Rockies eager for fresh start

Jeff Passan
Yahoo! Sports

ST. LOUIS – Winter moved in slow motion for the restless baseball man, so one afternoon he decided it finally was time. He went to his video library, plucked 12 particular games, plopped down in front of the TV and buried himself in what was – and what could have been.

Sometimes Clint Hurdle sat with his wife, sometimes with his parents, sometimes with his kids and sometimes by himself. He had lived the Colorado Rockies' monumental run to the World Series from perhaps the best view of all, the manager's seat, and yet the moments were fuzzy, victims of the postseason's vise. Hurdle needed a refresher course on his October life, the epic one-game playoff against San Diego and National League playoff sweeps and World Series thrashing by Boston.

"So I watched each one of them because there's so much you miss," he said. "It's not so much for the commentary. To get that vantage of what you missed or overlooked, it was very stimulating."

He saw a great story unfold. The losers won – and almost won it all. They had the great catchphrase (Rocktober), the great power hitter (Matt Holliday), the great rookie (Troy Tulowitzki), the veteran who finally made it (Todd Helton), the great streak (21 wins in 22 games before the World Series) and the great motivator (Kyle Blakeman, the local kid who died of a rare cancer, and whose No. 64 Hurdle scrawled at the top of their lineup card as a rallying cry).

Once more, Hurdle got to live it again, and he laughed and smiled and frowned and shook his head.

The 2007 season ended abruptly, and it will live through one more celebration – for now – when the Rockies play their home opener Friday afternoon at Coors Field against the team they beat in the NL championship series last season, Arizona. Rockies fans will thank the team for last season in foundation-shaking fashion, the players will collect their runner-up rings and soon thereafter, the first chants will begin.

"Can't wait for that," Rockies outfielder Brad Hawpe said. "Duh, duh, duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh-duh – Tu-lo! Fifty-thousand strong."

Hawpe looked to his left. There sat Tulowitzki, whose appearance in the batter's box draws those stadium-wide intonations. His instantaneous popularity mimicked that of his idol, Derek Jeter, and Tulowitzki was something like a Wild West version of the Yankees shortstop, a 23-year-old who somehow had broken the Rockies like a ranch hand.

Prior to last season, Colorado lacked a presence and definitive personality. Tulowitzki, with a few well-timed barks, earned the respect of Rockies young and old, and they now feed off his energy. Along with Holliday and Garrett Atkins, Tulowitzki arrived first at Busch Stadium for Thursday's afternoon game against the St. Louis Cardinals, three of the team's biggest – and youngest – stars setting an example for the others.

Tulowitzki moseyed to his locker, changed into his uniform and slipped on his custom Nikes, with purple and orange trim. He grabbed his bat and flicked it with his wrists. The atmosphere was mellow. No. 1 starter Jeff Francis complimented outfielder Ryan Spilborghs on his skinny tie. First-base coach Glenallen Hill practiced his putting stroke, Helton making sure to sneak in and whisper, "Noonan … Noonan."

It was the kind of levity that delighted Hurdle during the postseason run.

"They embraced it," Hurdle said. "It wasn't just game face, stoic. That part was very rewarding. I was very proud of them."

Now they're a year older, a year smarter, a year – they hope – better, and they get to do it again, in the mousetrap NL West no less. The start to the season wasn't terribly promising, the offense scoring one run in 15 2/3 innings off St. Louis Cardinals starting pitchers Kyle Lohse, Todd Wellemeyer and Brad Thompson en route to losses in two of three games.

It's early enough that when one TV in the clubhouse runs a continuous loop of the opposing pitcher's previous starts, no one looks. Instead, nearly every player in the clubhouse fixes his eyes on the TV straight ahead. Usually one or two glances at it. Here, there are a dozen.

Boston is playing Oakland. The same Boston that embarrassed the Rockies with a World Series sweep. The talk is small. No one much brings up last season. They just watch as Kevin Youkilis hits the Red Sox's fifth straight single.

"I was watching the A's," Tulowitzki notes.

He grew up in Northern California rooting for Oakland and still considers himself a huge fan, the six-year, $31 million contract the Rockies recently gifted him notwithstanding. It was there, too, that Tulowitzki spent plenty of time this offseason, living with his parents, working out, not nearly as restless as Hurdle. The most he saw from last year was a highlight video, and that sufficed, thanks very much.

Tulowitzki knew the story by heart, and he didn't want it to spoil the new one he's trying to write.

What to Read Next