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Paul Klee: New manager Bud Black embraces playoff talk with Colorado Rockies

By: Paul Klee
February 12, 2017 Updated: February 13, 2017 at 9:52 am
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Newly-named Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black poses for photographers on the diamond in Coors Field following a news conference to introduce him as the new skipper on Monday, Nov. 7, 2016, in Denver. Black succeeds Walt Weiss, who left after four seasons as manager at the conclusion of the regular season. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

DENVER - It has been decided, by the popular vote, the Rockies will always stink.

That's the perception, anyway, from Grand Junction to Bristol to the tipsy bars in LoDo. Mercifully, in baseball and other things, what's popular isn't always right: Never in the ballclub's history has a new manager click-clacked his cleats up the dugout steps at Coors Field with a better opportunity to win. The closest would be Don Baylor. With 50,000 fans at every game in Colorado's first season, he couldn't lose.

The seventh manager - Harry Ralston Black, but please, call him "Buddy" - arrives here not with the bases loaded, but on first and second with Nolan Arenado at bat. As pitchers and catchers report to Salt River Fields on Monday, the smart move is for the new skipper to lasso expectations before they rumble out of reach. That's what they teach at coaching school, a course that could be dubbed "CYA 101." Buddy's different - not solely because he's the first former pitcher to manage the Rockies in a ballpark that screams for one. When I asked Black if he believes his first roster is a playoff roster, he responded with the affirmative: "I do, yeah."

Hey, don't mind the Negative Nancys and Debbie Downers. Go on.

"I like the expectation. I think this is a team that's trending in the right way as far as performance. Again, I know we've got to do it on the field," said Black, a 59-year-old man smart enough to live between San Diego and Denver. "I think the talent base is to a point where there is an expectation, and you want that type of expectation. We should have that expectation."

Let's not stretch the truth here. Black, who has spent 37 years in Major League Baseball, didn't take the toughest coaching job in pro sports because his mother-in-law lives in Parker and his daughter got married in Keystone; or because the 6-handicap golfer - he used to play scratch golf - knows altitude adds a club to a club-and-half difference on a Titleist ("That's a good thing, though," Black said); or even because the Rockies finally can talk playoffs without prompting a chuckle.

"There's only 30 of these jobs," Black said. "You sort of go where's an opportunity."

But it didn't hurt. And Black, who's trying to prove nice guys can finish first, is doing what the new guy is not supposed to do in this situation. He's welcoming the talk.

"Players love to hear that stuff. Players like to be thought of in that regard. That's a motivator," he said. "I'm a believer that players put as much or more pressure on themselves to succeed than they get pressure from the outside. I think players embrace that tag of being a playoff-contending team or one on the way up."

It took 87 wins to qualify for the National League playoffs in 2016. The Rockies won 75 and have eclipsed 87 wins only twice in 24 seasons. No matter what the overly sensitive organization says, the annual and widespread doubt is 100 percent justified.

The Rockies are on a prove-it-or-lose-it basis.

One by one, they've also confronted the knocks against them: Raising the starting pitching to a respectable standard, upping the payroll to 17th in the big leagues, according to Spotrac, and hiring a proven manager to help all the loose ends meet. Next up: the bullpen.

"The new guys that we brought in - (Greg) Holland and (Mike) Dunn - we think are very legitimate major-league pitchers that have done it before," Black said.

The challenges of Coors Field are real. What are Black's thoughts on a challenge no one has mastered for any length of time?

On managing a season at 5,280 feet: "It's a little different style of game based on the offensive capabilities of playing in Denver. You really have to be aware of what's going on with your pitcher and pitching staff as you start a series. From a visiting side, the 3-4 days you might be playing there you have to critically evaluate each and every inning - even though the game is going on right in front of you, plus what's coming up after that (game). I'm sure that's the challenge for Rockies managers."

On competing in the NL West alongside the biggest and fifth-biggest payrolls in baseball, the Dodgers and Giants: "They're always going to be there. They have those resources, just like the Yankees and Red Sox and Cubs and a couple other clubs. We've all come to know in different markets that you have draft correctly, develop the right way and the players have to perform. But it all starts with getting the right players. Jeff (Bridich, the general manager) and the (front office) have done that."

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Twitter: @bypaulklee

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