Respecting the Rockies

I worry that my earlier reference to the flukishness of the Rockies' current run suggests a general lack of respect for that team and its accomplishments. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I've been following the Rockies on-and-off all season, usually via this guy's blog; along with the Brewers, Royals, and Pirates - and until last year, the Tigers - they're one of the down-and-out franchises I pull for every season (except when they play the Red Sox, of course). I won't say I saw this run coming, but at the very least I could talk intelligently about Troy Tulowitzki, Manny Corpas and Ubaldo Jimenez back in August.

The crucial question, of course, is whether a team that's less than fifteen years old deserves the same kind of goodwill that older teams - and long-suffering fan bases - like Detroit and Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Kansas City merit from out-of-town baseball fans like myself. The other day, Bill Simmons wrote of the NLCS:

No matter how much you love baseball, it's nearly impossible to care about the Colorado-Arizona series. You might watch it, you might enjoy it, you might even gamble on it ... but unless you're an absolute baseball nut or a Rockies/D-backs fan, how could you honestly care who wins when neither franchise is older than Jamie-Lynn Spears? It's like going to a wedding in which you don't know anything about the bride or the groom ...

Anyway, a friend of mine who works in the sports world got me thinking about this on Monday when he e-mailed just to say, "Colorado versus Arizona might be the least watched LCS in baseball history. Who the hell cares about either team? I'm convinced that sports is all about history. If there's history, it's interesting. If not, who cares? People need the emotional attachment that comes from a lifetime of cheering for the same team -- and especially when their parents rooted for the same franchise."

He's since backtracked a bit, but it's a reasonable point: Aren't the Rockies too new, too un-historied, their fans too unacquainted with suffering, to deserve our love?

I say no, and here's why. Unlike other recent expansion teams - the Marlins, the Diamondbacks - who have tasted way more success than their fan bases deserve at this stage in their history, the Rockies have entered baseball the old-fashioned expansion-team way: With a decade or so of relative futility. Sure, they had some decent teams in the mid-'90s, and snuck into a Wild Card berth once, but basically they've been terrible, with six straight losing seasons to their name before this year. Which is how it's supposed to be for expansion teams: You break in your fan base with consistent mediocrity punctuated by outright awfulness, whittle your attendance down from the sellouts of the opening season or two, and then, once you've acquainted the good people of your city with years of losing baseball, you make the Leap. This Rockies' team is thus the equivalent of the '69 Miracle Mets, or the '95 "Refuse to Lose" Mariners: It's a squad that fans will remember for years and decades as the team that put baseball on the map in Denver with an absolutely incredible, improbable, only-in-baseball late-season run. And like those teams, it deserves the affection of baseball fans everywhere. The kind of history that Simmons and his friend are talking about has to start somewhere; for the Rockies, it starts here.