February 25, 2013
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Sitting in a deep, cushy chair inside the Rockies' clubhouse in the Arizona desert, Dante Bichette was worlds away from Coors Field.
Bichette wants to bring it back to 17th and Blake.
"Coors Field, it’s the greatest place in the world to play baseball," Bichette told me Monday at Salt River Fields. "As a player, you love playing there. No lead is safe!"
And no one said Blake Street Bombers more than Bichette. Guess what: He's back, in his first season as the Rockies' hitting coach, with a message and a mission:
"People come into that ballpark with a lot of fear. They don’t want to be there. They want to get out of town as soon as possible. You have to use that to your advantage. That's what we want to do. It’s a fun place to play — if you use it to your advantage.”
There’s the catch. With Coors Field, there’s always a catch.
If you use it to your advantage.
On the sunny afternoon Walt Weiss was introduced as Rockies' manager, he made it a priority to make Coors Field a priority. Three games into his first spring training as skipper, Weiss' belief that altitude should be an advantage — not an excuse for losing — is even stronger.
“It’s one of the biggest homefield advantages in all of baseball,” Weiss said. “Opposing pitchers that come in there, a lot of them feel vulnerable right away because of the park.”
If I listed all of the qualities I appreciate about Weiss so far, your morning coffee would turn cold.
For starters, there's this: Weiss embraces Coors Field. He embraces the perks (without citing them as negatives) that come with it. He views Coors Field as where it must begin if the Rockies are going to transform from doormat to dangerous.
Here's what has bugged me since the days of Ellis Burks: Each time the mile-high altitude comes up in baseball conversation, it seems to carry a negative connotation.
It’s like an Oscar-nominated actor who doesn’t take home the trophy, or saying there aren't four seasons of weather in Scottsdale. These are not bummers; these are blessings.
"I can tell you, from personal experience, people don’t want to come in and play there,” Bichette said, sipping a coffee at 5 p.m.
For pitchers, stepping onto the mound at Coors Field is stepping into a baseball psychiatrist's office. Let the (mind) games begin.
"The big thing is knowing where to start (the pitch), knowing it’s not going to break as much," said Chris Volstad, who started for Colorado in a 9-1 win over Texas on Monday.
No team has a ballpark quite like Colorado's mile-high home. Weiss and Bichette share the same perspective: That should be an advantage, not an alibi.
"We always knew we had a chance — no matter the score in the fifth inning," Bichette said.
Is there a better source on the subject?
The Blake Street Bombers led the NL in hits, runs, home runs, batting average. You name it, those Rockies probably bashed it.
Unless there is a better one, the ’97 club provides the clearest blueprint for how to win at Coors Field — a video-game offense and pitching that doesn't mess it up.
Weiss won’t ignore the basics that baseball people say win championships: Pitching and defense.
But good luck fielding a rotation that is the main reason the Rockies win their first division title. Coors Field is, and always will be, about scoring runs like there's an ice-cold Fat Tire waiting at home plate.
"It was a thing. It was a real thing,” Bichette said of the Bombers, one of seven seasons as a Rockies slugger.
“We knew in the fourth or fifth inning, we were going to light somebody up. No matter what. We knew it. We’re down four or five runs? That’s nothing. We knew we were going to get four or five runs. Somebody’s going to hit a three-run bomb and probably two people will.”
The hitting coach sees a Rockies lineup that can produce video-game numbers again in 2013.
"There’s power at every spot in that order," he said. "That’s going to be a scary thing this year if we stay healthy.”
Thankfully, the Rockies staff is taking a positive approach to the game's most unique ballpark: Altitude should create an attitude.
Paul Klee is the Denver sports columnist for The Gazette. He can be reached via email (paul.klee@gazette) or on Twitter (@Klee_Gazette).