Sunday, March 28, 2010

Colorado Rockies Deal With New Word: Expectations

The 2010 Colorado Rockies face a challenge that no other Rockies team before them has faced. They are blazing trails that some baseball fans in the Rocky Mountain region once felt were impossible to blaze.

This 2010 Rockies team is dealing with a word never thrust upon them before: Expectations.

Sure, the 2008 team had their fair share of excitement surrounding them. Fans rummaged through all of their Broncos, Avalanche and Nuggets apparel looking for the Rockies hat that they buried after Mike Hampton served up yet another home run in 2002, in route to the most expensive 6.15 ERA that Major League Baseball had ever seen.

Sure, the same fans who set nearly every attendance record that exists in Major League Baseball were chomping at the bit to become baseball fans again.

There were expectations around the Denver Metro area after the 2007 magical run to the World Series, but for every fan in Denver that was expecting something great from the 2008 Rockies, there were 10 fans around the league who thought of one word when the Rockies were brought up. That word? Fluke.

As much fun as the '07 run to the World Series was, no one around baseball was going to believe that a team that had not won more than 74 games in the past five seasons, and a team that was 6-1/2 games back in the Wild Card race as late as September 12th, then stormed their way to win 14-out of-15 to make the playoffs was for real.

Most members of the national media had never seen the Rockies play. Most national media outlets still believed that a ball hit at Coors Field would travel 10% further than a ball hit on the surface of the moon.

So while fans in Denver were busy thinking that the Rockies were going to be perennial contenders, the rest of the baseball world forgot about them.

After a lackluster 2008 season in which the Rockies looked like the same old team from Colorado, the dreaded "F" word began flying with more regularity. Fluke.

It is easy to call a flash-in-the-pan team a fluke. If they go back to how they always were, it was a fluke. But the 2009 Rockies proved to the baseball world that they can play the game. They captured their 2nd Wild Card in three seasons and played the defending World Champions very tough in the Division Series.

The Rockies, content with a youthful team, did very little in the off season besides locking up some of their better players to multi-year deals. Usually quiet off seasons like the Rockies had are met with anger from fans and critique from baseball experts. That isn't the case for this team.

After another Wild Card, excitement for the Rockies is back in Denver. This time is different though. This time, the excitement goes further than the Mile High City.

As Troy Renck of the Denver Post reported, the Rockies are getting national attention. ESPN experts Jon Miller (a San Francisco Giants announcer), Orel Hershiser (a World Champion with the Dodgers) and former big leaguer and current analyst Rick Sutcliffe are all picking the Rockies to win the NL West.

In addition to the crew from ESPN, the entire lineup on MLB Tonight, MLB Networks nightly program, unanimously picked the Rockies to win their first ever NL West crown.

This is something the Rockies franchise has never seen. No one has ever expected them to be good. They were thought of as a small market team that had failed in its attempts to sign big name players and would never contend. Now there is a strong sense that they are going to not only be good in 2010, but for years to come.

How will the Rockies deal with these new expectations?

The Rockies will thrive on these expectations.

The 2008 team was still young. They knew that they had accomplished something special, but they were just riding the wave the previous season. No one knew how they had done it. To a certain extent, they all believed that it was a fluke too.

In 2010 there is a sense of maturity around camp. These Rockies know that they are good. Not in a cocky way, but in a confident way. They believe that they are the best team on the field. They believe that they should be able to win any game, regardless of who is on the mound for the other squad. These Rockies are older and wiser. They have figured out that to win they need to believe in themselves and in each other.

So bring on the expectations, these Rockies can handle it.

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