Colorado Rockies, COVID-19, and a surprising moment of grief

Aug 23, 2020; St. Petersburg, Florida, USA; A general view of the exterior of Tropicana Field before a game between the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays. Mandatory Credit: Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 23, 2020; St. Petersburg, Florida, USA; A general view of the exterior of Tropicana Field before a game between the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays. Mandatory Credit: Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports /

Standing outside Tropicana Field and surrounded by all of the buzz from the local team (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) not only hosting but also playing in Super Bowl LV, I didn’t expect so many feelings surrounding the Colorado Rockies and our society to wash over me.

My wife and I didn’t head to Tampa/St. Petersburg for the Super Bowl. Well, at least not directly. Her birthday was on Super Bowl Sunday and, for more than a year, once we knew the big game and her birthday collided, we have planned to be in the area to celebrate the big day with our friends who live in St. Pete. We began planning before COVID-19 hit, and we kept the plans alive despite the pandemic.

Yes, we travel, even during a pandemic. Yes, we stay safe, always mask up, and use more sanitizer than should be legally allowed. Yes, we hear from so many people who think we are crazy for leaving our corner of Colorado and the safety of our house. Yes, we make choices just like you do … and that’s OK.

But the travel is not the point of this story at all. The point is that, as a bicycle tour we were doing as part of her birthday celebration pedaled past Tropicana Field, we stopped for a minute to look at a mural that is part of the city’s effort to connect people with art. While the group admired the mural, I had a flashback to almost two years ago, standing in that same spot.

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It was April of 2019 and the Rockies had just finished their season-opening series in Miami before heading to St. Pete to face the Rays. I traveled to south Florida to cover the four-game Marlins series, then drove to St. Pete to stay with those same friends and cover Colorado’s three games against the Rays.

There was plenty for Rockies fans to be excited about to start 2019, with the team coming so close to winning the National League West (losing in Game 163 to the Dodgers) and beating the Cubs at Wrigley to win the Wild Card Game. I was excited to be there, covering the team, and there was plenty to talk about during those first seven games of the 2019 season, including Daniel Murphy’s finger injury suffered in Miami and how that would affect the team as well as the Rockies giving German Marquez a five-year, $43 million contract extension shortly after the team arrived to play the Rays.

These were some of the things I thought about on Sunday as I stood at the entrance to the parking lot where I parked before those Rays-Rockies games in 2019. I thought about the excitement that surrounded the Rockies then and how different the feeling was today, especially in the wake of the Nolan Arenado trade. I also thought about how our society had changed in those almost two years as well. The parking lot that I pulled into as a journalist two years ago had been turned into a COVID-19 testing center as our world continues to battle against this horrific virus.

Things change a lot in two years. They do in every aspect of life, but there’s something about the bottoming out of so many Rockies fans’ emotions and everything we’ve been through (and continue to go through) during COVID-19 that hit me hard at that moment.

My friend in St. Pete told me a few months ago that, whether we know it or not, we have all gone through a grieving process during COVID-19. We’ve all lost something during these past 11 months or so. We may not have lost a family member or friend to the virus, but we’ve lost time and memories to it. My daughter didn’t get an in-person college graduation. High school seniors didn’t get proms, graduations, yearbook signings, or the chance to say goodbye to all of their friends. Trips have been postponed. Vacations were surrendered. Red Rocks went mostly quiet. Baseball games were closed off to fans.

Grief hits in waves, they say. I admit that I grieved a bit standing in that parking lot, for our society and for and alongside so many of you who have expressed frustrations with the Rockies ownership and front office through these last few months. Grieving for what could have been, and grieving for what we will likely miss in the days ahead with Nolan Arenado calling St. Louis his baseball home.

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Can our society get back to those days like April of 2019? I believe so, and I believe it will likely be quicker than fans will regain the excitement that surrounded the Rockies at the start of the 2019 campaign as well. And perhaps that’s what hit me the hardest as I pedaled away from Tropicana Field, thinking back and wondering also what lies ahead for the Rockies as we knock on the door of spring training.