As the Colorado Rockies wrap up celebrating their 30th anniversary, The Colorado Sun is taking an in-depth look at the team’s losing history and if there is hope for a turnaround. This four-part series breaks down the struggles and possible transformation.
While Coors Field bakes in 92-degree heat and much of a sparse weekday crowd huddles in the shade of the upper deck, Michael Klahr settles into a sun-splashed seat 11 rows from home plate and makes himself comfortable.
This afternoon, that means finishing off a basket of finger-licking ribs, taking a sip from his water bottle, pulling out his pencil and scoresheet and following every pitch of the Colorado Rockies game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Rockies have lost six of the previous seven games, may well be headed toward their worst season ever and have inspired little faith in the future.
And yet, Klahr is in his happy place — one of a handful of season ticket seats he has shared with friends since the very first day the Rockies brought Major League Baseball to Denver in 1993.
“This,” he says of his prime vantage point, “may be the most valuable thing I own.”
Over 30 years and counting, the competitive success of the team has been sparse, but the consortium in this sporting investment — a core group of three original members augmented by a shifting cast of friends and partners — stands as a case study in the evolution of a fan base whose support endures despite widespread displeasure with the results on the field.
So what keeps these folks filing back into Coors Field to watch a team that, while producing some excellent players and a handful of playoff appearances, has struggled to be consistently competitive? How have their attitudes and expectations adapted over three decades of mostly losing baseball?
Why are these fans still here?
They blame the fans because the fans don’t demand more. But what would I do? My seats are incredible.
— Michael Klahr, Rockies season ticket holder
Folks who got in early on the Rockies and stayed — like Klahr and the rest of his group — would love nothing more than to see the team succeed. Most brought childhood allegiances to the table, but also an overarching affinity for the experience of watching the game played at its highest level.
Old fan loyalties could be revisited on a regular basis (especially once interleague play was introduced in 1997) and at the same time, a new identity could be embraced, not only by these newly minted season ticket holders but also by their kids, part of the first Colorado generation to grow up with a hometown big league team.
Because baseball’s 81-game home schedule presents an expansive — and expensive — season ticket opportunity, Klahr and his buddies sought access by banding together to manage the individual investment of both time and money. Like many similar cooperatives, they understood that while success for an expansion franchise would take time, the intrinsic value of witnessing baseball, with all its elevation-adjusted quirks, would suffice during the wait for the Rockies to become competitive.
More than 30 years later, the core group remains, with some additions and attrition along the way, filling five seats with a spectacular view of the good, bad and ugly. They’ve experienced indelible memories — top of the list being the Rockies’ improbable run to a World Series appearance in 2007, thanks to a late-season winning streak that inspired widespread delirium and the term “Rocktober.”
But even that high — extinguished by the Boston Red Sox in a four-game sweep — in hindsight seems more like a mirage, false hope overshadowed by the norm of mediocrity (or worse) reflected in only four other playoff appearances. None of those lasted past the first round.
But the last two, in 2017 and 2018, came during the first two promising seasons under current manager Bud Black, who perhaps counterintuitively remains fairly well-regarded by the group despite the subsequent string of five consecutive losing seasons.
They more readily point the finger at ownership, headed by Dick Monfort, and a front office they say — echoing a fairly common refrain — is insular and incompetent when it comes to developing young players in sufficient numbers and making significant trades or free agent acquisitions.
Too often, the group agrees, they’ve seen their decades-long support repaid with management missteps. Nevertheless, they’ve had lots of company at Coors Field. And therein lies the conundrum.
The Rockies have ranked in the top half of Major League baseball in attendance 27 of 30 seasons (excluding the COVID-abbreviated 2020 season) despite finishing better than third in their division only four times. Only twice have the Rockies failed to draw 2 million fans in a season, and they could surpass that number again — in a year that might well yield 100 losses.
“Now here we are, 30 years in, and we’ve never even won our division,” says Peter Konrad, one of the remaining core of three original members. “That’s really sad. I mean, we’ve proven ourselves to be good fans, through thick and thin — mostly thin. And that’s the curse. There’s no motivation for the ownership to really do what they need to do.”
He still refuses to abandon all hope, surrender his ticket share and put his foot down — essentially to cast a vote for change with his checkbook. Rather, Konrad has resolved to manage expectations and focus on the joy of watching a game he loves in surroundings that rank among the best in baseball.
“So,” he figures, “I’m kind of part of the problem.”
Generations of disappointment
Although the group’s number has varied, it includes baseball fans primed for 1993’s National League expansion by histories with teams they left behind when they migrated to Colorado.
Klahr, 74, arrived in Denver from back East in the 1970s to pursue a wide-ranging career in which he notably carved out a long-running niche in Denver sports talk radio. He brought along his affection for the New York Mets, the Baltimore Orioles and the St. Louis Cardinals, diverse rooting interests cultivated at various points in his life, starting in his New York childhood.
“And my dream,” he says, “was always to have season tickets.”
Konrad, 78, grew up near Sacramento and became a big fan of the Giants after they left New York for San Francisco following the 1957 season. When he settled in Colorado after getting out of the Army in 1970 to begin a long career managing philanthropic organizations, he yearned for big-time baseball. When the Rockies arrived, he went all in.
We’ve proven ourselves to be good fans, through thick and thin — mostly thin.
— Peter Konrad, longtime Rockies fan
Rocco Dodson, 72, grew up in Los Angeles reveling in the Dodgers’ 1958 move from Brooklyn. After settling in Colorado, where he launched a law firm in Golden, he became good friends with Konrad, and in their shared excitement over the birth of the Rockies, they plunked down a deposit for two seats. Eventually, they merged with Klahr’s group.
Lyman Ho, 72 and also from Los Angeles, recalls the Dodgers’ arrival and attending games after his father secured season tickets. In Denver, where he works in land acquisition for public entities, Ho met Klahr through a regular pickup basketball gathering and gladly got behind the Rockies when presented the chance to buy into the ticket group.
The consortium initially chose seats three rows off third base. That was their vantage point through the team’s early years, when record turnout fed off pent-up longing and an identity — the Blake Street Bombers — built on a propensity for the long ball. Those attendance numbers certainly were juiced by the football-level capacity at Mile High Stadium the first two seasons, but fan enthusiasm continued with the move to Coors Field in 1995.
After a couple of predictably subpar seasons, things seemed to be trending nicely under manager Don Baylor with the arrival of future Hall of Famer Larry Walker and the team’s first, brief playoff appearance. But two more passable seasons gave way to an extended spiral — nine seasons of mediocre baseball in which the Rockies bobbed above .500 only once, and just barely, between 1998 and 2006.
As a fan focused on the broader baseball experience, Klahr saw a silver lining in those lean years. Some of the faithful would inevitably lose faith, and if they happened to be season ticket holders, their disappointment would present an opportunity to improve his group’s seats. He recounts how, when the Rockies left his partner smarting from yet another loss, he hinted at better times ahead.
“I’d turn to her at the end of the game,” Klahr recalls, “and I’d say, ‘The Rockies lost, but we won. Watch.’”
And sure enough, over two years, the group was able to improve its seat selection to the current vantage point very nearly peering over the catcher’s shoulder — which was great for any hardcore fan of baseball.
Many early season ticket holders, on the cusp of middle age in 1993, already were pre-wired to love the game by virtue of entire childhoods spent bonding with teams worth watching. But what effect would an extended run of futility have on the next generation of fans?
Meredith Hotz was 8 years old when the Rockies played their inaugural season.
As the second-born in her family, behind an older sister, she found herself uniquely situated to take advantage of a new baseball team and regular outings to the ballpark since her father also was part of the season ticket group.
“My dad really wanted a son,” she says with a laugh, “and he got another daughter, so he raised me like his son. So I got to be the sports kid. If we only had two tickets, my dad was taking me over my sister and my mom.”
Some of her most vivid memories revolve around dancing for the TV cameras positioned by the well near their third-base seats and trying to coax an appearance on the stadium’s big screen. Or swaying arm in arm with her dad singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch. Even as she got older and became a more discerning fan, she continued to root for the Rockies — but in a more casual way.
“It wasn’t really about the winning or losing,” she says. “It was really the experience of going to the ballpark. If we won, everybody was in a good mood, and if we lost, no one was upset because we weren’t that good.”
These days, she works with her dad and sister in real estate, which means sometimes they offer their tickets to clients, but Hotz still manages to attend six to eight games a season. And she still looks forward to those occasions. She digs into her “sports closet” for Rockies attire — anything from tank tops to short sleeves to pullovers, depending on the weather.
“Every time I go, I run into probably a dozen of my friends from high school or grade school,” she says. “They’re there with their families, carrying on the tradition. I think that the fan base is just happy to have a team, because even though we’re not big hitters we still are the underdog. And we want to see the underdog win, but we’re not disappointed when the underdog doesn’t.”
If we won, everybody was in a good mood, and if we lost, no one was upset because we weren’t that good.
— Meredith Hotz, Rockies fan since age 8
Dodson saw his son, Danny, grow up a huge baseball fan who cultivated his love of the game into a high school playing career. But the Rockies didn’t occupy that same kind of emotional space for Danny that the Dodgers did for his dad. The same goes for a daughter, Ana, who loves attending games, but exhibits only a casual rooting interest.
“I don’t think anybody feels really strongly about the Rockies,” Dodson says of his family. “I mean, we do go to the games, and that’s who we root for. We want them to win. But we’re always ready for the disappointment, too.”
Konrad’s daughter, Katie, had a diamond pedigree. She pitched East High School to the finals of the state softball championship in 2000 and for a while adopted Carlos González as her favorite player before settling as an adult in Seattle. Konrad’s son, Chris, had just hit his teens when the Rockies arrived and went on to play baseball at East. Father and son flew to New York to attend the Rockies’ very first game, on the road against the Mets, who had been Chris’s childhood favorite.
“He definitely was rooting for the Rockies by then,” Konrad recalls. “But he wasn’t as passionate as he was when he was a Mets fan. I mean, if the Rockies had won, I think that might have been different.
“But they didn’t.”
There’s always the beauty of the game
The Rockies do offer a reasonable ticket price that pretty closely correlates to their standing as the third-worst Major League Baseball team, in terms of win percentage, in the expansion era (dating from 1961). One analysis found that the Rockies offer the fourth-least expensive tickets, on average, behind only Miami, Milwaukee and Detroit.
“So monetarily, the value is there,” Ho figures. “Going to the game is a real plus. I think the fact that they’re averaging such a high level of attendance is literally proof that the people around here like to watch baseball — because some of the baseball is mediocre, right?”
On average, yes. But the pure entertainment value derives at least in part from conditions at Coors Field, which have often produced the sort of wild on-field fluctuations that leave fans shaking their heads, in disgust or wonder.
Ho had all five of the group’s tickets to the team’s June 24 game this season against the Los Angeles Angels that treated fans to an epic 25-1 loss. On the other hand, last year Ho took a buddy from L.A. to a Rockies home game in which Colorado fell behind by eight runs — prompting derisive comments from his friend — and yet still managed to come back and win.
“And he just shook his head like, ‘How is that possible?’” Ho recalls. “And that’s one thing about Coors Field. Anything’s possible. But I think the level of frustration builds every year, because it doesn’t seem like the team gets it. And I’m talking about the ownership. I’m wondering at some point, will the frustration supersede the interest?”
Although moments of unbridled joy have been too few, there can be no denying their intensity — starting with the inaugural game at Mile High Stadium when Eric Young auspiciously launched a home run in the Rockies’ very first home at-bat.
I’m wondering at some point, will the frustration supersede the interest?
— Lyman Ho, on Rockies fan frustrations
And it’s hard to overstate the thrill that shook a full house at Coors Field as fans savored the extra play-in game of the 2007 regular season against San Diego. In extra innings, the Rockies were propelled into the playoffs when Matt Holliday scored the winning run (or did he?) on a sacrifice fly followed by a controversial play at the plate.
“And Holliday’s slide — thank God we didn’t have instant replay, because he’d have been out,” Konrad recalls with a chuckle. “Nonetheless, we won that game and winning the playoff games and getting to the World Series was pretty remarkable. I mean, that’s as much fun as I’ve had at any sporting event. That fall was magical.”
Predictably, it inspired a bit of magical thinking: Konrad resolved to arrange his schedule each year to be in town and available for fan duty in September, so he could reprise the experience of meaningful late-season baseball.
“I guess it’s 16 years later, and I’ve kind of given up,” he says. “I just don’t think it’s realistic anymore.”
Deprived of that adrenaline rush of daily scoreboard watching, the time-honored ritual of the true contender, these Rockies fans fall back on the beauty of the game — a beauty that most seem to agree has been enhanced by this year’s rule changes that contain most games to manageable length, instead of the often interminable, high-scoring Coors Field affairs.
“I do like baseball,” Ho says, “and so I guess I’m a devoted fan, but not solely of the Rockies. I go to games now as much to see the other teams, considering the level of play that the Rockies are presenting.”
What’s the tipping point?
At one recent game, a fan rose from his seat to express a sentiment that has gained traction over the losing seasons. The young man stood up between innings and held up a small sign:
“Boycott Rockies. Monforts must sell.”
It was a small, quiet protest, but one that aptly illustrates the frustration and futility that comes with root-root-rooting for the home team. But give up Major League Baseball and those idyllic evenings at Coors Field?
“I certainly considered it,” Konrad says, “but I never came close. You just have to manage your expectations. I go out there now for the experience, and I enjoy it. It’s worth it for me.”
“I’m actually approaching that level,” offers Ho, “but I don’t think I’m quite there. But a number of things could potentially push me over — you know, doing more stupid trades, raising ticket prices after a horrible season. They’ve been smart enough not to do that.”
He sees value in sticking with the seats, but not in the traditional risk-reward sense. As a winning investment, it’s not paying off. But there are other reasons to stay.
“Baseball is one of those nonquantifiable assets or values to your humanity,” Ho says. “So you say, ‘I like going and I like having the tickets so I’m gonna keep paying for them.’ And you cross your fingers and hope maybe there’s something out there, a change in ownership or change in management. But they keep hiring from within, so that the culture is still there. And unfortunately, the culture has been a losing culture with the exception of that one year.”
Maybe that’s why it sometimes seems that Rockies fans have been conditioned to view a night at the ballpark through the lens of aesthetics, from the vantage point of The Rooftop bar and with the anesthesia of low expectations.
“You would be crazy to invest your heart and soul in this team with the management structure and style that they have,” Klahr says. “They continually choose the wrong thing.”
For comparison, he points first to the Houston Astros, a losing team that turned its fortunes around by drafting exceptionally well. And they’ve dominated baseball (although no, they don’t get a pass on the 2017 cheating scandal) by making it to six American League Championship Series and four World Series — with two titles — since 2017. And they’re in the mix again this season.
Then he points to the remarkable success of the Baltimore Orioles, a team that in recent years had sunk to the bottom in the American League with three seasons of more than 100 losses, only to retool its front office with talent hired away from one of baseball’s most consistent development models — the Houston Astros. As of this writing, the Orioles have the best record in the American League.
Losing can be painful, yes. But it can also be cleansing, and the Orioles’ decision to look outside their organization for the right people to rebuild stands in stark contrast to the Rockies.
“They haven’t really done what they need to do to be competitive,” Konrad says. “You know, we can blame Coors Field and the altitude and all — I’m tired of that. They haven’t brought many good players up through their farm system, through their scouting. They’re not finding hidden gems. There are occasionally some good ones, and they were fun to watch. Look, I hope Todd Helton gets into the Hall of Fame. You can find examples of successes, but it’s the quantity, I think, that’s the problem.”
There have been disastrous free agent signings and botched personnel moves, including the ill-fated effort to spend big on pitching that yielded Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle and, more recently, the deal that sent superstar third baseman Nolan Arenado to St. Louis (along with $50 million) with little to show for it.
Ho looks at last year’s free agent signing of 31-year-old Kris Bryant, a four-time all star with the Cubs who, in part due to injury, has not delivered, even when he has been able to play, and wonders at the wisdom of the decision-makers.
“Somebody’s obviously writing the check,” he says, “but is anybody being held accountable, or is everybody just sort of shrugging their shoulders?”
Does all the blame belong at the top of the Rockies’ hierarchy?
“I know people who vehemently blame the fans for the plight of this franchise,” Klahr says. “They blame the fans because the fans don’t demand more. But what would I do? My seats are incredible. Would I give up my seats to make a statement against the Monforts that by all accounts won’t make a bit of difference?”
On a hot August afternoon, he answers that question by his presence, along with several thousand others, at the meaningless weekday game against the Diamondbacks. He looks for hope in the young players — guys like rookies Nolan Jones, Ezequiel Tovar and Brenton Doyle — the Rockies’ next generation of promising position players who form a core, of sorts, after the veteran sell-off at the recent trade deadline to restock with young pitching prospects.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, as the temperature climbs to 96 degrees, the Rockies trail 6-5 when Jones steps to the plate with one man on base and two out. Klahr, who has been discussing the Rockies’ collection of up-and-comers, dares to dream.
“OK, Nolan,” he says quietly. “Time to live up to the hype.”
Two pitches later, the rookie outfielder launches a home run over the right-center field wall to give the Rockies the lead. Minutes after that, while patrolling right field, Jones deftly plays a line-drive carom off the wall, turns and fires to second base to cut down the Arizona batter trying to stretch his hit into a double.
The Rockies ultimately surrender the lead in the late innings and lose for the 75th time this season, leaving fans to sigh and head home wondering when it will ever be different, when the franchise will ever learn how to develop and deal its way back to respectability. There are some good young players for fans like the season ticket holders in Section 134 to watch develop, but the team still seems miles from contending for anything.
Because baseball junkies always start the season with hope, Klahr uses the annual distribution of the group’s tickets to reflexively claim dibs on the final home game, betting against the odds that it could prove a pivotal matchup for a Rockies team jockeying for position in the playoffs.
He did it again this season. By the time the Rockies face the Minnesota Twins on Oct. 1, though, the Broncos and college football will be in full swing, with elite-level hockey and basketball on the horizon, and he knows he’ll be hard-pressed to find others to join him.
“Every year for — what is it, 31 years? — I have been at the last game of the season,” he says. “And it’s only mattered once.”