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Rain can't wash away memories of Coors Field's first game

20 years later, the debut of Rockies' ballpark is still remembered

DENVER -- The temperature was 42 degrees on Sunday afternoon, just like it had been 20 years earlier when the gates were opened at Coors Field for a regular-season game for the first time.

It was raining, just like it had been during the day 20 years earlier.

And this year, there was a celebration, not for an 11-9, 14-inning victory against the Mets like when the Rockies opened Coors Field on April 26, 1995, but rather for the memories still vivid 20 years later.

The rain didn't subside on Sunday. The Rockies and Giants game was postponed.

That, however, did not dampen the memories for Rockies fans in general, and the 15 players from Colorado's roster on that night 20 years earlier who returned to town for a weekend celebration of the opening of what is now the third-oldest ballpark in the National League.

"It was awesome," said Ellis Burks, an outfielder on that team. "The city of Denver was buzzing. The whole region was excited about us moving into a new stadium. I'm glad I was part of it.

"And the game? That was our calling card."

It was the start of a special season in Rockies history. In only their third year of existence, they claimed the NL Wild Card in the first season that the Wild Card was added to the postseason. It was the quickest any team had advanced to the postseason.

And the memories haven't faded.

"I remember it was fun and I remember it was cold," said Dante Bichette, who provided the walk-off moment that night when he unloaded a three-run home run off Mets left-hander Mike Remlinger. "When I came out on the field [for batting practice], I was stunned.

Video: [email protected]: Bichette hits a walk-off in Coors opener

"The place was so full and so loud. It was so special."

So was the season. Colorado spent 117 of the 159 days in that strike-shortened season atop the NL West, and it finally claimed the NL Wild Card with a 10-9 victory against San Francisco on the final day of the regular season.

"We weren't your normal expansion team," said Bichette. "Look at the way the pieces were put together."

Sixteen of the 25 players on the Rockies' postseason roster that season either were with them on their original Opening Day, in 1993, or were products of their 1992 First-Year Player Draft.

"And we added pieces," said Bichette. "We signed [Walt] Weiss and Ellis [Burks] for the second season. Then we signed [Larry] Walker and [Bill] Swift as free agents for 1995, and made that [July 21] trade for [Bret] Saberhagen. Ownership showed it was committed to making us a winner."

It was Swift throwing that first pitch in a regular-season game at Coors Field as well as the first pitch in Colorado's franchise history in a postseason game.

"Anytime you open a new stadium, it is special, and Coors Field is so beautiful," said Swift. "Then to be able to throw the first pitch. And Brett Butler hits a ground ball to shortstop and beats it out.

"I seem him to this day and tease him. It's the first pitch, a commemorative ball that you are going to throw out, and he swings at it."

Swift initially worked out for the Baltimore Orioles that spring in anticipation of the end of a strike that had wiped out the 1994 World Series, but "the Rockies went hard to get me. I was a ground-ball guy and had a lot of success against them.

"Unfortunately I wasn't ever completely healthy. I could never recover from the shoulder surgery [the year before]."

Swift, however, was a key part of that team. He did make 19 starts, second on the staff to Kevin Ritz, who had 28. Swift was 9-3, second on the team in wins after Ritz's 11.

"You have that kind of lineup, Bichette, Walker, Vinny [Castilla], Ellis, EY, Galarraga, you know the team is going to score a lot of runs," Swift said. "We had a pretty good plan in place. It was a fun team to be a part of.

"It was really a close-knit team. We hung out together. We had tremendous direction with [manager Don] Baylor. He knew what a winner was all about."

And the memories and the good times linger.

The rains could wipe out a game, but it didn't dampen the reunion of those 1995 Rockies.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for
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