On the last Sunday in July, nothing could be finer than spending a splendid afternoon at Coors Field with my son-in-law, watching the Colorado Rockies at a time of year when they should be in peak form, facing the Cincinnati Reds, baseball's hottest team at the moment.
We expected a big crowd, given that fans could go on the field and take photos with the Rockies before the game; the closest parking lots were charging $25 a car; and LoDo's bars and restaurants were doing a good pregame lunch business. (Side question: Why is it that wings and nachos always taste so much better before a sporting event?)
We settled into our second-level seats down the right-field line, talking about baseball and world events, hoping the Rockies wouldn't show us another version of why they've been so bad in 2012, with the trade deadline near and rumors flying.
Alas, in Colorado's 100th game of this dismal season, we saw a three-hour version of everything that has gone wrong for this team over the past three months. (It's easy to forget now, but the Rockies actually were 12-12 on May 2.)
There was the latest awful outing by a Colorado starting pitcher, in this case Jonathan Sanchez. Just obtained from Kansas City in exchange for the gawd-awful Jeremy Guthrie, Sanchez had been equally terrible for the Royals — but the lefthander had pitched well before that with San Francisco. He even has a no-hitter among his credentials, in July 2009 for the Giants, and he was part of the starting rotation that helped San Francisco win the 2010 World Series.
This was Sanchez's home debut for the Rockies, and he held up gamely through four innings, trailing 3-2, helped by a highlight-reel diving catch by All-Star left fielder Carlos Gonzales. But then came the all-too-typical implosion in the fifth: a single, a two-run homer, and then a second-deck blast by the Reds' Jay Bruce, making it 6-2. So long, Sanchez, yanked by manager Jim Tracy. And with boos echoing softly — yes, softly — around the ballpark, the Rockies meekly gave up.
Oh sure, we could talk all day about the injuries that have sidelined shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, first baseman Todd Helton and starting pitchers Jorge De La Rosa, Juan Nicasio and Jhoulys Chacin. With all of them healthy, the Rockies certainly could have fared much better than their 25-51 death march from May 3 through their 100th game.
But there's more to this observation than recapping the Rockies' troubles, because we've taken care of that previously.
The problem now is how lifeless they are — and how that affliction has infected Colorado's most ardent baseball fans, the ones still willing to shell out $29 for a decent seat. Suddenly, as came through loud and clear on this Sunday at the stadium, the Rockies appear to have slid into irrelevance.
You have to be at Coors Field to grasp it fully. But you know something's amiss when the best cheers of the day go to several Air Force enlisted members, introduced before "God Bless America," and to a video roundup of the latest Olympic results from London, shown on the big scoreboard. You also realize it when you see so many Peyton Manning jerseys in the crowd, with as many people flocking to see the Broncos' training-camp workouts as the Rockies' weeknight home games.
Most of all, though, you understand that the Rockies franchise is in trouble when you see the players' body language (avoided by TV cameras), when fans don't have enough energy to voice their displeasure more than once or twice, and when you hear no grumbling whatsoever as the crowd trudges away after the final out.
If I were part of the ownership, and saw all that, I'd know the time has come to do something about it. The final two months of this lost baseball season will not give the Rockies a chance to start building toward 2013 and beyond. They are a dead team walking, spiritless and uninspired, surely wondering why management doesn't seem to care.
Now it's August, and Colorado doesn't care either. For this state now, it's all about the Olympics — and football.