Featured Image Credit: Colorado Rockies
The Blake Street Bombers would not have been the same without left fielder Dante Bichette. And Dante Bichette wouldn’t have been a Blake Street Bomber, or the player he became in Colorado, without the late Don Baylor.
Bichette joined Danny Williams and Ryan Edwards on the morning of Baylor’s passing to remember the legendary manager and player.
“I owe him so much because this guy was the first guy who really believed in me,” Bichette said. “To not just sign me and bring me and bring me over to the Rockies, but put me in the three hole [in the lineup] and play me every day and say ‘You’re my guy.’ I love the guy for that. I really love the guy, personally, but I loved him and I owed him so much for that.”
Baylor and Bichette helped usher baseball into the Mile High City, Baylor as the Rockies’ first manager and Bichette as left fielder for the teams that would come to be known across baseball as the Blake Street Bombers.
Bichette remembers fondly the magical time that was those first years in Colorado.
“It was a special time,” he told Danny and Ryan. “Those who remember, remember a packed house. For years there it was a crazy place to be. It was the most exciting place on the planet for a few years, and Don Baylor was leading it all with an aggressive style of play.
“We’re the only team still in history to steal 200 bases and hit 200 homers in the same season. That’s about as aggressive a team as you can have, and we made it fun. It was fun to play, and I think the fans really loved it in those days.
“There’s no doubt [Don Baylor was the perfect fit as manager for the Blake Street Bombers]. Things about Don Baylor, you know maybe he didn’t win in the playoffs there when he had a chance, made a mistake, but I don’t think we even get there with that kind of a team without a guy like Don Baylor. His aggressiveness, his leadership.”
On a personal level, Bichette says he never would have become the player he turned out to be – a career .299 hitter with 274 home runs and 1,141 RBIs – without Baylor’s encouragement.
“He talked to me in Milwaukee, when I was a bench player [and he was the hitting coach], and he said, ‘Dante, when you figure this league out, you’re going to run this league.’ And I looked at him, and I’m a bench player, 20-something years old, I’m not doing anything. I’m playing with Hall of Famers Paul Molitor, Robin Yount, and looked at him and said, ‘Are you serious? Do you really believe that?’ And he said, ‘Absolutely.’
“And I just blew it off, and a year later he drafts me [in the expansion draft] and puts me in the three hole, and I’m like, ‘This guy was honest with me.’ And I remember going the first month as a Rockie, I was struggling. Same old me. Just struggling, didn’t quite believe in myself. About a month in, he comes to me. And like I said, he didn’t say a lot of things. He said, ‘Listen, this is the last chance you’re getting.’ He says, ‘You keep taking pitches and being being passive. You need to hit the next pitch you see as hard as you can and continue to do that.’ And that’s all he said to me.
“That night, I went out and got three or four hits. He was in my mind the whole game. It took my mind off everything else except ‘this guy believes in me.’ I go out there and hit the next pitch I see hard, and I took off after that.
It wasn’t just Baylor’s ability to motivate his players that Bichette remembers. He also recalls how in tune he was with his team, despite being a man of very few words.
“He was the kind of guy who was so in tune with his players, and I can tell you the story with me. I would miss one, two, three days a year. I played every day. I grinded it out. I didn’t like to take days off. But every once in a while, I would have a day where I’m like, I’d tell my wife, ‘There’s no way I can play tomorrow,’ and just grind it out. And for some reason, he would know it and I’d be out of the lineup. And he would do it every time. And this is only like three days a year out of 162 games. I was like, ‘This guy is so in tune with his players!’ I’d ask my wife, ‘Did you tell him?’ Because, wow! He was just that kind of guy.
Those are just a few of the many moments Bichette shared with Baylor during their years together in Milwaukee and Colorado. Moments Bichette will carry with him, as will others who played and coached with him.
“There were so many moments between me and him personally that he would say a few things to me, and just the lightbulb would come on. He’d get me out of slumps. He would clear my mind and I would imagine other players have the same thing,” Bichette said.
Listen to the full interview with Bichette, including his thoughts on the 2017 Rockies, in the podcast below.