The 2011 season provided a host of miserable moments for the Colorado Rockies, none of which are fun to dwell upon. But the indelible image of a season gone wrong will always be the scene at Petco Park on July 30, when the Rockies sent Ubaldo Jimenez to the mound to face the San Diego Padres despite an all but consummated trade that would send Jimenez away to Cleveland. The clearly-distracted Jimenez labored through an awful first inning, purportedly as the final details of the deal were hammered out off-camera. When the awkward half-inning finally ended, Jimenez began hugging his teammates in the Rockies dugout, his radiant smile turned melancholy by circumstance, and the greatest pitcher in Rockies history wasn't a Rockie anymore.
It was a painful exit, excruciating to watch, and the pervading feeling among Rockies fans was that Ubaldo had been unfairly handled on his way out the door. After a month of rumors that alternately ran hot and cold, the Rockies trading a player as beloved as Jimenez was hard enough. To send him out to the mound anyway that night in San Diego, to watch him struggle so badly, and then to see him pulled after one inning and depart the clubhouse while the game was still in progress - it all felt like salt in the wound. After years and years of fruitless searches for a true ace, the Rockies were trading their homegrown pitching star not even a full season removed from the best season a Rockies hurler has ever had.
Of course, fans were privy to the rumors. And they were privy to the idea that maybe, just maybe, Ubaldo was as responsible for his exit from Denver as the ballclub was. National writers reported Jimenez had grown disenchanted with the Rockies. They said he was upset when the Rockies decided not to restructure his team-friendly contract after the 2010 season, choosing to break the bank for long-term extensions for Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki and deferring discussions about a similar deal for Jimenez until later. But Rockies fans couldn't - wouldn't - believe such a thing.
Ask out of Colorado? Demand a trade? Such a thing seemed out of character for Jimenez, the humble Dominican who lived with his parents and lived a walking distance from Coors Field, the driven star who slavishly adhered to his workout routine, going on an early-morning run through the streets of Atlanta the day after pitching the franchise's first no-hitter. He had worked to overcome a bizarre shoulder injury in the minors, fought through wildness down on the farm, and gradually improved until exploding into the national consciousness with a first half for the ages in 2010. Jimenez seemed to personify the personality around which the Rockies were hoping to build their long-term success.
The trade seemed to make a scapegoat out of Jimenez, who had scuffled badly in 2011 thanks most directly to a loss of velocity and sharpness on the hill. Instead of the confidence which each Ubaldo start brought to the Rockies the year before, the Jimenez of 2011 was a dangerous mixed bag. But Jimenez had earned enough goodwill with Rockies fans that they were willing to write off his loss in form to nagging injuries, and willing to wait as long as it took for that dazzling fastball and six-pitch mix to return. For him to have been traded felt like nothing short of a betrayal. We knew Ubaldo Jimenez, and we knew he didn't deserve to be treated this way.
And then, on Wednesday, a Tracy Ringolsby column on Foxsports.com showed us we didn't know what we thought we did.
In the column, Jimenez admitted that the ugly rumors that Rockies fans were so eager to dismiss out of hand back in July were, in fact, true - that he viewed a lack of a long-term extension similar to Carlos Gonzalez's and Troy Tulowitzki's as a sign of disrespect, and wanted to be traded as a result. More damningly, Jimenez copped to trying to pitch through injury as the season wore on so that he would remain off the disabled list and remain eligible to be traded. Jimenez want the Rockies to move him so badly that he intentionally pitched at less than his best, costing the Rockies dearly as an 11-2 start (accomplished, you'll recall, with Jimenez on the disabled list) turned into a disastrous season.
And on this day, with this revelation, Rockies fans have every right to feel as betrayed as they felt last July - but not by the ballclub they root for. We didn't know Ubaldo Jimenez after all. Jimenez, it turned out, was just as selfish as anyone else, to the point of harming his own ballclub in search of his own personal aspiration, which was to be anywhere but Colorado. He was not, it turned out, the poster boy for character and accountability that we all assumed. The Rockies were not, it turned out, trading away a beloved start - they were trading away a cancer, a player who submarined a promising season for his own team, in the process costing himself a chance to become adequately healthy and have the kind of follow-up campaign that his marvelous 2010 deserved.
The Rockies never took a contract extension off the table. As Denver Post Rockies writer Troy Renck tweeted, the Rockies came to Jimenez in May and reiterated their desire to work something out with him if he finished the season strongly. But Ubaldo's mind was made up - he had been disrespected, and he wanted out. And eventually, he got his wish. And he'll continue to pitch under the same contract, only now he'll do so for the Cleveland Indians. The Ringolsby article says he feels happy, and feels wanted. Maybe he'll bounce back and be the pitcher he was in 2010. Maybe that triple-digit fastball is gone forever and the Rockies sold him at his highest remaining point of value.
One thing is for certain - the events of last July 30 are now recast in a different light. Rockies fans weren't betrayed on that night. They were betrayed in the spring, when a selfish individual put his own interests over his team. And instead of Ubaldo Jimenez standing as an unfairly-chosen scapegoat for a season gone wrong, he stands as further proof of the hard truth that as much as we think we know the players we root for, we really don't know anything about them.
Yes, July 30 is a different memory, now. A worse one.