DENVER — Weird?
Just a little. Under a classic Colorado sunset, one made for Instagram, the Rockies hosted the 26th Opening Day at Coors Field on Friday. And the Rockies' first designated hitter at Coors wasn’t a top-25 weird thing that happened.
It was weird enough the foul-ball netting has been extended out to Charlie Blackmon in right field... and it protects no fans, because no fans are there to protect. It was weird enough Rockies diehards Phil White and Elizabeth Leary peered through a locked gate into the ballpark, just to get a peek for old times' sake.
“Weirdest opening day we’ve ever had,” Liz said.
“It hurts a little,” said Phil, wearing his lucky Rockies socks.
Sure does. Hurts a lot. I had no idea it would hurt a little, or a lot, until a mom and dad were strolling down Blake Street and tried to explain the whole situation to their kids: “We’ll just have to watch the Rockies at home this time.”
And you know what the Rockies are doing? They’re embracing the weird. They’re seeing the soberest party deck in Coors Field history and aiming for the Coors Light sign. They’re watching 21 Miami Marlins staffers test positive for the coronavirus and countering with zero positive tests of their own. A baseball season shoved into a pandemic was bound to be weird.
So maybe it should come as no surprise the Rockies are 4-2 and, until closer Wade Davis blew a ninth-inning lead Friday, owned the best winning percentage in the National League after one week of a weird season. They lost to the Padres 8-7 before an Opening Day crowd of zero. Their pitching staff entered Friday having allowed the fewest runs in Major League Baseball. After five road games they had the best ERA in the National League.
Should have seen this coming. The Rockies were made for weird.
If they had one, weird would be the Rockies’ middle name. They store baseballs in a place people normally store cigars. They used a four-man rotation before a 60-game season made it fashionable. Their mascot was born to entertain kids ... and Dinger’s head spins like the Exorcist.
What does it feel like inside an empty Coors Field with a game going on?
There’s a high school vibe to MLB games without fans. The chatter is audible. The swearing is audible. On a fly ball, you can hear Nolan Arenado shout what your Little League coach told you to shout: “Got itttt!” Players are doubly engaged, leaning over the dugout railing and yelling "atta-babys," even more so than usual.
Coors Field is not as cool when you guys aren’t there. But it’s what we’ve got, at least for now.
ESPN reported Friday that MLB commissioner Rob “Clueless Joe Jackson” Manfred will consider shutting down the season “if the sport doesn’t do a better job of managing the coronavirus.” A better job? Almost 12,000 tests last week produced 29 positive results. MLB’s positivity rate on coronavirus tests — 32,000 so far — produced a positivity rate of .3 percent.
The most recent seven-day average in El Paso County was 7 percent.
Do we have to completely eliminate the virus, or try to manage it? All along, it was the latter.
Guess the rules changed again.
If I’m a team like the Rockies, I’m furious at the Marlins. I’m going full Joe Kelly on the Marlins. Shortening the season is the surest way a mid-tier payroll like the Rockies or Padres can play with the Dodgers and their $222 million payroll. This is a sweet opportunity, as weird as it is.
And it is weird.
A foul ball off David Dahl's bat ricocheted from Section 133... to Section 134... to Section 135... because Dad wasn't there with a glove to catch it. Blackmon launched a 446-foot home run that no one gathered. Coors Field employees were told to exit the premises immediately when their shift was over. Don’t stick around. Go home.
"It doesn't feel like Opening Day," said Hector, a parking lot attendant in his 26th Rockies season.
True, true. Still beats the alternative.
“The big picture, we’re all hoping for the best. We don’t know how it’s all going to play out,” Rockies manager Bud Black said.
With an empty Coors Field, some of the setting is familiar. You can hear the train sneaking up on the scoreboard. You can feel Nolan Arenado’s disgust on a bad hop. And there was even a point in the eighth inning when a breeze rolled through. Listen hard, and you could hear 50,000 ghosts whisper, “Should’ve brought a jacket.”
Oh, right. Baseball. Weird baseball fits the Rockies, and weird baseball is what America deserves. What’s normal or even sensible right now? You can play slot machines, but not arcade games. Over 500,000 people marched in protests on one day in June, but don’t you dare hold a funeral for a loved one. You can spray paint "All Cops Are Bastards" on the state capitol, but “All Lives Matter” is a no-no. We are obliged to listen to the science, right up until the CDC recommends our kids should return to school in the fall.
None of it makes a whiff of sense.
Except for the Rockies playing well in a weird season. Their greatest season, Rocktober, was as weird as baseball gets. Their worst seasons, they still packed the joint at 20th and Blake.
Weird? The Rockies were made for this.