25 Years Later, That 1st Home Opener Seems Like Yesterday

Eric Young walked to home plate, leading off the bottom of the first inning of the first game the expansion Rockies ever played in Denver on that afternoon of April 9, 1993. A record-setting crowd of 80,277 made its presence known.

“The fans had been wanting baseball for so long in the whole region,” Young recalled. “That afternoon there was something special in the air. It was like something big had to happen.”

And it did.

Young took the first five pitches thrown by Expos pitcher Kent Bottenfield, working a full count. And on the next pitch, Young swung a magical swing. The first Rockies batter, in the first game ever played in Colorado, hit a home run.

Okay, it wasn’t the first home run in franchise history. Two days earlier, at Shea Stadium in New York, Dante Bichette connected off Bret Saberhagen of the Mets, but that was back East. That was just an appetizer for the baseball fans in the Rocky Mountain region.

Young’s home run. However, …

“Those people were so excited, I said to myself, `I got to do something special,” Young said. “When I hit that pitch it was like 80,000 people rose up and made sure that ball went over the fence. For the rest of my life I’ll never forget that. It’s never going away in the minds of the fans, which means I’m never going away, either.”

The Rockies, who had scored one run in losing the first two games of the seasons to the Mets right-handed duo of Dwight Gooden and Bret Saberhagen, finished that afternoon at Mile High Stadium with the first win in franchise history, 11-4. Young went 4-for-4.

The impact of that afternoon, 25 years ago, wasn’t lost on Young’s teammates.

“The stadium was filled and the place was electric,” said Joe Girardi, the Rockies original starting catcher. “If you look at my career, I got to do some great stuff – play for the Cubs, be part of an expansion team, win a world championship (with the Yankees). Those are things you can never forget. The chance to be part of something from the ground level like that (first Rockies) team was special.”

And it wasn’t lost on the team’s management.

“I’ll never forget that moment,” said the late Jerry McMorris, the original managing general partner of the Rockies. “There are always going to be great moments, but that one was special. I remember to saying to Charlie (Monfort, another general partner), `To think Major League Baseball passed over Colorado and went to some of the other places it went to.’

“That game was a final statement that we were right, that the Rocky Mountain region was ready for the major leagues.”

Ready? The Rockies drew a record 4,483,350 fans to Mile High Stadium that season. It is a record, considering the seating capacity of the new stadiums, that figures to never be broken. And the Rockies did that with 79 home dates, twice being forced to play doubleheaders before the split-doubleheader became a staple for makeup games.

And that was a team with a group of basically unknowns, even among each other. Pitcher Bryn Smith, in fact, handed out name tags for each player to wear during spring training so they would know who each other was.

It was a team that went 67-95, including a 13-game losing streak from late July into early August.

“Most of the projections I remember seeing were that (the Rockies) might draw a couple million fans,” McMorris said. “I didn’t know. You had to go by what the experts were thinking. Clearly, everybody missed the regional attraction of the franchise.”

Twenty-five years later, nobody is questioning the Rocky Mountain region's big-league status.

Their expansion cousin Marlins have floundered, despite winning two world championships. The Rockies, meanwhile, have flourished, from the first day until today.

Tracy RingolsbyComment