The little team that could is capturing the imagination of the country. To knock football out of the sport-light in the fall you need to be dominant. To say the Colorado Rockies have been dominant is like saying the Broken Arrow community was averse to River Tax.
The Rockies payroll is $54,424,000. This places them 25th out of 30 teams. The Boston Red Sox, by comparison, are second with nearly three times that, at $143,026,214.
Rocktober has been kind to the Tulsa Drillers parent organization. Yes, the Drillers have proved to be the breeding ground for the Rockies immensely talented roster. They've filled their roster with All-Star caliber players over the past few years.
Tulsa recognizes the names. Tulsa took pleasure in seeing these guys hone their craft at Drillers Stadium. Our community witnessed something special through the years but probably didn't realize the greatness at the time. The Drillers developed many of the World Series-bound Rockies.
"There's six guys on this Rockies roster right now, so that's almost 25 percent of their roster that played for us in 2006 or 2007," says Mike Melega, the Drillers general manager.
Of course this doesn't include guys like MVP candidate Matt Holliday who patrolled the outfield for the Drillers back in 2003. Of course the writing was on the wall . . . or was it?
"He put up good, average numbers. He didn't put up great numbers. He didn't do anything spectacular. That's where you tip your hat to the guys with the Rockies front office because they saw 'that'," Melega says about the Holliday explosion into baseball's limelight.
The Oklahoma State product's numbers this postseason are misleading. His .286 batting average is pedestrian. However, a closer look reveals four timely dingers in seven games. All wins.
His .714 slugging percentage and seven RBIs more than make up for his middling batting average.
"What they saw in (Holliday) was work ethic. They saw his physical ability. They saw his baseball smarts. They saw the raw skills," says Melega as his gushes about the Rockies scouting and front office acumen.
The interesting part about Holliday? He wasn't even the best player in Tulsa at the AA level.
"Brad Hawpe was on that team. Hawpe was a better offensive player than Matt. Corey Sullivan, our center fielder, wasn't a power-hitter but was much more of a playmaker that year than Matt was. He led the team in hits. He broke our runs-scored record. He made things happen on the base paths and played incredible center field.
"For a guy like Matt to have blossomed the way he has--we certainly didn't see it here. The Rockies may have known that was going to be the case but we didn't see it and Tulsa didn't see it," he says.
Of course reaching the Series takes a complete team. This roster is bursting with former Drillers. Credit belongs to the Rockies organization. The path less traveled has paid off in the form of a chance at history.
The organization's success over the past few campaigns has ranged from mediocrity to stinkyocrity. The contrast between a win-at-all-cost mentality of say the New York Yankees and the Rockies's methodology is stark.
"In the case of the Rockies, they've received support from ownership that said 'Hey, we believe in what you're doing, we understand that you're losing now, but we believe that if you keep your plan and stay the course we're going to be successful.' They must be so proud of what they've done there. This is the culmination of a vision and patience," Melega continued.
The Yanks would have fired everyone in eyesight and traded minor league prospects for veterans with large contracts. Then Yankee fans would have booed the best player in baseball while Derek Jeter received a free pass for past accomplishments.
The stick-to-itiveness of the Rockies front office should be admired. Many teams will attempt to duplicate the process in the years to come, while the big-budget shortcutters will next try to raid this team.
But the blueprint is in place. And the Drillers have reaped the fruits of their labor along the way.
"There's been an awful lot of positive interest in the Drillers over the last three or four days, the last two or three weeks really, since the Rockies got on this run. Everyone is jumping onboard the bandwagon and we are more than happy to have them onboard," says the excited Melega.
Trickle Down, Trickle Up
The Drillers have played in Tulsa since 1977. Their affiliations with the Texas Rangers and Colorado Rockies are well documented. Did you realize this is the first year the Drillers' parent club has won a playoff series? They were due. We were due.
"We're kind of in some unchartered waters. It's fun. It's a great cause of pride for everybody around here to see these guys who have been wearing Drillers uniforms the last five years and are playing key roles in it," he says.
"I think the general fan is starting to put two and two together with respect to the caliber of baseball we have here at Drillers Stadium. Not just the Rockies affiliation and success they are having but that is the caliber of play you are seeing in the other affiliates in our league as well.
"Hopefully what we will gain out of this is people will realize that minor league baseball (sometimes) can have a (undeserved) negative connotation. It's minor leagues but the caliber of play we have here is unbelievable," says the GM.
We've all been out to Drillers Stadium. The entertainment value is second to none. We relax in the bleachers, grab a dog and toss back a few cold ones.
Next time you're at the park things will be different. There's no doubt you will look at the Drillers roster with a keen eye. It would be impossible not too.
Is the guy on second base the next leadoff hitter for the Rockies? Does the pitcher toeing the rubber have what it takes to get the call up?
You'll be thinking it; I'll be thinking it and the front office of the Rockies will probably be watching with equal anticipation.
The Rockies are displacing the myth that a large payroll and proven commodities are needed to win in the 'Bigs'. Just don't tell Troy Tulowitzki and Jeff Francis what's on the line.
"These guys look like they are 17... 18 years old and they are kind of goofy about the whole 'We're going to the World Series.' They don't even know what that means I don't think," laughs Melega.
The Rockies put together a remarkable 21 out of 22 wins. "Unless these eight days off make them come to a screeching halt, I don't know how they couldn't be the favorite at this point. Rockies in six," predicts Melega.
I'll say Rockies in four. Why should they start losing now?
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