Triple-A baseball in Colorado Springs was not built to last.
And, as we know, it will not last. The Triple-A version of the Sky Sox is fleeing to San Antonio in 2019, ending three decades in the Springs.
The Elmore family, owners of the Sky Sox, use altitude to justify the departure.
I wish the family would be honest. What is the true reason for moving to San Antonio, the largest city in America without a Major League Baseball franchise?
The Elmores hope to make more money in Texas.
More cash should await the family in the Lone Star State. San Antonio is in close proximity to other Pacific Coast League franchises, which will ease the Elmores' travel budget. San Antonio boasts a population of 1.5 million, or a million more possible customers than Colorado Springs.
Altitude is a reason for the departure, but it’s not the prime reason. Money drew the Elmores to San Antonio, and maybe money will keep them there.
In 1988, the Elmores constructed a bewilderingly modest stadium on the eastern edge of the Springs. In 2003, I drove to this baseball structure for the first time and wondered if I had arrived at the wrong place.
No way, I said to myself, is this a Triple-A baseball park. A nice destination for a high school game, but a joke for a team competing one step below the bigs. I will say this: Security Service Field will serve as ideal home for the Pioneer League (Rookie League) version of the Sky Sox. The Rookie League is a truly minor version of minor league baseball.
Meanwhile, a mere 70.3 miles away, the Rockies compete in a baseball palace. Coors Field is not only one of the finest stadiums in America; it’s one of the most glorious sports structures anywhere.
At Coors, you can sit high on the first base line and watch the sun set over the Rockies while savoring baseball played at its highest level.
That’s serious competition for a minor league team a little more than an hour away on the interstate.
From 1993 to 2014, the Rockies served as baseball parents for the Sky Sox. In the final years of this family arrangement, the Rockies were pathetic parents who cared little – or maybe not at all – if their Triple-A child thrived. The Sky Sox stumbled to losing records in eight of their final 10 seasons under the Rockies' direction, including a 53-91 finale in 2014.
The Rockies were lacking as parents – the kind that sit there and do nothing while their children howl and throw forks at a fancy restaurant.
But the Sky Sox, under the Elmores' care, were equally lousy children.
The Elmores grew too comfortable in their ridiculously unambitious stadium. Their cozy, tiny, oddball ballpark on the east side was a nice starter stadium. It should never have served as the permanent home of a Triple A team.
An intelligently designed downtown stadium could have offered views of Pikes Peak along with architectural tricks to lessen the impact of harsh winds. A sleek, modern downtown stadium could have soared as an American Triple A showcase and a suitable companion piece to Coors Field. A new stadium would have shouted that the Elmores cared as much about Colorado Springs as they care about their wallets.
A downtown stadium would have cost the Elmores a big chunk of their precious cash, but a downtown stadium might have rescued the shaky Rockies-Sky Sox family.
Still, it should be said a downtown stadium would have been risky. Turns out, there was only one big league team that could work peacefully with Colorado Springs and its altitude:
No other baseball marriage made sense. Turns out, no other baseball marriage could last. The Brewers, who play at an altitude of 617 feet in Milwaukee, have no reason to prepare pitchers for thin air.
If the Elmores and taxpayers had spent, say, $50 million to build a downtown stadium, the Rockies might still have bolted. The Rockies can be a bit whiny and impulsive and disloyal, and a gleaming stadium would not have erased those character issues.
It’s easy, and wrong, to get nostalgic about the Rockies-Sky Sox marriage. The Rockies were disinterested parents who forced fans in the Springs to suffer through a decade of blundering baseball teams. The Elmores, living far away, never made the required investment or showed the needed commitment to ensure Triple-A baseball would remain in the Springs.
Triple-A baseball lacked the foundation to survive in a beautiful, thriving American city on the edge of the mountains.
It’s surprising, really, this shaky foundation held fast for so long.