DENVER - Colorado is proud of Coors Field, and with good reason. On summer nights, fans can relax on the upper deck, watch the sun set over the Rockies and savor the wonders of the best state in America.
On Friday afternoon, throngs of joyous Coloradans gathered in lower downtown to celebrate Opening Day. The bars near Coors Field were brimming with inebriated women and men bidding farewell to the gloom of winter while anticipating those warm nights of summer. The streets surrounding Coors were fragrant with marijuana smoke, our state's official smell.
For years, winning baseball has often seemed secondary to all this downtown fun, but maybe, just maybe, Colorado can be proud this summer of its baseball team.
Last summer, fans embraced a version of the Rockies that failed to deserve the affection. The Rockies finished last in the National League West while still attracting almost 2.8 million fans to Coors. On those breezy summer nights in 2013, the home team often was an afterthought to good times at Coors.
But the Rockies, so often an afterthought, looked mighty Friday. They collected 17 hits while drumming the Arizona Diamondbacks 12-2.
"A good day," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "A good day all around. It couldn't have gone any better."
It was chilly on Friday morning while Weiss watched Carlos Gonzalez launch pitches in batting practice. Gonzalez kept pounding those practice pitches into the second deck in right field.
"You're going to be the first one to hit the ball to the rooftop," Weiss told Gonzalez.
A shot to the rooftop is approximately a 500-foot effort.
In the sixth inning, Gonzalez feasted on a down-the-middle slider from Joe Thatcher.
"A nice, easy swing," Gonzalez said.
The nice, easy swing sent the ball sailing into the Colorado afternoon. The shot just missed reaching the third deck in right field.
Gonzalez laughed as he thought back to the prediction made by Weiss.
"I didn't know it was going to be today," he said.
Gonzalez played in only 110 games last summer while battling injury. The Rockies $80-million man was a shadow of himself.
Opening Day is all about possibility. It's a day to discard pessimism, a day to dance with optimism, a day to savor an astoundingly long home run.
"It is fun whenever things are going your way," Gonzalez said with a smile. "You want to keep going to the plate and hitting."
I realize this is only one afternoon. I realize much peril could be ahead for the Rockies. This team could win 90 games.
Or lose 90 games.
But even if the Rockies pieces fail to blend, the fans will continue to gather at Coors. The stadium is situated in a fun, quirky section of downtown. The views are sensational. The seats are reasonably priced.
Their superlative stadium allows the Rockies to escape the fate of most Colorado sports teams.
On Monday, I watched along with about 10,000 silent fans at Pepsi Center while the Nuggets slogged to another loss. The thousands of empty seats offered a clear message to Nuggets owner Enos Stanley Kroenke:
Win, or else.
Rockies owners enjoy the luxury of never facing such a stern message from Colorado consumers. Their team plays in a baseball palace.
Maybe that team can be worthy of their palace this summer.