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The Surge Is On:
Open season on the Front Range

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Ben Patrick ready to tag in wherever hes needed
  • Ben Patrick ready to tag in wherever hes needed

Most minor league teams don't experience quite the chilling effect of living in the shadow of their major league parent club that the Sky Sox face. But most teams aren't so close to the shadow, an hour's commute down a road where the flow of traffic often hits 90. Never mind the scorecards, last season you couldn't tell a Sky Sox player without doing a run on their license plates vanishing north on I-25. Legislators are already penning a bill to begin construction of a S.O.V. lane between Woodmen Boulevard and downtown Denver to accommodate Sox Occupancy Vehicles.

With Jeffrey "I just gotta get back out there" Hammonds already visiting the disabled list -- inviting renewed skepticism about his career-long difficulty with staying healthy -- and Rick Croushore making his first trip from Colorado Springs to Coors Field on Tuesday, don't expect a radical decrease in congestion this year. The only thing different is the attitude in the Springs, where there's a healthy realism about the nature of being a "farm team," cultivating a new crop of prospects each year to be raised by the parent club.

"The bottom line is we're here to help the Colorado Rockies Club," new manager Chris Cron said at Sky Sox Stadium last week, two days before opening the season in Louisiana. "We're here to help the major league club, and if it doesn't work out for the Sky Sox, that's the way it goes."

Nevertheless, Cron expects to instill a winning attitude in his players this season, noting that the ability to win is one of the skills good farm systems focus on. "These kids are still developing, but winning is part of developing. We want to win here and hopefully that'll translate into winning down the road."

Among the most often overlooked of the organization's Achilles' heels has been the inability to consistently produce reliable prospects that can help the Rockies in the long run. "We've had a little lull in our player development system," Cron concedes, but help is on the way. "Our prospects are coming," Cron assures, adding that "you may not want to rush them, but you do have to push."

Neifi Perez and Todd Helton are the first homegrown Rockies to make a lasting, successful impact on a major league roster, and Ben Petrick, who hit .323 with four homers when he was called up last fall, is poised to make it a trio.

To many, Petrick looked like a lock to start the season with the Rockies, backing up Brent Mayne behind the plate. He wasn't surprised at his Springs assignment, however, and is ready to focus on winning for the Sox.

"I kind of knew it was coming," Petrick told the Indy last week. "Whatever team I'm going to be on, I'm going to win."

Although Petrick can be fairly confident at taking the commuter run up to Denver once or twice this season, he's ready to focus on developing his own playing as an integral part of the Sky Sox line-up, working behind the plate every day and keeping the fun part of the game at the forefront of his thoughts.

"I try to stay away from thinking about stats," Petrick explained as he looked ahead to his goals for the season. "I want to have a good year. I want to have fun. My attitude is, let's go out there and win."

He's determined to do as much as he can to control his own destiny and he's cognizant of the distance between his current level of play and that of a starting major league catcher.

"I'd like to be much more sound defensively," Petrick notes, assessing his goals for development this season. "I'd like to be consistent throwing out runners."

His manager is on the same wavelength. "They know what they got to do," Cron says of his players. "They're here trying out for anybody. They're either helping themselves a great deal or hurting themselves."


Weird science

Given the transitory nature of the Triple A whistle stop, one thing they can't grow down on the farm is the elusive team chemistry that the Rockies believe was lacking on their past power-packed rosters.

Buddy Bell, keeping his keel even - SCOTT LARRICK

"It's coming," new Rockies centerfielder Tom Goodwin promises after baptizing the season by knocking in the go-ahead run with a triple in the Rockies' victorious home opener Monday. "Chemistry is not something you get at spring training or on opening day."

The chemistry is always there, but the goal is finding the right measures and mixtures to avoid combustibility, or worse yet, flat inertness. There's a different feel in the Rockies clubhouse this season, a gentleness and an even keel that bodes well for the 25-man approach espoused by the team, and Goodwin's interest in "every little thing" about his teammates is refreshing.

Chemistry aside, the Rockies quick-change artistry over the off-season was merely an accelerated acting out of the sport's increasing temporal vulnerability. Lost in the talk about economic disparity and the inability of small markets to remain competitive is the obsolescence of team unity and character.

A sad commentary on just how transitory the sport has become concerns Dante Bichette, making his eighth straight start in a Rockies home opener, but this time in a Reds uniform. How quickly we all forget was made clear when a team of three sportswriters from a Colorado paper engaged in a debate over whether or not Bichette was an original Rockie, having to resort to math to figure it out. Yes, he was, but the species is now extinct, having vanished after a short seven-year lifespan.


Out with the power, in with the surge

The new history shows promise, which is all we ask of opening day. New Rockies manager Buddy Bell has a versatile mind to engage his multi-faceted team and an unpredictable array of assaults he can employ against opponents. He's genuinely interested in talking about the game, eager as opposed to willing, a good communicator who is as approachable and good-humored as any manager I've encountered.

"It's nice to be back home," he said Monday, showing no signs of irony after managing his first game. "It seems like we were gone forever."

If you've ever been down to the Great Sand Dunes then you should be familiar with the concept behind the term surge. It's a unique phenomenon that takes place within the quiet little creek running alongside the dunes. As the creek meanders its way through the shallow sand, every now and then it surges forward, spontaneously developing a current.

That's an apt metaphor for this quiet Rockies team that ironically survived an electrical power surge in the sixth inning and went on to outdistance Ken Griffey and the Cincinnati Reds.

It didn't feel like a Coors Field game. With nearly five innings of 1-1 ball it looked like there might be reason to get excited, to have faith. Maybe the new Rockies pitching staff really was enough to keep up with the patchwork offense left after we sent the heart of the order hither and yon.

In the end, however, it was so typical it was nearly prototypical with four home runs pushing the final score to 7-5. (Nearly half of all Coors Field games have four or more home runs in them.) It was the kind of game where it wasn't as bad as the score made it look, but that is very nearly the definition of Coors Field baseball. Except for the games when it is uglier than numbers can suggest. Put enough of them together, and you've got a season.

-- owen@csindy.com


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Sky Sox Opening Day vs. Edmonton

Fri., April 14, 6 p.m.

Tickets: $4-$7. Call 591-SOXX or check www.skysox.com.

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