There are three golden memories in the nine-year history of Rockies Opening Days. It began with Eric Young's Mile High homer on the first home pitch ever to a Rockie in Colorado's inaugural home opener in 1993. There was Dante Bichette's 14th inning game-winning home run in the first game ever played in Coors Field in the Wild Card Championship '95 season. And then there was Monday.
Mike Hampton led the Rockies to a shut-out victory over the Cardinals, aided along the way by old school long balls from Larry and Todd Walker, exciting extra base hits including an opposite field triple from center field sensation Juan Pierre, and sterling defensive plays from Jeff Cirillo at third base and Larry Walker in right field. For a moment in time, it can be the dawning of a new era.
"Larry pretty much set the tone with his throw in the first inning," Manager Buddy Bell said of the spectacular double play Walker initiated on a Mark McGwire fly ball to right and the gunning down of Fernando Vina, who failed the test against Walker's arm at the plate.
"It was a great start," Hampton said of the tone-setting play, setting the stage for a rare Coors Field shutout and perhaps establishing the aggressive attitude for the entire season. "It got me pumped up."
"I wanted to run and jump on his back like little league or high school," said Pierre after the game. "I was all pumped up for that." It's been a long time since the Rockies have displayed that kind of wide-eyed enthusiasm, and the 23-year-old Pierre represents just the kind of spark the rejuvenated Rockies are depending on to jell with the leadership of solid, prime veterans like the 34-year-old Walker.
Much of that spirit is attributed to the presence of the Rockies new ace, Mike Hampton. "The energy he provides all of us is something a little bit extra," said Bell of his new stopper. "He competes as well as anybody I've ever been around."
"He definitely brings an energy out there on the field with him," added Todd Helton. "Kind of a tenacity, I guess you can say. With a guy out there battling and working that hard you definitely want to throw some lumber behind him."
Tuesday's off day helps to preserve the mythic feeling that all is right in Rockie World. But the early April clubhouse is filled with realists, albeit confident, hopeful realists. None of them stands more prepared to minimize the hype than Hampton himself.
"You try not to overemphasize the first game of the year, but teams badly want to win it," Hampton told reporters after his victory. "Confidence builds with every win, and hopefully this is a big confidence boost."
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves," Todd Helton cautioned. "It's just one game. The true colors of a team don't come out until you get to the end of a season and you start wearing down and you start seeing what kind of energy you can muster up."
But Rockies fans have license to ride the transitory wave of faith in the belief that we have found a way to conquer our own home field. Why didn't somebody think of this sooner? Sign the best pitchers in the game and watch the mystique melt.
Hampton, however, believes the Coors Field factor will always be there. Pitchers will always be judged in terms of its aura, by whether they conquer it or fall victim to it. Whether it's possible for the factor to ever disappear from the collective consciousness, Hampton says "Never."
No matter. Never is an off-day away, a solid light year in the afterglow of Opening Day. Win, and the fantasy that tomorrow's buzz kill will never come lingers a little longer, brushing aside the awakening with visions of perfection dancing across the jumbo-screen of our dreams.
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