It had all of the feels of Opening Day for the Colorado Rockies … except it was Opening Night in the middle of a pandemic with no fans anywhere to be found inside the cathedral at 20th and Blake.
The Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres stood along the baselines for introductions and bunting flowed in the wind on Friday night in downtown Denver as pregame ceremonies kicked off. A flyover by four F-16 Fighting Falcons, part of the 140th Wing Squadron of the Colorado Air National Guard, took place during the national anthem. Fireworks exploded from the massive scoreboard.
It felt like Opening Day … until it didn’t. Not even the piped in version of “toniiiiight” as part of Charlie Blackmon‘s walk-up song (the classic from The Outfield) could replace the buzz and the energy of the fans who normally are a part of game day. Especially when Chuck Nazty deposited a pitch from San Diego starter Garrett Richards 446 feet into the deck above the Rockies bullpen to give the hosts a 2-0, first-inning lead.
You could hear the ball hit the seats, devoid of the fans who were just piped in crooning to Charlie moments before. You could hear the Rockies dugout voicing their approval of the home run even over the “cheering” of the fans who weren’t really there.
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Welcome to baseball in LoDo in 2020.
After all of the COVID-19-related events in baseball of the past few days, I’m thankful to have the sport still playing. Don’t get me wrong. However, Friday night was more of an adjustment than I bargained for. After years of walking the Coors Field concourses before the game and savoring the sights, sounds, and smells of the pregame activities, there was no reason to leave the press box on Friday night. No fans to interact with. No food smells to make me hungry. No thoughts of how exactly a beer could be snuck into the press area (just kidding, Rockies PR team. Really.).
Questions throughout the first part of the season to Bud Black and his players have asked about what it’s like to play in front of cardboard cutouts. Those are questions that will continue well into the heart of the pennant chase, I’m sure. After all, this is something we’ve never seen before … and hopefully will never see again.
There was a cool moment in the pregame on Friday as family members of the Rockies players were shown in a surprise video voicing their support for their boyfriends, husbands, and fathers who were getting ready to take the field. It was a great gesture by the Rockies and served as a reminder that the decision to play in this game involved more than just the players.
But, fans or not, Blackmon still hit a blast and Jon Gray continued to feast on the Padres at Coors Field … at least for five innings. Some things just don’t change.
And some things absolutely do. New faces had big moments on Friday night for Colorado.
Matt Kemp can still hit at Coors Field, no matter the uniform he wears. One pitch showed us that in the bottom of the sixth as he sent a two-run double to left to give the Rockies the lead. Daniel Bard continued his comeback story and Tyler Kinley needed just four pitches to get the final out of the ninth.
But that ninth inning … wow. Wade Davis had his Coors Field demons rise again as a pair of two-out home runs turned a win into a gut punch of a loss. Had there been fans in the stands, Davis would have walked off the field to a resounding chorus of well-deserved boos on Friday night.
Left for dead after that Padres rally, the Rockies mounted one of their own in the top of the ninth, scoring two runs and loading the bases before pinch hitter Chris Owings flew out to deep center to end the game.
Baseball is a beautiful, mysterious, and emotional game, even in 2020. No fans inside Coors Field didn’t mean that the fans watching on TV and listening on radio around the world didn’t ride the highs and lows like a roller coaster. And those same fans were asking plenty of questions about why Davis was in the game in the ninth after such a disastrous 2019 in Denver and why Owings replaced Sam HIlliard for the final at-bat.
Questions or not, at the end of the night, in a season unlike any other, it’s all about the wins in the race for the postseason. On Friday night, the Rockies let a big one slip through their fingers. It didn’t take a stadium full of fans to feel that emanating from the Colorado dugout as the Padres celebrated a win.
The Rockies took a gut punch on Friday night, their first one of the young season. With every game magnified in a 60-game sprint, rebounding on Saturday night is critical. How will this team, that had been riding so high on the road, rebound at home? Rockies fans will be watching … just not from 20th and Blake.