Fitting that weather provided the final nudge, pushing the Sky Sox off to San Antonio and into memory.
It was always weather, or some other offshoot of playing at America’s highest professional ballpark, that doomed Triple-A baseball in this city.
With rain coming Saturday and Colorado Springs one win from clinching a playoff berth, it was a race to get into the lead. The Sky Sox scored four runs in the fifth to lead 4-2. Had the skies opened then, they would have won the division.
But the rains came minutes too late, just after Oklahoma City scored two in the sixth to tie it. The teams returned the next day to finish the game and the Sky Sox lost in extra innings. They lost the next three, too, and 31 seasons of Triple-A baseball came to abrupt halt.
When the gates of Security Service Field open again in June, it will be a short-season Rookie League team taking the field under a different name.
For those looking to pinpoint a cause of death of the Sky Sox, the simplest answer lies in the 6,531 feet that team’s stadium rises above sea level. The altitude may seem an easy scapegoat, but that makes it no less true.
The Rockies, the team’s longtime parent club, cut ties after the 2014 season, citing issues with developing pitching in the thin air. The Sky Sox routinely ranked near the bottom of the league in ERA, which is a lousy way to develop the most important asset in the game. Perhaps a new, publicly funded stadium could have prompted the Rockies to tolerate the shortcomings, but we’ll never know. The city’s voters seemed disinterested in paying for a new home, and Colorado promptly left.
The altitude had always made at least some sense for the Rockies, as their pitchers are asked to work at 5,200 feet. But once the Brewers arrived, the long-term prognosis looked grim. And sure enough, from the Indians to Rockies to Brewers, it was one-two-three strikes they’re out.
It wasn’t just the pitching touched by altitude. The area’s frigid spring weather led to delays, cancellations and tiny gate numbers in the early months of the season.
Age and natural causes were also heavily in play. Like Portland, Ore., Edmonton, Tucson and many others before it, Colorado Springs simply couldn’t sustain a Triple-A team despite a population that would suggest otherwise. It’s the way of the minor leagues.
Cities like Amarillo grow, feel something is lacking, and find a way through civic energy — and $45.5 million — to fill that void with an affiliated baseball team. It takes equal and opposite civic energy to keep a team once the momentum is leading it away, and such an effort never materialized. If there was a Save the Sox rally or parade, it was kept quiet. And the attendance numbers weren’t going to keep the team here, as the team ranked last over the final three years in the Pacific Coast League.
Ultimately, the plug was pulled by the Elmore Sports Group, which brought the team here initially from Hawaii in part to escape the heavy travel costs. They’ll now operate a Triple-A team in San Antonio. The group’s Double-A team will then slide from the Alamo City to Amarillo, playing next year in a brand new stadium.
Colorado Springs gets the short-season team, which will plug into the calendar as the most opportune time in terms of weather. Helena, Mont., will lose that team and be left without baseball.
The Sky Sox are survived by their parent club, the Milwaukee Brewers; who wound up here for the 2015 season because all other options had closed.
They leave behind two Pacific Coast League Championships, an iconic mascot in Sox the Fox (who will remain), a legacy of innovation that included placing a hot tub down the right-field line (also not going anywhere), and three decades worth of memories.
For many, the memories will include watching Hall of Famer Jim Thome before his big-league arrival. Or maybe it was Todd Helton, Matt Holliday, Albert Belle, Carlos Gonzalez and Nolan Arenado, each of whom wore a Sky Sox uniform. Countless future superstars emerged from the opposing clubhouse as well, players like Buster Posey, Carlos Correa and Kris Bryant to highlight some of the more recent examples.
Brandon Hynick tossed a perfect game here in 2009 for the home team. Dexter Fowler hit for the cycle here. Tim Dillard recorded hilarious videos here that will make the rounds for years to come.
For many more, the memories consisted of fireworks, $2 Tuesday specials, guest performers and in-stadium giveaways.
Affiliated minor league baseball will live on in Colorado Springs. Triple-A baseball will not. This storm, a 31-year run highlighted by thundering offensive performances, has run its course and blown off toward Texas.