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Dissecting the Rockies' exit

End Zone


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In the days since the Colorado Rockies gleefully announced their divorce from Colorado Springs, moving their top minor-league affiliation down Interstate 25 to Albuquerque, we've heard all kinds of reactions on this end.

• It's sad for the Sky Sox, having to work with the Milwaukee Brewers and losing a chunk of the identity that came with being geographically close to the parent team.

• It's wonderful, because the Rockies have been so dysfunctional in recent years, mishandling many prospects and bouncing players back and forth like yo-yos.

• It's another reason to condemn Colorado Springs City Council, which ignored Mayor Steve Bach's warnings that the Rockies could turn their back on Colorado Springs unless plans moved ahead for a downtown ballpark.

We won't go into great detail analyzing those responses, though it's true that the Rockies' farm system has gone downhill. But if Colorado's ownership finally does clean house in the front office after yet another woeful summer, that operation could stabilize and turn around faster than knee-jerk cynics realize.

The most glaring issue has been how the Rockies' management blamed Colorado Springs — with its thin air and wind along with an unpredictable climate — as the root cause for many of the big club's problems. Never mind that (a) the Sky Sox now have a humidor, making the ball heavier, as in Denver; (b) other minor-league cities also have problems with April weather, and players love Colorado Springs in the summer; and (c) as for everyone else in baseball, half the games are on the road.

As for a downtown stadium, Sky Sox ownership did reach out to Mayor Bach in 2011 for preliminary discussions, as Bach insisted at the time. But when the idea leaked, it didn't sit well with many local fans. A poorly executed public survey didn't help, and then came the saga of whether a downtown baseball park would be part of City for Champions — it was, then it wasn't.

Rest assured, losing the Rockies will not cause the Sky Sox owners, Dave Elmore and sons D.G. and Doug Elmore, to take another look at a new stadium.

For one thing, the Elmores have outright ownership of Security Service Field, and among their renovations is an event facility that groups can rent throughout the offseason. They aren't looking to make another big investment. For another, with so many resources going into City for Champions, it's not realistic to have an additional project including public financing for the time being.

It makes more sense to look for positives that could help the Sky Sox-Brewers relationship. Start with Craig Counsell, an infielder on the Sky Sox 1995 team that won the Pacific Coast League title. Counsell, popular with fans here, now is a special assistant to Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin, and you can expect Counsell to visit soon and help with initial PR work. Also, the Brewers' previous Triple-A affiliate in Nashville, Tennessee, played in Colorado Springs each year as a fellow PCL franchise. And many players likely to be here in 2015 came up through the Brewers' rookie-league team in Helena, Montana, also owned by the Elmores.

We'll see Milwaukee team executives come out to evaluate their top talent, probably with longer stays because it's not just a drive down I-25 from Denver.

This will be more like when the Sky Sox first moved here in 1988 and spent five seasons as the Cleveland Indians' top farm club. Cleveland executives quickly learned to enjoy their trips to Colorado Springs. They'd frequent local restaurants such as Luigi's and the Ritz Grill, and put successful teams here with recognizable managers, such as ex-major-leaguers Steve Swisher (1988), Mike Hargrove (1989) and Charlie Manuel (1990-92). In Manuel's final year, his team went 84-57 and took the PCL title.

Also, the Sky Sox just set a franchise single-season attendance record of 350,374 with a last-place team, while the Brewers' playoff-contending club that went 77-67 in Nashville drew about 324,000. So with a new parent, new players and a new outlook, Colorado Springs could fare much better on the bottom line.

As for when the Sky Sox might require a new stadium, that's a story for another day. But not soon.


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