In 1993 I was too young to care much, just like the Rockies were too young to have an enduring fan base. There were, understandably, still a lot of folks back then who found their old allegiances hard to relinquish. I remember Jeff Parrett throwing a gem in a 3-1 Rockies win – easily the lowest scoring game I saw in two years of attending games at Mile High Stadium. I probably ate cotton candy, kept an indecipherable scorecard and laughed at the name 'Buechele'.
The next time, in 2003, was different. The Rox were established by then but any die-hards were beginning to go into hibernation. We were decisively outnumbered in the stands and on the field as well. In his first three at-bats, Sammy Sosa hit home runs that got progressively longer each time. The third one drew a deserved standing ovation even from those in attendance who were Rockies fans. I also can say I got to see Mark Prior pitch when he was Mark Prior.
The next year was one of the worst ballpark experiences in my life, and I do not say that lightly. Thank the portly gentleman behind me who – repeatedly, and loudly – insisted on referring to each player by a different nickname. His nickname for Moises Alou was 'Pee-pee Hands.' (I don't know if 'Marty' was a nickname for Michael Barrett or if this clown really thought that was the former Red Sox infielder donning the blue tools of ignorance.) He wouldn't shut up all night, hollering after every pitch like a Little League coach. Between that and a bunch of converted Midwesterners faking Boston accents – it was the second game of Nomar Garciaparra's ill-fated Chicago career – it made for a night I wish I'd brought earplugs. I was more outnumbered than the game the year before. The Rockies sucked, and they lost, and let me tell you, it is HARD to sit through a baseball game while wishing you could climb a row of seats and jam your scorekeeping pencil into somebody's windpipe.
I went back for more in 2007. Wish I hadn't. A guy in a bear costume tried to knock my Rockies cap off my head in a bar before the game. (Didn't swing back, though it wasn't for lack of wanting.) The Rockies were better, in the mix in the postseason race, so there were more of us there in the park that night. But the Rox played like crap, and their fans let us hear about it, too.
I left that night swearing I'd never go back to a Rockies-Cubs game at Coors Field.
I want to get one thing straight before I go any further; I actually like most Cubs fans. I've never had more fun at a ballpark than the two afternoons I was fortunate to spend in the Wrigley Field bleachers in the 2008 season. I enjoyed the company of fans crazy enough to shave their chest hair into the shape of what they dubbed a 'man-kini', yet aware enough to alert me as I absent-mindedly filled out my scorecard before the game that Milwaukee was going to bat their pitcher in the eight hole. You can't deny the passion or the love in that yard.
The Cubs are the lesser member in baseball's Holy Trinity of nationwide fan bases. Only the Yankees and the Red Sox have more of a presence at every park they visit. Of course, they've got the history of success both past and present to help cultivate winning bandwagons. The Cubs bandwagon is rolling on donut spare tires, the air conditioning doesn't work, and there are no seat belts for the middle seats. But damn if it doesn't stay full. For the most part, Cubs fans are pretty self-aware. Witness the '1908 World Champions' t-shirts that are worn in earnest at Wrigley Field. They are not under any kind of delusions. But they love their team. I left Wrigley Field both times without encountering any of the obnoxiousness I've seen from Cubs fans at Coors Field.
Now, there's no significant rivalry between the Cubs and the Rockies, but it's felt at times like Cub fans who enter Coors Field are intent, for some odd reason, on establishing their bonafides. They root for a team who has been around longer! It's not an illustrious history, but at least it's a history! Their team is on TV all over the nation! They had Harry Carry and Ernie Banks and Three-Finger Bleeping Brown! And they have Wrigley, the greatest park in the world (their words, not mine), where they would NEVER stand for the intrusion of visiting faithful!
(That last point of contention was verbalized, rather loudly, by a Cub fan in my section during a pitching change in that 2007 game. "Look at all our fans here! This would NEVER happen at Wrigley Field!" he shouted. At that point I'd had enough of this guy, who had been on his feet all game, cheering every base hit as though it were a game-winner, and had heckled then-Rockie Jeff Baker as he lay prone with a concussion after being hit in the head by a Jason Marquis fastball. So I stood up and shouted, "You know what else never happens at Wrigley Field? THE WORLD SERIES!" True story, the highlight of my heckling career, and it achieved the desired result – he shut up.)
There are fans who annoy with their arrogance, and fans who annoy with their ignorance. And while I am by no means suggesting this is a phenomenon unique to the Cubbie faithful – I still remember a Padres fan who was convinced that Mark Bellhorn had won a batting title in his career, just to name one – you tend to notice it more when there are more of them around. And since Rockies fans don't have to deal with yearly visits from Yankee and Red Sox fans, it's Cub fans that grind our gears every season.
So, just as there are few things more satisfying for a smaller-stature American League team than sending the Yankees or Red Sox – and their fans – out of their home ballpark unhappy, it will always feel good to beat the Cubs at Coors Field. Just as it did last year, when the Rockies held a batting practice session in the eighth inning of one game and then Carlos Gonzalez hit a walk-off home run halfway to Greeley the next night. Just as it very well could this year, with the Rockies entering this weekend's series at the top of the NL West and the Cubs staggering in around the .500 mark.
But I must confess, since my last unpleasant encounter at Coors Field, I've had a change of heart. Maybe seeing Cubs fans in their own habitat had a lot to do with that. As has the increase in Rockies fan support at these games, rising with the fortunes of the local nine, dampening the dreaded 'Wrigley West' effect of years past. But these days, I'm more welcoming to our blue-and-red clad houseguests. At heart, even if they've had a few too many brews and are flexing some ill-placed machismo based on the success of their favorite team, or even if they think Darwin Barney is a cartoon dinosaur and still consider Alfonso Soriano an All-Star, they're all just trying to enjoy the game and hoping to see their Cubbies win it all some day.
And since we all know that will never happen, the least we can do is make them feel welcome. And let the guys on the field shut them up for us.