After making the 2017 National League Wild Card Game, the Colorado Rockies found themselves at their season’s peak. While they advanced no further, the team’s climb from obscurity to playoff relevance was elating. Now they have their sights set on other mountains — taller ones — as they look to embark upon a World Series run. To make this climb, the Rockies must find a way to power through the approaching adversity of another baseball season.
It’s always harder the second time. Just ask Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black.
Black has had only a small taste of the postseason as a manager. In ten seasons as a Major League skipper, he has coached just one playoff game — the Rockies’ 2017 Wild Card game loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
It’s not that Black is unfamiliar with the postseason. He has two World Series rings. The first came with the Kansas City Royals in 1985. He was the losing pitcher in one of those games, but his team came out on top. The other ring came in 2002, as a pitching coach for the Anaheim Angels.
Those experiences have laid the foundation for Black’s success as a manger. The only true veteran head coach in Denver major sports, he has the respect of people around the game. He has the pedigree to elevate a team, as he did for the Rockies last year. He even won Manager of the Year with a San Diego Padres team that failed to make the playoffs in 2010.
He also knows something about failing to get beyond initial success.
While the Rockies were celebrating their playoff berth in 2007 after the legendary play-in game, Black was left dejected in the Padres’ dugout. He managed through one of the worst collapses in baseball history. For all of the surprise and joy ‘Rocktober’ brought to Denver, the sorrow was equal in San Diego.
Black then had to come back to Spring Training the next year and try to rally the troops. The Padres never competed for a World Series under Black — they didn’t even make the playoffs.
This is the fate Black hopes to avoid with this team.
The first time you succeed can seem deceptively simple. The idea that an athlete could look at a string of success and say, “that was easy,” is a sure sign of problems ahead.
Just ask Nathan MacKinnon, who was the NHL Rookie of the Year during a Colorado Avalanche playoff run. He’s never made the playoffs since and suffered on a historically bad team. Only by MacKinnon basically taking on the weight of the entire team has allowed the Avalanche to compete for a playoff spot again.
It’s harder the second time.
The Colorado Rockies had a fairly easy run to the playoffs last year. They started off strong and recovered from second-half struggles to mount a challenge for that Wild Card berth. They even rallied in that game, before finally succumbing in the 11-8 loss.
The Rockies will try to avoid that trap in 2018. However, you couldn’t blame the Rockies for thinking they should at least be able to match those results from last year. They’re a young team without a lot of experience in these sorts of things.
This is where they need Bud Black to navigate the more treacherous road ahead.
Pitchers can be inconsistent. Hitters can slump.
In each of these areas, the Rockies will need a manager who can tell them that “it’s hard now, but we can make this work together.” They need to be able to rise above adversity to reach a higher peak.
Last year should not be as good as it gets for the Rockies — and no one wants to rise above that first peak more than Black.