Every year, hope springs eternal for our hometown baseball team.

I can’t tell you how many amazing days I’ve had at Coors Field since moving here in 1999. Sun-splashed opening days and freezing-cold World Series nights in October, mixed with a wide variety of different games, have made going to watch the Rockies game a thrill.

My family hasn’t been to one single Broncos game together. Either I’m working or the drunks are just too much for me to bring my kids. Frankly, you would think the games themselves would be more exciting, but they aren’t. You wouldn’t think the pace of play at a Rockies game would be any kind of improvement on any event, but any and all action on the green grass of Coors Field is easy to consume at a leisurely pace.

It’s funny to think of so many great things associated with Coors Field on such a personal level. As my kids were very young little leaguers, we had a blast walking around the warning track before games. We sat in the highest nosebleeds and Jason Giambi blasted a walk-off homer against the Red Sox. My men’s baseball team sat in in a large pack during the comeback game where Todd Helton hit the walk-off to beat the Dodgers that started the Rockies’ improbable run to the World Series.

I was almost banned from the press box twice. First, for snapping a pic of Dick Enberg and tweeting that he had gone to the bathroom (I swear, that was a big deal a few years ago). Another day, on a cold and windy spring afternoon, the windows were shut in the press box and I started doing impromptu play-by-play. Apparently, it’s unprofessional to make up wild stories about the Phillies players that crack up the bored staff from Root Sports.

“Coming up to the plate is Jeff Armitage. A little known fact, sports fans – Jeff had his knee replaced with a donkey’s knee. That’s right, it’s Donkey Leg Armitage – loves hitting in cold weather. The pitch… Ball one. The only tricky thing about the unique surgery is that Jeff kicks at people who say ‘Hey’ to him. The pitch… Strike! Jeff is hitting .233 on Tuesdays in April when the temperature is below 50 degrees; also he was adopted by nuns. Ground out to second… One down.”

I was getting plenty of laughs in the sparsely attended press box. I had to leave to do my radio show, but I found out afterwards that I was a hunted man for actually having fun. You see there were serious things going on in a game that I believed was rained out. They have since taken that gorgeous press box and turned it into a gorgeous luxury box. When I go to a game, I would now have to sit on folding chair in the back row surrounded by old men that don’t understand why having a donkey knee would be funny. So, I just simply sit in the stands and go to the clubhouse later on. The folks in the upper deck love my curious play-by-play.

It’s been awesome to see one of my best friends in the world, Marc Stout, blossom as the man on the Rockies beat. Stout does an amazing job. We go back more than 20 years and if it weren’t for Marc, I wouldn’t even be in Colorado. He’s a terrific talent and great friend. Our family ends each night watching Mark and the Root team call the Rox. Win or lose, we always catch the final couple of innings. Too often, it’s been a losing effort.

So, while there have been countless fantastic memories surrounding the Rockies – certainly, there have been enough to make my family and I lifelong fans – it isn’t the professional team that defines the joy that is baseball.

To find something wonderful, I suppose you have to also travel a path filled with bumps and potholes. A couple years back, I wrote a reflective piece about what Little League Baseball meant to me as now seen through the eyes of my 12-year-old son. I was joking about stuff and serious about stuff. Most importantly, I was honest about the motivations for those that surround the game, both good and bad. Well, trust me that didn’t go over well with certain members of our league.

Coaching in fall baseball in little league – about the most basic of all basic rec levels of baseball – a tall, gangly, turd of a man challenged me to fight. On the field during the game! He also took immense pride in his height as he cursed me out as a short piece of sh$%! I haven’t been in a fight since the fifth grade, but it was almost the “Throwdown at the Playground.”

Cooler heads prevailed and the game finished up. Afterwards in the handshake line, the height-gifted turd wouldn’t give me the bump. I chased him down and got the humiliation handshake. It was a bad scene. However, it was not as bad as what followed; his assistant head coach grabbed me on the mound and asked to have a word.

“Darren, got a second?” Big Assistant Oaf said.

“Uh, sure,” I replied, knowing that this wasn’t about to go well.

“About that article – you see…” he paused to give dramatic effect to what he was about to say knowing it would be the most insightful, brilliant thing I would ever hear. “You see, what you wrote about, it’s not that it was wrong, but it’s like when you know when your best friend is cheating on his wife. It’s kind of like that. You know, there are just some things that aren’t right, but you shouldn’t talk about them either. Understand?”

We had an awesome year-end pizza party planned, so I didn’t want to spend much time talking to this dope about his life philosophy. I nodded my head – “Sure thing, man” – and pretty much decided that this guy was currently cheating on his wife.

Based off that wonderful encounter and a host of other reasons, my wife and I started our own non-profit, competitive-tournament baseball organization. It has grown from one team to six. We have exploded from zero involved in winter training to over 120 participants this year. We have created a Scholar Program that rewards high school seniors with $1,000 scholarships in exchange for community service during their teenage years. Through group fundraising, we have awarded thousands of dollars in scholarships to families in our program that need a little help. Through a sponsorship program, some of our families are paying zero for youth baseball, compared to $5,000-7,000 that most competitive baseball families fork over each summer.

Our teams are competitive, but they certainly aren’t the best. As a matter of fact, they are not even close, and never will be close. We remain a neighborhood organization and don’t accept kids who can’t play in our actual Little League. But every now and then, special things happen. We’ve won our share of championships and had incredible athletic achievements on the field. But we’ve also been wiped off the face of the earth in humiliating fashion.

Every weekend, we experience life. We literally win some and lose some. Every weekend, we walk away as an organization going around .500 and we know it will never be better than that. We know certain teams have monster kids and travel monster distances to compete. We are not a Bryce Harper farm team. Bryce Harper would be ashamed to share the same field as our team. Our kids may play 60 or so games a year, which sounds like a lot, but trust me, that is a drop in the bucket compared to what most parents put their kids through. We try and do things the right way and not cheat on our wives.

So when something magical happens, man, it’s such a thrill and no professional baseball experience can top it.

Most of us have no idea there is such a thing as the Australian military. What in the world is Australia protecting itself from? Gandolf from New Zealand? Does the Tasmanian Devil have surface to air weaponry? Can kangaroos operate machetes and machine guns? All that being said, trust me, there is such a thing.

Ryan McKee (no relation) is an officer in the Australian military based here in Denver. Now, I didn’t know an Australian military existed, never mind the need of having an Australian military presence here in Colorado. Ryan is a giant of a man with a gregarious attitude. His two young sons, Tyson and Flynn, had never played baseball until three years ago. Ryan actually coaches Colorado’s only Australian-rules football team, in addition to his nerve-racking duties keeping us all protected from Paul Hogan.

However out of place his family may have felt, the McKees jumped right in to the American pastime. What happened was an incredible transformation. Ryan’s oldest son, Tyson, in three short years, has become a man amongst boys. His shoulders have widened and his athletic ability has blossomed. His abilities as a pitcher will turn your head. For whatever reason, he and his buddies have put their nose to the baseball grindstone and slowly, they are a thing of beauty.

Three years ago, Tyson couldn’t hit the broadside of the barn with a dozen boomerangs. He was strong, but wild. He would swing his bat as if a dingo was about to eat his baby. It wasn’t pretty. On top of all of that, he developed shoulder issues as his growth couldn’t keep up with the violent nature of throwing a baseball. But time and hard work paid off.

Earlier this month, Tyson threw one of the most amazing games you’ll ever see. In a championship match, he pitched five shutout innings, allowed one hit and got 12 of his 15 outs on strikeouts. The only reason he came out of the game was because in youth tournaments, there are innings-pitched rules and he had reached his maximum. It was dazzling to watch what this kid who had never played baseball three years ago was able to do. He left the mound to a standing ovation and huge hugs from his coaches and teammates. Every moment on the field for Tyson will be special this year, because it will truly be his last.

Ryan has been reassigned back to Australia. He will be leaving with his family near the end of May. While we’ve had an amazing host of incredible moments, none will match what will shortly happen with the McKees. When they leave, they will be gone forever. I can only pray that I won’t run into certain people like the cheating coach and tall boy. However, I will be in tears when this special family no longer protects our beautiful state from Elle MacPherson and Men at Work.

Tyson will leave all of his friends and memories behind, as he will become an intimidating baseball presence as the “American” at his new school where it will be in the dead of winter – in June. We cried tears at the retirement of Todd Helton, but Todd will have many moments of public reflection. When a kid like Tyson leaves, he will be gone forever. Nobody will ever get emotional when a Rockies pitcher gets traded or simply goes away. However, when a kid leaves baseball, the world should mourn.

When I was eight years old, I got to take my first-ever at-bat. It was a silly game, barely organized and I think we were romantically playing on a cow pasture. The umpire hadn’t shown up and my own father volunteered to call balls and strikes. I think I was batting 15th. Somehow, my younger brother had been chosen to bat 14th – the injustice! I was scared to death. The count went to 3-2. I was just hoping beyond all hope that the next pitch would be a ball and I would get on base. There was no way I was going to swing.

Please be a ball! Please be a ball! Please be a ball!


“Strike three!”

My own father punched me out with shocking enthusiasm. I cried on the way back to the bench and was ticked off in the car.

“Dad, why did you call strike three?”

At that point, my dad said the most defining words to me – ever – about baseball and life.

“I called strike three because, well, it was a strike.”

Life certainly isn’t fair and neither is baseball. Sometimes, you have to deal with failure and disappointment. There is no better teacher than baseball. When the Rockies lose, it isn’t about being fair. But when a kid has to leave all his friends, it feels different.

However, there is a bond deeper than professional baseball. That is baseball itself.