As LeBron James stuck a pitchfork into the collective backs of every sports fan in northern Ohio last week, twisted it slowly and then pulled it out in front of the entire world, many (me included) bemoaned that LeBron represented all that is wrong with professional sports. After all, we -- the fans -- spend a fortune on the tickets and merchandise that enable the likes of LeBron to make the absurd fortunes bestowed upon them. And for those expenditures, all we ask is that the players perform admirably and honestly on the floor and in the field, and behave earnestly off it.
But while LeBron James and others of his ilk epitomize all that's wrong with the modern athlete, it makes us appreciate it that much more when a group of professional players do it the right way on a nightly basis. We love it when a team plays as though the money and the fame have nothing to do with the effort put into the game. As if they had to play for free and in front of nobody, they'd give the same effort as they do for millions of dollars playing in front of tens of thousands of people.
Fortunately for Denver-area sports fans, we seem to have one of those teams performing for us right now: the 2010 Colorado Rockies. While LeBron captivated the sports world with the stupidly surreal spectacle of "The Decision" last week, the Rockies quietly won six straight games, three in dramatic "we-just-never-gave-up" fashion, and pulled within two games of the division leading San Diego Padres (yet another feel-good sports story that deserves more national attention). Like their forbearers from the previous three seasons, this Rockies team makes you want to root for them - win or loss. In fact, it's so much fun watching these guys play that you often forget that they're professionals and when attending games at Coors Field, you don't feel like you just got ripped off.
And yet by baseball payroll standards, the Rockies barely stack up as "professionals." Ranked 16th overall in Major League Baseball payrolls (with a payroll that's half of what the Red Sox spend...and they have the second highest payroll), the Rockies are almost certain to give the high-spending Mets, Dodgers, Giants and Cardinals a fight for the playoffs until the final day of the 2010 season. Last season, the Rockies had the lightest payroll (by far) of all the National League playoff participants and the second lowest payroll overall among all MLB playoff teams in 2009.
It seems improbable, but it's likely that the low-spending, hard-hitting, gutty-pitching, racking-up-the-winning Rockies could be Major League Baseball's Cinderella team for the third time in four seasons. Which is a good thing, because Colorado sports may have hit a rough patch otherwise. The Nuggets seem rudderless until and if Carmelo Anthony (who may very well pull a LeBron on Colorado...it remains to be seen) commits to the three-year, $65 million contract offered by the team, the Broncos may have simply moved on from the tyrannical Mike Shanahan regime into the tyrannical Josh McDaniels regime (just ask Mike Nolan), the Avalanche have promise but a long ways to go, and CU will generate little enthusiasm around these parts until they join the Pac-10...in 2012.
Conversely, I expect to see the Rockies fighting for the National League West division lead and/or the wild-card spot until the 162nd game of the season. And I expect they'll do so while playing hard and patting each other on the back in every game. We'll probably even see a few more pies in the face of teammates if the first half of the season has been any indication.
So before fretting about the sorry state of professional sports and the potentially sorry state of Colorado sports, just pay attention to the Rockies. We're privileged to have a team that represents all that's good about pro sports right here in Colorado.