The Colorado Rockies arrived in Denver in 1993 and is the only professional baseball team in the Rocky Mountain West. The Rockies compete in Major League Baseball’s National League West Division. Having made the MLB playoffs three times in their short history, the Rockies lost to the Boston Red Sox in their lone World Series appearance in 2007. Since 1995, the team has played its home games at Coors Field at Blake and Twentieth Streets.
The Rockies are well known for fielding exciting hitters—from Larry Walker in the 1990s, to Troy Tulowitzki and Matt Holliday in the 2000s, to Nolan Arenado today. Colorado holds the all-time MLB attendance record for a single season: nearly 4.5 million fans filled the seats at Mile High Stadium during the team’s first full season in 1993.
Early Colorado Teams
Colorado has been home to baseball fans since the territorial period. The Rocky Mountain News first reported the score of a game in 1862 and in 1900 the Denver Bears became the state’s first prominent professional team. By 1955, the Bears were thriving as a farm franchise for the powerful New York Yankees, and in 1957 the team took the top spot in the Junior World Series. Colorado Springs also attracted a minor league team—the Colorado Springs Sky Sox—in 1950. Although this affiliate of the major league Chicago White Sox folded, the Sky Sox were back on the field in 1998 with a new $3.7 million stadium. The Sky Sox served as a farm team for the Rockies until 2014, when they were replaced by the Albuquerque Isotopes. While Coloradans supported their minor league teams throughout the twentieth century, they still held on to big-league baseball dreams.
Blake Street Bombers
Those dreams came true in June 1991, when Major League Baseball awarded new franchises to Denver and Miami. It had been a long road to get to that point, however. Local billionaire Marvin Davis tried to bring a major league team to Denver in the 1970s, but his attempts to buy and move the Chicago White Sox (1976), the Baltimore Orioles (1977), and the Oakland Athletics (1980) all failed. In 1983 John Dikeou, another wealthy Denver businessman, opened a baseball office at Eighteenth and Welton Streets for the purpose of attracting a major league team to the city. Then, new mayor Federico Peña formed the Denver Baseball Commission in 1984 as part of a larger plan to help pull the city out of a recession. Though they had the same goal, Dikeou and the commission never really saw eye to eye, and there were many other cities competing for existing MLB teams. Denver’s big-league dreams again seemed to be fading.
Hope was rekindled in 1985, when the league began accepting proposals for expansion teams. Denver officials quickly realized they would need a new stadium to help attract a franchise, but the city had neither the funds for the project nor a sufficient amount from private donors. In 1988–89, however, local real estate developer and Dikeou’s friend Neil Macey helped get a bill passed in the Colorado legislature that called for a referendum to approve a sales tax increase to fund the stadium. The bill also created the Colorado Baseball Commission, of which Dikeou was appointed chairman. Before the referendum, in February 1990, Dikeou abruptly resigned from the commission and withdrew his offer to own the team. Colorado Governor Roy Romer quickly put together a new ownership group, and in August 1990, voters from the six metro Denver counties approved a one-half of 1 percent sales tax to fund the stadium. The next year, the league awarded Denver its first major-league franchise.
The Colorado Rockies joined the National League (NL) West Division and began playing in 1993. In his team’s first-ever home game on April 9, 1993, Colorado Rockies leadoff batter Eric Young hit a home run. Two years later, the Rockies moved from Mile High Stadium to their taxpayer-funded ballpark, Coors Field. It cost $215 million, and the Coors Brewing Company contributed another $30 million for naming rights. Located at Twentieth and Blake Streets, Coors Field was part of the transformation of Lower Downtown (LoDo) from the city’s Skid Row into a district of sports bars, bistros, and sundry nightlife. Designed with traditional elements of ballpark architecture, including a vintage brick and stone facade, the facility blended into the adjacent LoDo and Ball Park Historic Districts.
Rockies fever quickly developed into a civic phenomenon, second only to Broncomania. Even before the Rockies occupied Coors Field, the team set a major league attendance record by filling 4,483,350 seats during the 1993–94 season. They earned the nickname “Blake Street Bombers” because the thin mile-high air makes it easier to hit long balls. Fans rooted, chanted, and stomped their feet for the likes of outfielder Larry Walker, first baseman Todd Helton, outfielder Matt Holliday, and second baseman Troy Tulowitzki.
Walker, a Canadian slugger, started out with the Montreal Expos before joining the Rockies (1995–2004) as a right fielder. In 1997 he batted .366, with forty-nine home runs, 130 runs batted in, thirty-three stolen bases, and 208 hits to become the first team member to win the National League Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award.
2007 World Series
After Walker retired in 2005, the bats of Helton, Tulowitzki, and Holliday admirably filled the void, leading Colorado to the World Series in 2007. That year, Helton batted .320 and knocked in 91 runs, Tulowitzki batted .291 and drove in 99 runs, and Holliday—a three-time All-Star selection for the Rockies from 2006–08—batted a team-best .340, knocked in 137 runs, and hit thirty-six home runs. Left-hander Jeff Francis anchored the pitching staff, posting a 4.22 earned run average and striking out 165 batters in thirty-four starts.
The Rockies’ run to the postseason that year was historic, coming after the 2006 season in which the team won just seventy-six games and missed the playoffs. But in 2007 Colorado won ninety games, including fourteen of their last fifteen, and their win over the San Diego Padres clinched a playoff berth. Colorado won another seven straight games to reach the World Series. During the National League Championship Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Holliday batted .333, hit two home runs, and was named series MVP. But stellar pitching from the Boston Red Sox stymied the hot-hitting Rockies in the World Series, and the team was swept off baseball’s biggest stage almost as quickly as it arrived.
Even with All-Stars such as Tulowitzki and third baseman Nolan Arenado, the Rockies have struggled in recent years. During a 2015 season in which the team finished last in the NL West with a 68–94 record, Tulowitzki was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays—a sign that the Rockies were entering another rebuilding period. The club did have a few bright spots in 2015, including Arenado, who hit an NL-best forty-two home runs, and second baseman D.J. LeMahieu, who finished the season with the tenth-best batting average in the National League.
In 2016 Arenado again led the NL with forty-one homers and LeMahieu turned in an NL-best .348 average. The Rockies improved to 75–87 and finished third in the division. Manager Walt Weiss, who had led the team since 2013, stepped down after the season. On November 7, 2016, the team announced Bud Black, former manager of the San Diego Padres, as the Rockies’ new manager.
With Black at the helm and center fielder Charlie Blackmon having a career year, the 2017 Rockies got off to a fast start and, as of late August, remain in the National League Wild Card race. Attendance at Rockies games has remained at or above National League averages since 2009.
Parts of this article adapted from Carl Abbott, Stephen J. Leonard, and Thomas J. Noel, Colorado: A History of the Centennial State 4th ed. (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2005).