|Coors gives the Rocky Mountains a high|
By Eric Neel
Page 2 staff
Editor's Note: This is the 23rd report card in Page 2's summerlong series rating all 30 ballparks in Major League Baseball.
DENVER -- The way I imagine Ebbetts was once a part of Brooklyn, and the way Wrigley fits the north side of Chicago, Coors Field belongs in the LoDo (lower downtown) district of Denver.
LoDo is full of sturdy, 100-year-old, red brick buildings, wide streets, and steel rails. Coors rises up out of the same elements, looking like it's always been there, feeling like a neighborhood joint.
It's hard to overestimate the importance of this. The Rocks are relative rooks (born in '93), and they play in that wacky thin air that pushes pop-up bunts over the center field wall. So it would be easy to think of them (as I admit I did until I was walking up to Coors) as a rootless bunch playing Mickey Mouse ball. But the park grounds them. Its fit with the old architecture of the city is so seamless that it seems as if Denver and the Rockies go way, way back, as though this building and this place are tapping into deep, ancient veins of baseball love.
And you can see it in the people, too. They move in and around the park with an easy, natural sort of feeling for the place. It's a part of their environment, in time with the rhythms of their daily lives. They're baseball people and Coors is their home.
1. Access: If you come early, you can find parking on the streets around the park -- maybe even a spot in front of the Hooters about a block-and-a-half away. But the smart set rides the train, which lets off at Union Station, just a few blocks from the park. Points: 4
3. Interior architecture: The upside (and it's way up, a mile up, in fact): view of the Rocky Mountains from the first-base side, lush bullpens by a waterfall in right-center, soothing, deep-green seats, great sight-lines all around, including views from the main concourse, and The Rockpile in deep center, where a man can watch a game for four bones and rub elbows with the rowdies. The downside (and it's only a little ways down): the original plan was to build a 40K-seat stadium but the fans came out in big numbers when the Rockies debuted at the old Mile High Stadium (before Coors was finished), so team owners decided to make Coors a 50-thousand seat room. That and the deep power alleys make the place feel a bit cavernous from places like the seats in the upper decks down the line. 4.5
4. Ticket availability and price: Not hard to get on a gorgeous, warm Sunday afternoon in August (even though the Rocks are technically still in the wild card race). But they are a bit steep: I wanted a view of the mountain range, and an upper level outfield seat cost me $17. The view was dynamite, but the price was about five bucks higher than I expected or wanted to pay. 3 (Including a slight bump for the cheap Rockpile tix.)
5. Quality of hot dogs: Everything is grilled. Even the guys working the carts have grills. Grills are good. So are the dogs. 5
6. Quality/selection of concession-stand fare: A deli, a burrito bar, sushi, mesquite-grilled chicken sandwiches, cheese steaks, and a microbrew bar-and-grill on the main level. If you can't eat here, you're not trying. One point off for elevated prices, and a half-point back for kids-only food stands with tiny dogs and mini burgers for cheap. 5
7. Signature concession item: I got a note before my trip from ESPN's resident baseball genius Rob Neyer saying I had to try the pizza at Coors. "Best pizza in the majors," he said. I tried it and I'm here to tell you Mr. Neyer's no liar. Gourmet quality -- the crust alone is worth the price ($5) and the wait (about 8 minutes). 5
8. Beer: You can buy Coors here, wouldn't you know. But for only one dollar more, you can sidle up to a Right Field Red microbrew. Come on ... do it. You deserve it. You've earned it. Go big. Get the brew. Do like me -- slip into the Clocktower bar and get the brew with a shot of air conditioning. Live right. 4.5 (kudos for two family sections in the park where no alcohol is sold or allowed -- nice touch in a place named for beer)
9. Bathrooms: Not everybody likes those communal sink dealios, but me, I'm cool with them. As long as they're clean, with lots of soap and towels on hand (as these were), they've got a kind of chatty, water-cooler, bonding feel about them that seems right for a day at the park. 5
11. Price/selection of souvenirs: Souvenirs are pretty much the same from ballpark to ballpark -- little teddy bears in team jerseys, t-shirts and hats, logo baseballs, key rings and pencils, inflatable bats, etc., etc. -- you'd think there was some kind of monopoly or something, but you know that can't be true, because this is America, the land of free trade and the home of rugged individualism and all. Anyway, after a while, your eyes start to glaze over in the souvenir shop, as one floppy hat blurs into another. Then, for reasons you can't begin to explain, you stumble on a big counter full of fudge in Denver. And it's good fudge, too. 3
12. Scoreboard: The variation on the dot race theme at Coors is the Harley Davidson "Hog" race, featuring hogs on hogs, riding through the city and eventually into the park. I know Harley riders are cool and laid back, but this race was super slow. I fell asleep before the end. Otherwise, the scoreboard's nice -- they could have used a bigger Jumbotron (this is more like a Mediumtron), but the Rockies-logo clock is a nice analog touch. 3
13. Sound system: Boomin', but used with discretion -- a rare and welcome balance. 4.5 (Would have been a five, but I just didn't understand the choice of Peaches and Herb's "Reunited" when the visiting Pirates held a mound conference. I mean, what exactly is "understood" and what exactly "feels so good"?)
14. Fun stuff to do besides the game: You can climb the jungle gym, throw pitches past a speed gun, stand in against a video-version major league pitcher, or call an inning of the game in a mock announcers booth. But if you really want to have fun, just sit back and watch the very goofy but very game ushers do the "Time Warp" on top of the dugouts between innings. That's quality entertainment. 5
15. Ushers: They dance and they're friendly, to boot. Before the game, I asked an usher named Ike what was with the row of purple seats up on the view level. Ike told me they were exactly one mile above sea level and then he took out a Coors Field A-Z guidebook from his personal bag and said, "You keep it. Lots of good stuff in there. Walk around. Get to know the place." Thanks, Ike -- you're good people. 5
16. Trading-up factor: They're friendly, but they're watching you. I got busted trying to move behind third in the sixth. It was embarrassing. People stared and snickered. Felt like I'd dropped my tray in the cafeteria. I eventually made my way to a close-up seat in the eighth, but I never could quite relax into it. 2.5
17. Seventh-inning stretch: I'm thinking it would be nice to see some actual stretching going on during one of these things. Maybe Jack LeLane on the Mediumtron leading us in some jumping jacks? Maybe a little mountain-stance yoga in the aisles? Maybe? Turns out the Coors folks aren't thinking that far out of the box. For them, doing both "Take Me Out" and "God Bless America" in one stretch is stretching it far enough. 2
18. Knowledge of local fans: It was a small crowd, and I was ready to describe them as cool and casual … but then there was a play at the plate, and guys all over the park were getting reports on their radios that the home team got jobbed, and manager Clint Hurdle took to the field to argue his case with one of those I'm-about-to-drop-dead-from-a-heart-attack red faces, and the next thing you know Coors was the teapot and I was sitting in the tempest. It was rabid. I feared for the home plate ump. 4
19. Pre-and-postgame bar-and-restaurant scene: I've lived in college towns who wish their pub crawls were half so, er, loaded. 5
20. Wild Card: The thin air is a bit of a joke when it comes to real stats, but when it comes to batting practice, it's a fan's best friend. 6
TOTAL POINTS FOR COORS FIELD: 85