'A circus of purple and black'
Sense of exhilaration hits a high in Denver
DENVER - Like a lot of people you meet in this city, Saul Cast is from somewhere else. He spent the first 20 years of his life hopscotching Latin America and the next 29 outside New York City. He moved west a decade ago after a friend convinced him there was a fortune to be made in real estate. It turned out there wasn't.
Now he drives a cab and misses New York. But he has discovered something about himself lately. He loves baseball.
In New York, he couldn't have cared less. Even a wife from Massachusetts did nothing to stir his interest.
"But now," he said, "there's this."
"This," indicated by a euphoric gesture at the city around him, is the circus of purple and black, the signs in store windows, the general mood of happiness and exhilaration that has overtaken Denver since the slumbering Colorado Rockies, on the verge of elimination, awoke in September and thrashed their way to 21 victories in 22 games, sweeping Philadelphia in the division series and Arizona for the National League championship. That they are in the World Series, facing the Boston Red Sox, has shocked almost everyone, most of all those who live in this part of the eternally opti mistic American West. Celebrations have been rampant.
"It is a carnival," Cast said.
Or, to use the term more widely circulated in town these days, Rocktober.
Purple signs proclaim "We Believe." Purple hats, purple jackets, purple jerseys have proliferated. Preparing for the expected throng of visitors, workers have planted fresh blue spruces in pots outside Coors Field, along with a special variety of pansies that are "Rockies Purple."
"People are just hugging each other on the street," said Trevor Barmes, 26, a former pole-vaulter who waits tables at The Chop House, a high-end steakhouse near the ballpark. "It's insane."
The fanatical devotion hasn't always been there. Before the Rockies' improbable late-season run, fans in Denver had drifted from the team.
There were several jubilant years after the Rockies were born in 1993 and Coors Field opened in 1995, when the expansion team played before wildly enthusiastic sellout crowds. But time went by, and after some long seasons in the cellar of the National League West, Denver had all but abandoned its Rockies; season ticket holders dwindled from a high of 34,000 in the years shortly after Coors Field opened to 14,000 this year.
Now, shops that recently struggled to sell Rockies gear are suddenly overwhelmed. The Diamond Dry Good Gift Shop at Coors Field hired extra help and one day this week unpacked crate after crate of purple foam fingers, rubber base pad sets, and T-shirts with sayings including "Baseball with an Altitude."
Customers lined up outside before opening time.
One fan, taking an armload of jerseys to the counter, leveled his gaze when asked why he wanted so many. "This is our shot," he said. "The time is now, and you've got to climb on board."
Denver was built by people who believed in a promise of sudden and improbable fortune. Practically in the shadow of Coors Field north of downtown is the spot on the South Platte River where in 1858 a settler laid cottonwood logs around a square mile plot and called it Denver City. Hordes came from the East, lured by tales of an impossible abundance of gold. Most did not find it, but saloons, dry goods stores, brothels, and gambling halls were built.
After gold, railroads lured settlers by advertising images of a farmer's paradise. Then it was oil and real estate, though some also came merely to live beneath the flawless blue skies. Whatever the lure, people came to Denver to conjure wealth, status or, often, simply a new version of themselves.
John Hickenlooper was one of them. Born in Philadelphia and trained as a geologist, he came to Denver in the early 1980s to work for an oil company during the city's raging petro-boom. In 1986 after oil collapsed, he went looking for a new venture.
He and a partner bought a dilapidated, turn-of-the century mercantile building in Denver's skid row on the northern fringes of downtown - amid the abandoned ruins of the original mining camp city - and turned it into a hip microbrewery, the Wynkoop.
It was a wild success. It made Hickenlooper rich and helped ignite a movement to restore the old buildings of the district and drive out the crime and junkies. An assortment of shops, nightclubs, and trendy lofts began to take hold, but developers soon realized they needed a bigger draw. Baseball was the solution.
"I grew up listening to Phillies games," Hickenlooper said. "I was nine years old when Philly lost 23 games in a row. I listened to or watched every one of those games. I can still tell you the lineup of that team and the batting averages of every one of those guys. That is a powerful thing."
Hickenlooper joined others who were mounting a campaign for a team. Taxpayers, giddy with the idea of becoming a baseball town, funded a $319 million stadium modeled on the old brick ballparks of the East. The National League awarded a franchise, and the team was assembled. Hickenlooper, who started several other restaurants in Denver and came to be seen as an architect of Denver's newest vision of itself, was elected mayor by a staggering 65 percent in 2003.
From his office at City Hall this week, Hickenlooper said he felt twinges of pain this fall when the Rockies swept Philadelphia, the team of his childhood hopes. But he cannot resist reconstructing the Rockies' Phoenix-like story as a parable of the city he leads. Unlike the old cities of the East, he said, "we are a city that is going to be defined more by our future than our past. The Rockies are a young team, and they are going to do great things."
In the teeming streets near Coors Field, past the restored brick buildings festooned with purple banners, and the bar menu placards on the sidewalk listing Rocktober specials, it is hard not to feel Denver's excitement. Unlike Boston, it has never won the World Series before, and unlike Boston had, it has no curse or 86-year drought to overcome. Instead, possibly like the prospectors who founded the city, Denver is watching to see if it can fulfill the larger-than-life dreams of its own greatness.
Steven Wilmsen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.