After nearly every victory in the 2017 and 2018 season’s, members of the local media would be greeted with speakers blaring the hit pop track, “Despacito” and other various forms of electric music upon entering the Colorado Rockies’ clubhouse.
Hearing the initial guitar strums of the hit from Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber became a tradition when discussing the events of a game with Rockies’ players.
The good times were indeed rolling for the Rockies the past two seasons, but the mojo has stalled in 2019. While the clubhouse is still joyous after wins, there has been a noticeable change in energy – or lack thereof.
The clubhouse was more of a club than a house the past couple seasons, and while excitement still flows throughout following victories, the charisma is different.
So, what has been the difference this year?
There is no definitive answer, but leadership is a good starting point.
It is challenging to remain positive in a season littered with shortcomings, but the Rockies inability to roll with the punches and get back on track has doomed the club this season.
With a 54-67 record, the Rockies are toast in 2019, and they will need to regroup during the offseason, as 2020 will be a make-or-break season for the current core.
All-Star Nolan Arenado has been unable to find a definite reason for the club’s struggles.
“We have some young guys that are getting better, (but) at the same time we are a little bit behind, that’s just what it is,” Arenado said. “I can’t pinpoint what it is.”
There is no denying the surplus of talent the Rockies currently possess.
Arenado is a top-five player in the game today. Trevor Story is evolving into one of the best shortstops in the sport, Charlie Blackmon has been one of the most effective leadoff hitters this season and David Dahl was named to his first All-Star game in 2019.
The Rockies, however, lost a few key components and clubhouse leaders last offseason in Carlos Gonzalez, Gerardo Parra, DJ LeMahieu and Adam Ottavino.
While the Rockies have missed their impact on the field, the most significant void has been felt within the clubhouse.
“Obviously we miss them, and they were important to us, but it is what it is,” Arenado said. “You grow and get used to things. In spring training it was a little weird not having them around, but then you get used to it because this is just what it is.”
Gonzalez and Parra were essential fixtures in the clubhouse, and their departure has left a gap the current group of players is looking to fill.
“Nolan is a guy that everybody looks at. Story is becoming one of those guys as well,” Freeland said of players that have established leadership roles. “Myself and the starting pitching group are trying to solidify ourselves as leaders. We are trying to fill those roles, so when things go sideways in a season, guys can look to us.”
Although Arenado, Story and Freeland have tried to step up in place of former teammates, the team is still lacking some sort of “glue” man to bring everybody together like in years past.
“It’s different,” Freeland said. “Those guys are unique in their own way. CarGo and Parra are like two of the same people but different at the same time. Their personalities, styles of play. They are always loose, and they were always someone you could go talk to. They never shut a door on you. They were always looking to better younger guys and keep the game as light as possible, remind you this game is fun, and you have to have fun out there no matter what.
“Losing those two guys was not easy, but that is part of the game. Those kinds of personalities are not being shown (right now), and it’s tough to do that when we are in the season. We are all trying to win games and keep things light.”
While neither player was a total gamechanger on the field the last two season, their impact in the clubhouse was vital in helping the Rockies blossom into a postseason caliber team.
“The best way to portray them is that everything came out naturally and nothing was forced,” Freeland said. “Parra and CarGo are two guys that were perfect in that aspect.”
Although their actions would sometimes seem childish, the shenanigans helped lighten the mood within the clubhouse, no matter the circumstances. It may seem small, but the jokes, pranks and playing Spanish music at max volume after victories were essential components to the Rockies’ success in the past two seasons.
Now, Parra and Gonzalez were not the only veterans on the Rockies’ roster. Colorado still has a steady veteran presence within the clubhouse that skipper Bud Black feels is adequate.
“We feel as though where Nolan is in his career, where Charlie is, what Trevor is becoming, Daniel Murphy, Ian Desmond (and) Wade Davis – we have a lot of good veteran players,” Black said. “I think we are fine in the position of veteran leadership and character.”
Black is not wrong. The Rockies do indeed have a robust crop of veteran talent and each player has played a role in helping the Rockies’ younger players this season. Desmond is always chatting with Garrett Hampson and the other young infielders while Murphy has been a great source of information for any player that seeks his advice.
While the Rockies’ current crop of veterans has made an impact, it has not yielded the type of effects Colorado needs at the moment.
A majority of Colorado’s current veterans are locked in on baseball constantly whereas Gonzalez and Parra helped lift spirits both on and off the field.
Parra, now a member of the Washington Nationals, put his quirkiness on display this season by switching his walk-up song to “Baby Shark,” a track that has taken meme culture by storm.
The change of tune helped Parra snap out of a slump at the plate and injected some life into a Nationals’ team that appeared dead in the water earlier this year, much like the Rockies have been the last month.
The lightheartedness that Gonzalez and Parra brought to the table was unparalleled and essential in keeping the team on track during their runs to the postseason.
With the way the 2019 season has played out, the Rockies are committed to giving their young players a bulk of the playing time down the stretch. In accordance with this mentality, the Rockies cut ties with veteran catcher Chris Iannetta. Iannetta, like Gonzalez and Parra, served a significant role as a veteran, especially with the teams youthful pitching staff.
“When he came to the team last year, I immediately attached to him because I watched him when I was a kid,” Freeland said. “I was able to throw to him and create a friendship and chemistry with him that I am going to cherish for a long time. He’s one of those guys that wants to better himself and the pitchers he is catching.”
It’s easy to understand why the Rockies opted to move on from Gonzalez, Parra and Iannetta. If the Rockies’ had re-signed those players, a majority of their young, budding prospects would not have a place to play consistently at the big-league level.
That said, given Colorado’s expectations entering the season, the club should have been wary of how losing key clubhouse guys could affect the rest of the team.
While the talent of Arenado, Story, Blackmon and Dahl helped push the Rockies to the postseason the last two years, the influence of players like Gonzalez and Parra was instrumental in developing a winning culture.