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Paul Klee: Rare as a Colorado solar eclipse, Broncos open training camp with Rockies in playoff hunt

By: Paul Klee
July 22, 2017 Updated: July 24, 2017 at 7:18 am
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Players get warmed up during the Broncos training camp at the UCHealth Training Center on Thursday, July 28, 2016. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette

DENVER — Ah, memories.

“One of my favorite memories that really stuck was when I was in eighth-period Spanish,” said Kyle Freeland, a most high-profile Denver Public Schools spokesperson and the starting left-handed pitcher for the Rockies against the Pirates on Sunday. “The Rockies were playing a day game.”

And it was Rocktober, baby. In my lifetime the where were you when sports moments include, but definitely are not limited to (we've been #blessed), the Miracle in Michigan, Uwe Krupp from the blue line, the Elway-copter.

And Rocktober, so good it lasted a whole month.

Colorado sports are about to get good — really good, if the Rockies stay relevant. With the Rox entering Saturday with a 5.5-game lead in the Wild Card, and the Broncos opening training camp Thursday with a new coach (and quarterback conundrum), fanatics are faced with a phenomenon as rare as a solar eclipse: the Rockies in a playoff chase while the Broncos get it rolling.

It figures, then, that the actual eclipse is Aug. 21. For the first time in almost a century, a total solar eclipse will span the United States, from coast to coast, the 60-mile-wide band of totality stretching directly over Casper, which will host the Wyoming Eclipse Festival. The most recent coast-to-coast eclipse arrived in 1918. The next one through Colorado won't come until 2045.

The stars are dimming, and aligning: the Broncos and Rockies are both off on Aug. 21. Hmmm. This could be one celestial season. Sun's out, fun's out.

It’s been eight years since the Rox played a postseason, 10 since Rocktober — not 99 years, but they are past due. On the occasion the Rockies and Broncos intersect, the local baseball club faces its stiffest challenge to date.

Not Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers. The Rockies' challenge is fending off Broncos Country and the overwhelming attention afforded the football franchise.

“It was like that at Oklahoma, too,” Sooner boomer Jon Gray said. “Everybody was focused on football all the time, no matter what.”

Hey, the Broncos earned it. It has always been my argument that if the Rox play something like 33 seasons with only five losing records — as the Bowlen Broncos have done — the foot traffic on 20th and Blake would rival rush hour on I-25. Build a winner, they will come — more than they already do.

Since the Colorado sports eclipse is science, I conducted a scientific poll of 12 high school buddies, all diehards of Denver's teams: If the Broncos and playoff-chasing Rockies are on TV at the same time, which one are you watching? The results spoke volumes. Eight voted Rox, three voted Broncos. One voted Nuggets, proving only that every gang of friends has a contrarian.

Their remaining schedules are good for business. The Broncos and Rockies overlap home games on two dates — Sept. 17 (Cowboys at Broncos at 2:25 p.m.; Padres at Rockies at 1:10 p.m.) and Oct. 1 (Raiders at Broncos at 2:25 p.m.; Dodgers at Rockies at 1:10 p.m. in a regular-season finale shaping into a sit-the-big-guns game for the ridiculous Dodgers, who are running away with the National League West). Go to church those Sundays. Pray for parking.

There will never be another Rocktober. But there can be another Broncos-Rockies meaningful autumn, as there was in ’95, ’07 and ’09, and as there should be in ’17.

“It was a hard push around here, playing baseball, you know? You've got the Broncos playing football and you’ve got the Avs doing what they were doing,” then-Rocktober manager and now-Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Thursday. “It’s similar to what we’re going through in Pittsburgh — a generation of fans were kind of twisted on baseball. It’s a third option.”

A born-and-raised native and Thomas Jefferson grad, Freeland knows the hierarchy around these hills. Orange trumps all. Can these Rockies compete with Broncos Country for eyes and ears in autumn?

“I think we’re going to do everything we can to hold their attention away from football a little bit and have them keep their focus on us,” Freeland told me.

Perhaps because it’s getting deeper and deeper into the rearview mirror, it’s easy to forget the hold that playoff baseball has around here. The Rocktober vibe was every bit as thick as a Broncos playoff push. And the man from Denver, who was 14 at the time, can’t shake his Rocktober memories.

“My brother had eighth period off and he was my ride home. He was a senior that year,” Freeland said. “He was texting me updates, because he was listening in his car on the radio and I was in class. I couldn’t watch. Our teacher didn’t allow us to watch. 

"When Kaz (Matsui) hit the grand slam (against the Phillies in the NLDS) half our classroom kind of freaked out and started making a ton of noise.”

Make playoff noise again, Rockies. This state is big enough for both.

Twitter: @bypaulklee

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