Surprised by Success? Well, the Day Black Was Hired. ...
DENVER -- The Rockies served notice.
They are no longer just one of the gang in the National League West.
They feel they are in position to be a factor in a division that over the past five years has been the private domain of the Dodgers and Giants, who have combined to win all five NL West titles in that stretch and made a combined seven postseason appearances, with the Giants winning two world titles.
How serious are the Rockies?
Serious enough to hire Bud Black to become the seventh manager in franchise history, the first with a pitching background as a player and a coach, and also a former big league manager.
He has experience at the mile-high altitude of Coors Field, where he has managed nearly 90 games as a visitor with the Padres, including a 9-8, 13-inning Rockies victory in Game 163 of 2007 that sent the Rockies on a postseason adventure that resulted in the lone World Series appearance in the franchise's 24-year existence.
And the Rockies are serious enough to make no secret during Monday's introduction of Black as their new manager to publicly underscore the feeling that the time has come for the Rockies to become a factor in the NL West, not merely one of five teams listed in the divisional standings.
Black gets that, too.
"Bud talked about it, that urgent feeling of belief that is brewing among our players as they look at themselves and they look around the league in the division and go, 'OK, we should really start to win games and put pressure on ourselves and pressure on the rest of the division and the National League to get back into the playoffs here,'" said general manager Jeff Bridich. "That's a wonderful place to be, and I think it's an honest place to be for who we are right now.
"I think Bud realizes that. I think our players realize that. A lot of people in the organization realize that. I think that is part of what was the attractive piece about the job."
It's not like Black is walking into this job ready to sit by the campfire, roast marshmallows and sing "Kumbaya." He is not a baseball novice.
He has seen the challenges Coors Field presents as a visiting manager. He pitched a game at Mile High Stadium, back in the Rockies' inaugural season of 1993, working eight innings, giving up three hits and two runs in an 8-2 Giants victory. In fact, he was the visiting pitcher with the Giants in the March 6, 1993, game in Tucson, Ariz., when the Rockies played the first Cactus League game in franchise history.
He has, in other words, been around long enough to understand that every job has its challenges, whether it be weather or ballpark dimensions or atmospheric conditions.
A 17th-round Draft choice of the Mariners in 1979, Black made his big league debut with Seattle in 1981 and spent the next 14 years pitching in the Majors with the Royals, Indians, Blue Jays and Giants.
He enjoyed success, being a part of the starting rotation for a Royals franchise that won the American League West in 1984 before being eliminated in the ALCS by the eventual world champion Tigers, and then won the World Series in '85.
Black was a pitching coach with the Angels for seven years, including the world championship season of 2002, and managed the Padres for 8 1/2 seasons, being let go 65 games into the 2015 season with the team's record at 32-33. He won the NL Manager of the Year Award in 2010.
And that history as a pitcher and a pitching coach was a decided edge for Black among the lengthy list of candidates that the Rockies went through before settling on the replacement for Walt Weiss.
"We were first and foremost looking for the right leader and the right human being," said Bridich. "The fact he has an unbelievable resume in terms of the pitcher he was and the pitchers he helped as a coach, is that part of the equation? Absolutely.
"The pitching aspect at the Major League level is something we have focused on and probably put the most energy into over the last 2 1/2 years," Bridich said in reference to his tenure as the general manager. "That is where the lion's share of our energy has gone. Bud's experience and expertise is going to add to that."
And Black shares that vision.
"I am excited about this group of players, this franchise and where it is headed," he said. "I got a number of texts last night and this morning congratulating me, but a lot of them were about the team and how people in this industry view where this team is."
The lineup is elite. The rotation is built around young arms, with Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson, Chad Bettisand Tyler Chatwood forming the nucleus. The bullpen, however, is the challenge, with Bridich well aware that he has to add late-inning help to go with Adam Ottavino, who returned late last July from Tommy John surgery, and Jake McGee, whose season was impacted by an ongoing knee problem.
The potential, however, is tangible. Or, as Black put it, "This is a real team."
And it is Black's challenge to turn it into a championship team.