DENVER • The beer garden across the street, a gravel bump of nothing, was full of drinkers by 11 a.m. on a Friday. Entrepreneurs charged $90 for a parking spot that might fit a Prius, maybe.
What is this, Fenway Park?
By the time the smell of baseball joined the smell of weed in Lower Downtown, St. Patrick’s Day had been nudged to No. 2 on the list of unofficial state holidays. After Coors Field’s biggest opening day yet the takeaway wasn’t the score — Dodgers 10, Rockies 6 — but the sheer booooom of a city and state that grew another neighborhood in the time it took to scroll down or turn the page.
“They brought it today,” All-Star shortstop Trevor Story said of a crowd of 48,404 that seemed to never end. “We really didn’t.”
The busiest bar days for nearby Blake Street Tavern, according to owner Chris Fuselier: 3. A Super Bowl featuring the Broncos or Patriots; 2. St. Patty’s; 1. Rockies opening day.
“We are on pace for our busiest day ever” with between 5,000-6,000 patrons, Fuselier said.
And that’s one bar. It’s unbelievable, all of it — what’s happening around these hills. And at no time or place is Colorado’s explosion more evident than on a bluebird afternoon at 20th and Blake. Coors Field stands as the red-brick symbol of a state that’s growing beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, or nightmares.
Twenty-four years later, and Coors Field’s impact on Colorado, and how the ballpark serves as a man-made centerpiece for the state, blows me away. Really does. On a workday the Rox could’ve filled Mile High, like the old days. And unlike many traditional baseball cities these folks actually have other entertainment options, and no World Series titles to remember.
Going with the flow, the Rockies and owner Dick Monfort are keeping up with the Joneses. No, really. No more booing ownership in this space or elsewhere after the Rockies dished out $100 million on a remade bullpen, $108 million to Charlie Blackmon and, most telling of a kinder philosophy, $260 million to Nolan Arenado, the all-world third baseman. The Rox are spending.
“We’ve always spent — or about the last seven or eight years — about the same percentage of our revenue (about 50-55 percent, he said). There were probably a couple years where that wasn’t true,” Monfort said alongside the batting cage where Arenado took his pregame cuts.
Then the kicker: “Last year we had 3 million (fans) for the first time since 2001,” he said.
As Colorado grows, the Coors neighborhood grows, the payroll grows. Perhaps when one spigot shuts off the others will too. But for now the Rox are spending as if they are in it to win it. The payroll sits at $147 million, according to Spotrac.com, 12th in Major League Baseball and directly ahead of Bryce Harper’s Phillies and the Texas Rangers, whose pockets run deep.
“Next year we’re going to have a payroll that’s really going to be taxing on us. But I think we’ll figure a way around it,” Monfort said.
“And then the next year it’ll back off a little bit. We want to have a good team. I’d rather have Trevor Story (for example) than somebody out in free agency.”
Scratch another preconceived notion from the list. The Nuggets are flourishing on defense, the Broncos forgot how to win. The Rockies debuted a clubhouse that could double as a nightclub and a roster that could buy a couple of dozen.
“What I’ve come to appreciate is how Denver does it and how the Rockies do it,” manager Bud Black said of opening day.
“It’s awesome. I think of all 30 teams, I think we do it right. I think we do it the best,” he said.
Oh, right. The game. All of this is about the game: the Rockies have paid enough good players to compete for the National League West title.
Now it’s on the players and Black to hit, pitch and manage at a level that suggests Monfort should keep his wallet open for business.
It’s super early, but right now they’re not. The lineup looks like the same lineup that struggled to score runs the past two seasons. Coaching decisions perplexed, particularly when Blackmon was sent home as the Rockies faced a seven-run deficit. Chuck was thrown out, and Trevor Story homered in the next at-bat. Can’t give away runs that are tough to find in the first place.
“We’re an aggressive team,” Arenado said. “Sometimes we live and die by taking aggressive swings.”
The Rox have scored 23 runs in eight games. The Dodgers had 55 runs through eight games.
“It just seems like when they hit the ball they put it at the right launch angle to hit it out,” said Rockies starter Tyler Anderson, banged around for six runs in four innings.
Did I mention down the street they’re building McGregor Square, a giant hotel, fancy condos and a cluster of more bars and restaurants? That’s what we are, an adult playland. Grin City.
You can fight the growth until green “Native” bumper stickers turn red. But there’s no stopping the Colorado boom, and this opening day again proved the other state capitol is Coors Field. On a Friday in April, with no worries beyond a sunburn, a group of friends fired up the grill on a rooftop over left field.
What is this, Wrigley Field?
Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at email@example.com or on Twitter at @bypaulklee