Ian Desmond remembers being overwhelmed by the “Tu-lo, Tu-lo” chants that rocked Coors Field for local legend Troy Tulowitzki at the beginning of the decade, when the Rockies were rolling and the expectations were set at 5,280 feet and above.
Recreating that atmosphere was part of the lure that led Desmond to sign a five-year, $70 million contract with the team this winter, even if it means a second position change in as many years.
That, and the chance to do something special.
“This group of guys, the opportunity to do something that has never been done before,” Desmond said. “Win a division. Win a World Series. Bring that culture back here that they used to have.”
The Rockies have made the playoffs three times in their 24 seasons, all as an NL wild card. They made it as far as the World Series in 2007, when they won 13 of their final 14 regular-season games to force a wild card playoff before such a thing was the norm, won the playoff with San Diego, and then ran off seven straight postseason victories before falling to Boston in the Series. Back then, the noise could be deafening.
“Coming here in 2009, 2010, the crowds were electric,” Desmond said. “It was an exciting and fun place to play, and I want to bring that back. The great thing here is, even if we haven’t been winning the fans still come out. I want them to be proud of their Colorado Rockies.”
Desmond’s signing was met with some questions at the time, but a deeper look reveals it to be a forward-thinking move by general manager Jeff Bridich, beginning his third season.
Desmond, 32, appears to have the athleticism to play first base after an eight-year career spent mostly at shortstop. He certainly has the bat to play anywhere, and Coors Field should be a smooth fit.
Moreover, in the long run the Rockies added an insurance policy in the event they lose right fielder Carlos Gonzalez to free agency next winter. Gonzalez is to earn $20 million in the final year of seven-year, $80 million contract extension signed before the start of the 2011 season.
As much as Gonzalez has said he likes Colorado, and as much as the sides consider another extension, the smallish-market Rockies would seem to have a difficult time re-signing Gonzalez if he hits the market. Yoenis Cespedes signed a four-year deal that averages $27.5 million per year with the Mets this winter, and Dexter Fowler signed a five-year deal averaging $16.1 million with St. Louis. It would be easy to make a case that Gonzalez is worth at least that much, likely more as the premier outfielder on the market.
If Gonzalez leaves, the Rockies would have the flexibility of returning Desmond to the outfield for the final four years of his deal.
For now, Desmond is at first base, and he is the only first baseman on the 40-man roster, although 2016 starter Mark Reynolds is in camp on a minor league contract and appears likely to make the team out of spring.