The day I fell in love with baseball

A pair of jets fly over Coors Field during introductions with the San Diego Padres and the Colorado Rockies looking on before the Rockies' home opener on April 8 in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

My recollection is that it was my freshman year of high school.

If it was that year, tells me it was a 9-6 loss to the Chicago Cubs.

To be honest, I don’t remember the game so much as I remember the experience.

“There’s so much about the game that appeals to the intellectual and to the psyche; the symmetry of it, the orderliness of it, the justice of it...the fact that it throws off other controls. It’s greater than time strictures. In the other sports you have time — you have to play against the clock, and when the clock runs out your chance is over. No clock in baseball. You play until you lose, and if you can keep that rally alive, if you can keep going, if you can keep getting hits you can play until a week from now. Nothing stops you. There is no parameter that makes it impossible for you to perform still more excellently.”

— Mario Cuomo, in Ken Burns’ Baseball

It was the home opener for the Colorado Rockies — or that’s how I remember it. My father surprised me with tickets for an early season game. He picked me up at school and we drove the 60 miles or so to Coors Field, the Rockies’ gorgeous ballpark that had opened the year before.

We had seats right behind home plate, up in the third deck. What an amazing view those seats had. We could see balls and strikes right over the umpire’s shoulder. In the distance was Long’s Peak, 50 miles to the northwest, the mountain who’s shadow I grew up underneath. The city-scape fading off into the horizon to the northeast.

“The first thing about it — and this seems so obvious that maybe we overlook it — baseball is a beautiful thing. It’s more beautiful in an old park that’s asymmetrical and quirky, but even, and I hate to say this because it might encourage them, but even in a dome with artificial turf it’s beautiful; the way the field fans out, the choreography of the sport, the pace and rhythm of it, the fact that that pace and rhythm allows for conversation and reflection and opinion and comparison...”

— Bob Costas, in Ken Burns’ Baseball

I was 14 — soon to be 15 — on that day. Much older than many people who fall in love with the game of baseball.

I certainly was starting to before then, but I think that was the day.

I grew up a mild Braves fan. In Colorado, a Major League wasteland, we saw baseball in only a few manners. We’d either catch the Cubs on WGN, the Braves on TBS or the Sunday afternoon games on Fox or ESPN — and for my family in Spring Training in Arizona.

Dad hated the Cubs. Dad still hates the Cubs. So I was a Braves fan.

Once a year, my family would head to Mile High Stadium for a Denver Zephyrs game. The Zephyrs made their own mark in history as a farm club of the New York Yankees in the 1950s and 1960s when they were known as the Denver Bears.

Whitey Herzog hit 21 home runs in 1955 playing for Denver and Don Larsen went 9-1 with a 3.69 ERA that same season. Even one Tom Lasorda, who had a cup of coffee in the majors and toiled in the minors for 14 seasons played in Denver. You might have heard of him in the next step in his baseball career: Manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

I wonder if anyone worried about their home-road splits in the 1950s?

That history, however, isn’t big league history and tends to be forgotten. Likewise, none of that sunk in for me, either.

In 1991 MLB announced that Denver and Miami would be the recipients of expansion teams. Suddenly, Denver, and the entire Rocky Mountain region was no longer a wasteland.

In 1993, the seeds were sewn for me to become a baseball fan. I remember watching Eric Young hit a home run in the Rockies’ first official at bat in Denver.

I remember sitting in the bleachers at Mile High watching the Rockies take on teams I’d seen only on TV before then — the Atlanta Braves, the Houston Astros.

But there was something about that trip to Coors Field on a warm, April day in 1996 that made everything stick. I don’t recall whether it was the first time I walked through the gates and saw the wrought-iron decorations and the purple row at exactly a mile high, or the pine trees in center field — it probably wasn’t as they’d played at Coors for a year before then — but that was the day that made me love baseball.