04/08/2003 1:47 PM ET
It was 10 years ago today
The earth is still shaking from first home opener
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
DENVER -- Starting from scratch, opening with a 3-0 loss to Dwight 'Doc' Gooden at Shea Stadium then another loss to the Mets sent the original Colorado Rockies' heads spinning before they ever came to town.
But then came April 9, 1993, 10 years ago today, when the Rockies faced the Montreal Expos in front of a Major League-record 80,277 at Mile-High Stadium in their inaugural home game.
The first Rockies batter, Eric Young, ended the spin. Young's homer on a 3-2 pitch from Kent Bottenfield to left triggered an 11-4 victory, and touched off shaking that wouldn't stop for years.
"It was an emotional high when I hit it -- like a volcano erupted in that stadium," Young said. "I was floating."
John Vander Wal, now a teammate of Young with the Milwaukee Brewers but Montreal's left fielder on that day, was not floating, but literally struggling for balance. He turned to Expos center fielder Marquis Grissom for support.
"'Grip' looked at me and said, 'We're in trouble,'" Vander Wal said. "Under my feet, the ground was shaking. We knew we were in for something."
The day was a perfect indication of what the Rocky Mountain region was in for when Major League Baseball finally granted Denver a team after decades of expansion discussions and proposed franchise moves. Baseball at 5,280 feet would be different and special.
Young became the first of a long line of unlikey homer hitters. He didn't hit another that season until knocking two in the final game. Charlie Hayes would follow with a homer later in the first inning. Bryn Smith, at 37 and in his final season, held the Expos scoreless for seven innings. But Steve Reed, in the early stages of a successful career with the Rockies, would give up four in the ninth and feel as if the inning would never end. He would not be the last to feel that way.
High-scoring games should not have been much of a surprise. Mile High Stadium was known as Bears stadium when it opened for Denver's minor-league baseball team in 1948, so balls had been sailing through light air for 44 years before the Rockies came to town.
It was the crowd reaction -- which started with Young's earth-shaking homer and lasted through a record nine straight seasons of 3 million or more tickets sold -- that left the Rockies absolutely shocked.
Actually, the Rockies got an inkling of the reception they'd get a day earlier.
Tired and winless after the season-opening trip to New York, the Rockies would lose the offday before the home opener because they had to appear at a parade through downtown Denver. But players, having heard that Mile High was being expanded in an effort to break the attendance records, realized the importance of the appearance.
"Don Baylor, our manager, handled it very well, and told everybody about it, and I don't remember anybody grumbling," said original Rockies general manager Bob Gebhard, now a vice president and special assistant GM with the St. Louis Cardinals. "It just made the day a little longer, but it was just a great tune-up for our game with Montreal the next day.
"There were a lot of people on the streets who took time from work on a weekday. It was the first real sign to our players how many fans there were. I don't remember a number of people. It was a cool day, and there were a lot of people waving at us, and they had their black-and-purple jackets and 'CR' caps."
Reed, who pitched for the Rockies from 1993 to 1997 and returned this season, said the players were touched by the outpouring.
"They said something about the parade, and we figured it wouldn't be 1,000 people or something -- no idea it was going to be as enormous as it was," said Reed, who said he heard an estimate of 200,000 for the crowd. "It was a sign of things to come."
Young, who had tried to bunt in his first at-bat at New York, swung away in his first Mile High at-bat -- and Mile High rumbled.
The stands were built on a hydraulic system so they would move depending on whether a football or baseball configuration was needed. So whenever the Broncos began to rally, fans would stomp wildly and the place would rattled from the field to the rafters.
Of course, this is baseball, supposedly the quieter, more thoughtful game.
But Mile High would sway all season for the Rockies.
Part of the reason the people kept coming was the Rockies kept giving. Andres Galarraga became the first member of a first-year team to win a league batting title. Colorado's 67 victories were the most for a first-year franchise. The foundation of a team that made the playoffs in its third season was in place. It was the Rockies' example that made it possible for two subsequent expansion teams to dream of and achieve World Series titles -- Florida, the Rockies' '93 expansion classmate, in 1997 and Arizona in 2001.
Tremors from that initial seismic cheer continued for years. The Rockies smashed the single-season attendance record with 4,483,350 that first season at cavernous Mile High Stadium. The fans kept coming after baseball-size Coors opened in 1995.
Anything seemed possible after Denver's delirious introduction to their Rockies.
Outfielder Larry Walker was in the stadium that day with the Expos, but he didn't get the full effect because he missed the game with a hamstring injury. But Walker, who has been with the Rockies since 1995 and is recognized as their most-accomplished player, said he was attracted to was something in all the noise that Mile High fans made.
"The way the visiting teams were treated, I figured it had to be great for the home team," Walker said. "Mile High wasn't a place where fans could have many conversations with players, because it wasn't a baseball field. But the fans treated you with such respect. In a lot of stadiums, it's actually forgotten that we're actually humans, like we're people that live in caves and come out and play ball.
"We have families and kids at home, like everybody else. If you want to look at us as superstars who rule the earth who can buy this and buy that, it's a free country. But when all is said and done you're human. But the people here are supportive of all the athletes on all the teams."
It was all established during those early days of Rockies baseball, when Denver fans sent their beloved Rockies' heads into a spin that they never wanted to fight.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Adam McCalvy contributed to this story, which was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.