Here's why they're called the Rockies

December 2nd, 2021

DENVER -- It took a decades-long climb to bring Major League baseball to a city and a time zone skipped by America’s image makers. Consider the mountain of obstacles overcome, and "Colorado Rockies" was the only appropriate name for a franchise that was established on July 5, 1991, two seasons before it took the fieldB

From there, the team’s identifying color -- and, yes, even its bubbly dinosaur mascot -- fell into place.

According to “Colorado Rockies: The Inaugural Season,” a hardcover commemoration of the team’s 1993 expansion year, professional baseball evolved in the area from 1883-85. The teams went by the Denvers, Colts, Trojans, Skyscrapers, Gulfs, Rough Riders, Mountaineers, Bears (for a long and glorious Triple-A period), Grizzlies and Zephyrs. But none could call itself a Major League club.

Denver was a gem of a proposed third Major League in the early 1960s: the Continental League, which never materialized. The ensuing decades were full of rumors of relocations for several teams -- including the Athletics, Pirates, Giants and Mariners. However, Denver used the strength of the entire Rocky Mountain region in its successful pursuit of the franchise in the early '90s.

Television viewers of other regions can recall the announcements of network programming across Eastern, Central and Pacific time zones. They skipped not just an hour, but they peeved the entire Mountain Time Zone. No wonder “The Time Zone Without a Team” became a rallying cry of the committee pursuing a club.

With Denver joining the State of Colorado to build what would be known as Coors Field, and with the team aggressively marketing in an eight-state area, the team picked the name that made the most sense.

“The Colorado Rockies are internationally recognized as the prominent feature of our state,” said John Antonucci, the Rockies’ CEO at the time. “Our goal is to build a franchise as strong and enduring as the Rocky Mountains themselves.”

There had been a National Hockey League franchise by the same name from 1976-82, but they had long become the New Jersey Devils and had faded from the minds of fans excited for baseball.

And the team’s defining color -- purple, not used in MLB since the New York Giants wore “violet” from 1914-17 -- was as apropos and unavoidable as the new baseball team’s name.

Katharine Lee Bates, a Wellesley College professor who spent the summer of 1893 teaching at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, took a journey to the summit of Pikes Peak. The venue sparked her line, “purple mountain majesty,” in her poem that would become, “America the Beautiful.” The franchise was modern, as indicated by then-trendy colors of black and silver. But it also respected baseball tradition with a primary home uniform featuring Purple Pinstripes -- one that is largely unchanged nearly 30 years later.

And even the mascot, Dinger, the roly-poly triceratops mascot, is rooted in Rocky Mountain history.

In unveiling Dinger, the club announced that it had discovered dinosaur bones while digging at the corner of 20th and Blake Streets, the site of Coors Field.


Well, reporter Vic Vela of Colorado Public Radio dug to the bottom of this story. He tracked down dinosaur curator Joe Sertich of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, who said that many fossils were uncovered during the construction boom of the 1990s.

And, yes, they were found at the Coors site. To be sure, Sertich showed Vela to the depths of the climate-controlled paleontology collection, where he pulled out a box barely large enough for a watch labeled, “Dinger.”

“That’s Dinger,” Sertich told Vela. “So, our purple Colorado Rockies mascot is based on this little, four-inch rib and some fragments.

“Yeah, I’d say Dinger is not really an important discovery for science, but in terms of pop culture, it might be the biggest discovery in Denver’s history.”