DENVER — Kyle Freeland wears a Front Range tattoo like he was born and raised here or something. He’s the ferocious competitor who’s become a baseball hero to Colorado kids.
Add another title to his resume: Rockies marketing intern. On the day pitchers and catchers reported to spring training in Arizona, Freeland was put in the unwinnable position of pitchman for fans who still can’t believe the team gave away Nolan Arenado and $50 million.
The 27-year-old Freeland gave it his all: “I would tell [fans] to focus on the group that we have. We have some incredible players on this team. We may be young. We may not have the superstars that other teams are stacked up on. But I said it last year: I don’t mind being a snake in the grass. This is a great opportunity for us to shock the world.”
I mean, what else is he supposed to say?
But I’m here to push back on the silly idea Rockies fans should boycott Coors Field come Opening Day on April 1. What, a full year of fan bans wasn’t long enough, and folks should voluntarily prolong their absence? No thanks. That kind of misery doesn’t deserve company.
Plus, it’s a stroll in the park to be a supporter of the Dodgers and their $217 million payroll, the Yankees and 27 world titles, or the Cards who pirated Arenado off Colorado’s front porch. Try being a Rockies fan. A quarter century without a division title, and year after year after year, the faithful still show up to root on the home team. Now that’s love. That’s some real allegiance.
Enjoy the sunset, if not the ballgame. You’ve earned it. And as for the thousands of Cubs, Cards and Dodgers fans who cram into Coors Field, it’s hardly Colorado’s fault that Chicago, St. Louis and Los Angeles grew into places you don’t want to live anymore. That’s not on us.
And maybe in 2031, when the state allows folks to return to Coors Field, Rockies fans will take a different approach. Who knows? Even the state of New York is allowing sports fans at games now. Colorado can’t be more than a decade behind.
Aside from Freeland's “shock the world” pitch — which is never a good sign on Day 1 — the Rockies took a realistic approach to the start of spring training. Austin Gomber, the pitcher included in the Arenado trade, said he can’t control if he is the answer to a trivia question.
“There’s nothing I can do about it,” said Gomber, who is expected to compete for the No. 5 spot in the rotation.
Scott Oberg recapped a post-Arenado meeting with vets like Trevor Story and Ian Desmond.
“We lost one of our brothers. We lost one of our guys. But we still have a job to do. We still have to stick together,” Oberg said. “We’re trying to stay positive as much as we can.”
Boy, Salt River Fields must be the only spot in Arizona without sunshine.
“Any time you lose a player like Nolan Arenado, it’s going to hurt, and there’s going to be a lot of question marks from a lot of different people,” Oberg said. “I think the intention was to make sure we’re all sticking together. You never want to see a clubhouse go 25-26 different directions.”
The Padres gave $340 million to shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. The Dodgers awarded $102 million to Trevor Bauer, a reigning Cy Young. The Rockies gave away Arenado. Go get ‘em, skip!
“You’ve got to turn the page quickly,” Bud Black said. “You can’t dwell on certain things.”
It's usually a good idea to consult Las Vegas when making predictions, and only one team is expected to win fewer than the Rockies. The Pirates’ over-under is 59.5, the Rockies’ 64.5.
That’s because MLB’s extensive COVID-19 protocols are destined to weigh heaviest on the teams that are out of a pennant chase. Maintaining an optimistic clubhouse was a whole lot easier when the season was only 60 games. But this next one is scheduled for a full 162.
“I think (last year) there was always light at the end of the tunnel: ‘We’re going to get through this,’” Black said, adding, “Here, we’re doing this from the start. I think the hope is some of these protocols lessen and we get to some sense of normalcy as we get into the summer.”
The trust of Rockies fans was broken when GM Jeff Bridich traded away Arenado and owner Dick Monfort signed off on it. But there’s another erosion of trust at work here, too. Rockies lifers like Freeland, Ryan McMahon and Trevor Story also came up through the farm system, from Asheville to Tulsa to Colorado Springs. If the team was willing to trash a relationship with the great Nolan Arenado, what does that say of their value to the team? There can’t be a man left standing in the clubhouse who believes this is a franchise in it to win it.
“We’re all homegrown,” Freeland said. “We’ve been through the ranks together.”
So was Nolan.