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From the get-go, Mile High backing
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04/09/2003  5:41 PM ET 
From the get-go, Mile High backing
Denver's love for basball was Major League all along
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com

Two cornerstones of the Rockies franchise: Jerry McMorris and Larry Walker (pictured in 1995). (Ed Andrieski/AP)
DENVER -- Paul Parker recalls the noise baseball fans made here on March 26, 1991.

Never mind that there was no baseball. That day the National League expansion committee and then-NL President Bill White arrived in Denver for a big expansion tour.

Some of the top executives in Major League Baseball were greeted at Stapleton Airport by a sign, "Welcome to the Time Zone Without a Team" and whisked by helicopter to old Mile High Stadium. From there, the show was supposed to be over. The group headed downtown to the United Bank Building, now known as the Wells Fargo Building, with the business of meeting with prospective owners followed by a small press gathering.

"They had said no public demonstrations when we come to visit your city," said Parker, now the Rockies official historian and Boulder Dugout Store manager, but at the time a volunteer in the baseball effort. "So we cleverly went out and had about 3,000 people waiting for them when they came down to the lobby.

"They were chanting, 'Baseball, baseball.' (The committee members) were walked right through the crowd and got up on the stage for some short, perfunctory speeches. Then there was a presentation with an oversize check that had 'over 20,000 season ticket pledges' on it."

Before the Colorado Rockies arrived -- they played their first game 10 years ago on April 9, 1993 -- there were fans. Although the expansion committee had asked to keep its visit low-key, members couldn't help but be impressed by the fans.

Ultimately, Denver earned the franchise based on the fact its people couldn't wait to demonstrate how badly it wanted big-league ball.

The Majors were well aware of the Denver market, which at the time drew large crowds for Broncos games and had a strong fan base for Nuggets basketball. On several occasions, Denver was brought up by teams that were either for sale or unhappy with their stadium situations. The size of the market and the success of minor league ball made the area attractive.

But beneath the numbers regarding market size and the lack of a team in the time zone was the sheer desire on the part of fans to support a team. Before the expansion drive even began, prospective Denver owners and team employees set up booths at fairs and other events and found strong interest.

How strong?

In December 1990, the NL announced that Denver, South Florida (which would land the Florida Marlins), Tampa-St. Pete, Orlando, Washington, D.C., and Buffalo were finalists for expansion teams. Denver-area voters had already passed a 0.1 percent sales tax to finance construction of a new ballpark.

In the first months of 1991, Denver made an even louder statement.

"Our goal was 20,000 (season ticket commitments), and it took us four weeks to accomplish it and go beyond," said Chuck Javernick, who worked in ticket sales for the fledgling franchise, stayed on board and is now the director of ticketing services and Spring Training business operations. "We went over 21,000 season ticket commitments. "I'm a big baseball fan and a native of Colorado, so I believed in it. And I had worked with the Colorado Baseball Partnership for some time prior and talked to a lot of people who felt the same way."

The fans were in place and the name of the franchise was chosen -- the Colorado Rockies. But ownership suddenly fell into question.

The out-of-state leaders of the original group became mired in a $350 million fraud scandal -- which had nothing to do with the franchise -- before the team even hit the field. Two months before paying the $95 million franchise fee, the local members of the group -- led by Jerry McMorris, the highest-ranking franchise official before he recently turned the reins over to partner Charlie Monfort -- saved the team.

McMorris said then-Colorado Gov. Roy Romer played a huge role in keeping together viable baseball ownership in Denver.

"Gov. Romer had several meetings with the partners and really got behind the project," McMorris said. "There was one meeting early on when he went around the room -- 'Who are you and how much money do you have?' He did what was necessary."

McMorris started out just wanting to assist Denver's efforts for a team, not knowing he would go on to become one of baseball's most influential club leaders, one who was called upon by fellow owners and Commissioner Bud Selig for high-profile projects. McMorris said he was especially proud to help in last year's labor negotiations that resulted in a new Collective Bargaining Agreement without a work stoppage.

Any question as to whether Denver's effort at landing Major League Baseball was worthwhile was answered shortly after the gates opened for that first game at Mile High Stadium, an 11-4 victory over the Montreal Expos. A regular-season record 80,277 watched the game.

"I didn't see any of the ballgame," said Javernick, who was kept quite busy in the ticket operation. "There were more people in the stadium than in the county where I grew up."

Parker now laughs at the memory of the little-taste-of-Denver crowd the expansion committee received during its visit.

"They gave me a Pittsburgh Pirates jersey to put on. I was handing out free Cracker Jack," Parker said. "My eyes met Bill White's eyes, and he was smiling and shaking his head. If looks could talk, it would have been, 'We thought we told you not to do this, but this is amazing.'"

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.




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