you to within 3 blocks. Denver has a light rail system, but chances are your hotel will be downtown, and you’d have to change trains at least once, so the 60 bus is the way to go.
The mailing address is 2001 Blake Street. Blake bounds the 1st base side, 20th Street the 3rd base side, 22nd Street the right field stands, and Wewatta Street and the light rail tracks the left field side.
Most likely, you’ll enter through the home plate gate, at 20th & Blake. I like that: All visits to the ballpark should make your first view of the field from behind home plate. This was rarely possible with the old New York ballparks: The stadiums pointed east, and both subway exits put you at the right field corner (if you entered Yankee Stadium from the 157th Street plaza, or the left field corner if you came down 161st Street). In the case of Coors, it’s just more convenient.
Food. Being a “Wild West” city, you might expect Denver to have Western-themed stands with “real American food” at its ballpark. Being in a State with a Spanish name, in a land that used to belong to Mexico, you might also expect to have Mexican food. And you would be right on both counts. A stand called Buckaroos is at Section 148, Burritos is at 134, the Helton Burger Shack (named for Rockies star Todd Helton) at 153, a full-service bar called the Camarena Loft behind 201, another called Margaritas at 330, 3 Monster Nacho stands, and, for club-seaters, the Mountain Ranch Club Bar.
There’s also stands with baseball-themed names, including several Fan Fare stands, Fair Territory in 106, and Yard Ball Yogurt at 330. There’s a Starbucks-type place called Madeline’s at 151, a pair of sandwich bars called the Club Carvery behind 219 and 238, a coffee bar call Java City at 223, a Chinese-themed Wok in the Park at 150, and a Blue Moon Brewing Co. outlet at 111.
Buckaroos has “Dinger Nuggets,” which I’m hoping is standard chicken nuggets, not dinosaur meat. (I’ll get to that in “During the Game.”)
Team History Displays. The Rockies’ history is short. They have made the Playoffs 3 times, won just one Pennant, and have won a grand total of zero World Series games. As yet, they have no members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, or even the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame. And while Larry Walker’s Number 33 has not been reissued, officially, their only retired number is the universally-retired 42 for Jackie Robinson, who died 20 years before the Rockies ever played a game.
That number and the 2007 Pennant are displayed on the outfield wall. The 1995 NL Wild Card banner used to be on the wall, but once a Pennant was won, it seemed a bit silly. There is no mention, anywhere in the stadium, of the Pennants won by the Rockies' minor-league predecessors, the Denver Bears (also briefly known as the Denver Zephyrs).
Stuff. Coors Field has the standard team stores to sell Rockies gear. But don’t look for old Rockies videos on DVD – there aren’t any. Unless you want to find the official highlight film of the 2007 World Series, in which the Rockies got swept by the Boston Red Sox. You’d think that, having won 14 of their last 15 regular-season games, making it 21 out of 22 counting the Playoffs, winning their first-ever Pennant, and setting a major league record for highest team fielding percentage (.989), there would be a commemorative DVD. But there isn’t.
There are, however, a few books about the team, including A Magical Season: Colorado’s Incredible 2007 Championship Season, by the staff of the Denver Post. You can also pick up Colorado Rockies: The Inaugural Season, by Rich Clarkson, which came out right after that 1993 season ended. The first-year Rockies probably got more respect than any 67-95 team ever.
To compare, the 1969 Seattle Pilots went 64-98, also played in a stadium that was inappropriate for the major leagues – albeit because it was an expanded 1930s Triple-A park, not a 1940s Triple-A park converted into a 1970s football stadium like Mile High – got fewer fans in a homestand than the ’93 Rox got in their home opener, got moved to Milwaukee right before their second season started, and today are remembered only for being in Jim Bouton’s book Ball Four; even Seattle fans would rather believe their major league history started with the Mariners.
During the Game. Coloradans love their sports, but they’re not known as antagonistic. Although the Jets came within a half of derailing a Bronco Super Bowl in 1999 (1998 season), and the Devils came within a game of short-circuiting their Stanley Cup run in 2001, the people of the Centennial State don’t have an ingrained hatred of New Yorkers. As long as you don’t wear Kansas City Chiefs or Oakland Raiders gear, you’ll probably be completely safe. (But, as always, watch out for obnoxious drunks, who know no State Lines.)
When construction workers were excavating to build Coors Field, they found dinosaur bones. So the Rockies’ mascot was made a dinosaur. In honor of the thin air’s propensity for allowing home runs, the mascot was named Dinger the Dinosaur. Great idea, right? Well, a Tyrannosaurus Rex (or even a “Tyrannosaurus Rox”) would probably scare kids, so Dinger is a purple triceratops. Think of him as Barney’s cousin from the weird side of the family.
A line of purple seats across the stadium shows the exact point at which the elevation of the park is 5,280 feet above sea level, making it “a mile high.” After years of opposing teams complaining that the highest elevation in MLB history resulting in too many home runs, prior to the 2002 season the team ordered a study to determine if the elevation was the cause.
As it turned out, the study suggested it was not thin air, but dry air that was doing it. So a giant humidor – a room-sized version of the kind of box where a smoker would store his cigars – was put into the ballpark, and the baseballs were stored there. As a result, the ball is no longer going as far as it once did, although the thin air does make it go farther. The thin air also makes curveballs curve less, which means it’s still not a good park for pitchers. Nevertheless, the team’s pitching staff can no longer be called, as it once was, “the Rocky Horror Pitching Show.”
The Rockies play Bruce Channel’s song “Hey! Baby” after “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the 7th inning stretch. Why? I have no idea. Channel isn’t from Colorado, or any other Rocky Mountain State (he’s from Texas). Why not a Colorado singer’s song? You got me. I guess “Rocky Mountain High” – whose singer used the stage name John Denver, for crying out loud – isn’t particularly rousing. Nor is “How to Save a Life” by The Fray, who are from Denver. The Rockies do not have a postgame victory song.
After the Game. Denver has had crime issues, and just 3 blocks from Coors Field is Larimer Street, immortalized as a dingy, bohemian-tinged, hobo-strewn street in Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road. But that scene was written in 1947, and LoDo has become, with the building of Coors Field and the revitalization of Union Station, a sort of mountain Wrigleyville. So you’ll probably be safe.
LoDo is loaded with bars that will be open after the game, including Scruffy Murphy’s at Larimer & 20th, and an outlet of the Fado Irish Pub chain at Wynkoop & 19th. But the only baseball-named place I can find anywhere near Coors is Sandlot Brewery, at 22nd & Blake, outside the park’s right-field corner.
Perhaps the most famous sports-themed restaurant near Denver is Elway’s Cherry Creek, a steakhouse at 2500 E. 1st Avenue in the southern suburb of Cherry Creek. Bus 83L. It’s owned by the same guy who owns John Elway Chevrolet in another southern suburb, Englewood.
About a mile southeast of Coors Field, at 538 E. 17th Avenue in the Uptown neighborhood (not sure why a southern, rather than northern, neighborhood is called “Uptown”), is The Tavern, home of the local New York Giants fan club. I can find no corresponding place for Jets fans, but if you’re a Met fan, you can probably find some New Yorkers at The Tavern.
Sidelights. Sports Authority Field at Mile High, formerly Invesco Field at Mile High, has been the home of the Denver Broncos since 2001. Everyone just gives in the same name as the old facility: Mile High Stadium. It includes the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, and the Broncos’ Ring of Fame.
It was built on the site of the McNichols Sports Arena, home to the NBA’s Denver Nuggets from 1975 to 1999, the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche from 1995 to 1999, and the first major league team called the Colorado Rockies, the NHL team that became the Devils, from 1976 to 1982. It hosted the NCAA Final Four in 1990, and when the time came to play the final concert there, the act that played the first was brought back: ZZ Top. This fact was mentioned on a Monday Night Football broadcast, leading Dan Dierdorf to note the alphabetic distinction of the long red-bearded men, and say, “The first one should have been ABBA.” (Which would have been possible, as they were nearly big in the U.S. at the time.)
The old stadium was just to the north of the new stadium/old arena. The current address is Mile High Stadium Circle, but the old intersection was W. 20th Avenue & Bryant St. (2755 W. 17th Avenue was the mailing address.) It was built in 1948 as Bears Stadium, an 18,000-seat ballpark. When the American Football League was founded in 1960, it was expanded to 34,000 seats with the addition of outfield seating. The name was changed to Mile High Stadium in 1966, and by 1968 much of the stadium was triple-decked and seated 51,706. In 1977 – just in time for the Broncos to make their first Super Bowl run and start “Broncomania” – the former baseball park was transformed into a 76,273-seat horseshoe, whose east stands could be moved in to conform to the shape of a football field, or out to allow enough room for a regulation baseball field. The old-time ballpark had become, by the standards of the time, a modern football stadium.
The biggest complaint when the Rockies arrived in 1993 wasn’t the thin air, or the condition of the stadium (it was not falling apart), but the positioning of the lights: Great for football fans, but terrible for outfielders tracking fly balls. But it was only meant to be a temporary ballpark for the Rockies, as a condition for Denver getting a team was a baseball-only stadium. What really led to the replacement of Mile High Stadium, and its demolition in 2002, was greed: The desire for luxury-box revenue.
At Bears/Mile High Stadium, the Broncos won AFC Championships in 1977, 1986, 1987 and 1989, and the Denver Bears won Pennants in 1957 (as a Yankee farm team), 1971, 1976, 1977, 1981, 1983 and 1991 (as the Denver Zephyrs). The Red Lion Hotel Denver and the Skybox Grill & Sports Bar are now on the site of the old stadium. At McNichols, the Nuggets reached the ABA Finals in 1976, and the Avalanche won the 1996 Stanley Cup (albeit clinching in Miami). Mile High Station on the light rail C-Line and E-Line.
The Pepsi Center, new home of the Nugs and Avs, is 6 blocks up Auraria Parkway and one stop away on the C-Line and E-Line. The intersection is 11th Street & Auraria Parkway, but the mailing address is 1000 Chopper Circle, named for Robert “Chopper” Travaglini, the longtime trainer (and amateur sports psychologist) of the Nuggets. He was actually a Jersey, albeit from Woodbury on the Philly side. He died in 1999, age 77, right before the new arena opened. The Nuggets have usually made the Playoffs since moving in, but have never reached the NBA Finals. The Avs won the 2001 Stanley Cup on home ice (beating the Devils, rats). The Democratic Convention was held at the Pepsi Center in 2008, although Senator Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech outdoors in front of 80,000 people at New Mile High Stadium.
The Nuggets, known as the Denver Rockets until 1974, played at the Denver Auditorium Arena, at 13th & Champa Streets, from their 1967 inception until McNichols opened in 1975. It was also the home of the original Nuggets, who played in the NBA from 1948 to 1950. It opened in 1908, and its seating capacity of 12,500 made it the 2nd-largest in the country at the time, behind the version of Madison Square Garden then standing. It almost immediately hosted the Democratic National Convention that nominated William Jennings Bryan for President for the third time – although it’s probably just a coincidence that the Democrats waited exactly 100 years (give or take a few weeks) to go back (it’s not like Obama didn’t want to get right the first time, as opposed 0-for-3 Bryan). It hosted Led Zeppelin’s first American concert on December 26, 1968. It was demolished in 1990 to make way for the Denver Performing Arts Complex, a.k.a. the Denver Center. Theatre District/Convention Center Station on the light rail’s D-Line, F-Line and H-Line.
Denver has some renowned museums, including the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (their version of the Museum of Natural History) at 2001 Colorado Boulevard at Montview Boulevard (in City Park, Number 20 bus), and the Denver Art Museum (their version of the Metropolitan Museum of Natural History), at 100 W. 14th Avenue Parkway at Colfax Avenue (across I-25 from Mile High Stadium, Auraria West station on the C-Line and E-Line).
Denver’s history only goes back to a gold rush in 1859 – not to be confused with the 1849 one that turned San Francisco from a Spanish Catholic mission into the first modern city in the American West. The city isn’t exactly loaded with history. There’s no Presidential Library – although Mamie Doud, the eventual Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower, grew up there, and her house is now a historic site. Mamie and “Ike” were married there, their son John (a future General, Ambassador, military historian and now the oldest surviving Presidential child) was born there, and the Eisenhowers were staying there when Ike had his heart attack in 1955. The house is still in private ownership, and is not open to the public. However, if you’re a history buff, or if you just like Ike, and just want to see it, it’s at 750 Lafayette Street, at 8th Avenue. The Number 6 bus will get you to 6th & Lafayette.
Ike was treated at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in nearby Aurora, 12 years after Senator John Kerry, nearly elected President in 2004, was born there. It’s not a Presidential Birthplace, because Kerry narrowly lost. It is now the University of Colorado Hospital. The Fitzsimmons Golf Course is across Montview Boulevard – figures that Ike would be hospitalized next to a golf course! 16th Avenue & Quentin Street. Number 20 bus from downtown.
Denver had been considered a potential destination for Major League Baseball many times: The Continental League planned a team there for 1961, it was a finalist for expansion teams in 1969 and 1977, and the Oakland Athletics came within inches of moving there for the 1978 season. When they finally got a team in 1993, they were embraced as perhaps no expansion team has ever been embraced -- perhaps, not even, the Mets themselves in 1962. And, the way it's worked out, the Rockies' first-ever game was against the Mets (a Met win at Shea), and their first game at Coors was against the Mets (a Rockies win in 11 innings).
The Rockies have seen the bloom come off the rose, but they've also seen some real success. The experience of Coors Field should be a good one. Have fun!