Round about this time last year, the Rockies inaugurated their brand new Salt River spring training facility — built on Native American land at Talking Stick — with an 8-7 win over the D-backs. What many of us might’ve forgotten about that otherwise meaningless game, however, was what happened on the very first at-bat of the first game ever played on this mystical ground.
With our ace pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez on the mound, coming off a brilliant season where he finished third in the Cy Young voting, and the count 3-2, this happened.
None of us had the slightest idea just how hapless the Rox were about to become.
Cargo was hurt on the play, though not badly, but it didn’t stop him from playing the outfield with reckless abandon all season, injuring his wrist and landing him on the disabled list.
Ian Stewart was never the same; a top prospect suddenly unable to hit above the Mendoza line, he was sent down to AAA, called up again, sent back down, and called back up in yet another example of management’s ineptitude at handling young, struggling players. One year later, he was unceremoniously traded to the Cubs.
Then, on July 30th, in a move that shocked and disturbed Rockies fans everywhere, our ace pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez — after having been on the DL himself — was sent packing for Cleveland for a couple of guys with “potential.” One of them was Alex White.
I’d like to think all of the Rockies troubles since then stem from this vainglorious seizure of Native American land, cursing the club indefinitely, until ownership relinquishes control of the team to the fans. But it’s not that simple. Especially considering the recent series of events.
In the wake of Alex White’s poor decision to drive a car with breath strong enough to carry the coal, as the fella says, we may think back on that fateful trade of July 30th last year that brought him to Denver along with his peace-disturbing teammate, and be tempted to ask: how could the front-office just trade away our beloved ace, Saint Ubie, for a couple trouble-makers if they’re so concerned with character? And more to the point, what kind of character is revealed in a front-office that hastily discards its own homegrown players?
I suppose these are valid questions. The always humble Jimenez had become a fan favorite. Fond memories of the hard-working fireballer going 15-1 to start the 2010 season gave good reason to believe he would be the Rockies’ ace for the foreseeable future. Forever lingering images of his historic no-hitter that year made Rockies fans proud. Finishing the season with the highest WAR (7.2) among all starting pitchers in baseball, going 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA, provided statistical evidence of his greatness. And the way he smiled all the time, seeming to really enjoy being part of the Rockies, made him the face of the franchise along with Tulo and Cargo.
But when it came time to secure this young trio of talent, the Rockies front-office gave generous extensions to Tulo, Cargo, and…signed pitcher Jorge de la Rosa a new contract. They decided not to extend Ubie’s contract beyond the very favorable terms to which the Rockies already had him signed. Smart business moves all around – or so the pundits would have you believe.
Well hold your horses there, friend. The Cowboy just spilled the beans.
Loathe as I am to link my words to anything produced by Murdoch media, Ringolsby’s exposé is actually pleasantly non-sensationalized. Turns out that Ubaldo was so dissatisfied with the Rockies last off-season, that he was hoping to be traded even before spring training started last year. Woops. There’s that damn human element again, messing everything up. And after prematurely coming of the disabled list, Jimenez continued pitching through pain in the hopes that it would improve his chances for getting traded — so take that for whatever it’s worth.
Ringolsby’s short column is juxtaposed nicely with this fellow Rockies-writer’s piece of profound disillusionment. In it, the writer tells of how he’s now experienced a sense of betrayal upon discovering that Ubaldo Jimenez “put his own interests over his team,” and that it goes to show we can never know who our favorite players really are.
Seems like both sides seriously screwed up the chance to work something out so that Ubaldo could’ve stayed in Colorado as their homegrown ace and be fairly compensated for it, relative to other starting pitchers at his level. The sad thing is, both parties are worse off now than they were before, and there’s not a lot of reasons to think either Ubaldo or the Rockies comes out a winner in this one. Maybe Ubaldo regains his 2010 form with Cleveland, but I don’t see it happening. Maybe one day we’ll be able to say White or Pomeranz is just as good as Ubaldo was. But I highly doubt it. To put it simply: St. Ubie and the Rockies might be cursed.
I’d be remiss in failing to mention my prognostication last year of impending doom for the Rockies, a curse if you will, based on the popular taboo of building a bunch of crap (an excessively large baseball complex along with a casino, golf course, and “shopping village”) on sacred Native American ground, which has
…long been an effective myth in preventing the objectification of the earth for capitalist ends. Those who fail to heed these mystical warnings are punished by having two of our star players collide in foul territory on the first batter in the first inning of the first spring training game ever on this field. Let that play not be forgotten, as it no doubt portends future disasters of cosmological proportions.
On days like today, there’s nothing mystical about the game or anything intrinsically special about the players that makes us believe in such things as destiny, or a curse. Baseball, first and foremost, is just another a multi-billion dollar industry for profit. Players long ago shed their magic robes for the business suit. Saints and sinners alike.
Some fans ask if we can ever truly get to know our favorite players again, like we once did. Others would say we didn’t ever really know them at all, and never will. Nowadays, it’s harder than ever to make those distinctions. Not only because of stuff like the Strike of ’94, or the ongoing steroid scandal, or collusion among the owners, but because we’re finally learning not to be so damned naive.
But on a good day, when we recall Bob Apodaca superstitiously hopping over the third base line to calm down an erratic Ubaldo Jimenez in the shaky middle innings of a late April start in Atlanta, suggesting he scrap the windup and instead work each batter from the stretch, we might have good reason to believe in the mystical powers of the diamond. All I know is St. Ubie gave up six walks and somehow still hurled a no-no. And for one magical season, he turned at least two fans into disciples of Ubaldo. For that, my Grammy and I will always be of the opinion that the Rockies should’ve extended his contract, perhaps indefinitely.