25 years ago, Coors Field opened with a bang

Blake Street Bombers, postseason appearance made '95 special

April 26th, 2020

The 1995 season was monumental for the Rockies. Not only did the club move into a new ballpark in Lower Downtown Denver, but a group of five sluggers who came to be known as "The Blake Street Bombers" was born and Colorado reached the postseason in its third year of existence. One of those sluggers, Larry Walker, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame last January, becoming the first player in Rockies history to reach Cooperstown.

On April 26, 1995, Coors Field opened for its first regular-season game. The Rockies hosted the Mets on a bitterly cold evening. The temperature at first pitch was 42 degrees, but a sellout crowd of 47,228 fans created an electric atmosphere ahead of an instant classic -- the contest went 14 innings and culminated in Colorado christening its new home in style.

This excerpt is from Manny Randhawa's book, "The Blake Street Bombers." For more information or to order a copy, visit www.bsb25.com.

In a sign of things to come, the first official contest at Coors Field was a slugfest. Brett Butler, by this point in the twilight of his career, legged out an infield single on a ground ball between shortstop and third base for the first hit in the history of the ballpark. Though he was stranded in the first inning, the scoring would begin promptly thereafter.

Walt Weiss and Joe Girardi each singled to open the home half of the first, bringing up Walker for his first plate appearance as a member of the Rockies.

Walker always had "butterflies" in his stomach when walking to the plate, regardless of the situation, and they actually helped him. It was no different in this case.

"I think they ground you and really make you focus in on the situation," he said. "There's always butterflies, and some kind of nervousness and really, excitement for every game, not just Opening Day -- and they push you forward."

On the first pitch he saw from Mets starter Bobby Jones, Walker dropped a double down the left-field line to drive in the first Coors Field run and give the Rockies an early lead. Two batters later, [Dante] Bichette brought in Colorado's second run with a sacrifice fly.

After Walker tacked on another run with his second RBI double of the game in the third, and Colorado added two more in the fifth, New York's bats woke up. Catcher Todd Hundley launched a game-tying grand slam to right field in the sixth. In the top of the ninth, Bobby Bonilla broke a 6-6 tie with an RBI single to left.

But Walker came through again, rifling his third double of the game up the gap in right-center field to plate Weiss and even the score in the ninth. The score remained tied until the top of the 13th, when Jose Vizcaino put the Mets up again with an RBI single. But the Rockies stormed back, tying the game with a Jim Tatum RBI double in the bottom half of the frame.

By now an instant classic, the game entered the 14th inning well into its fifth hour, with 43 different players having been used and the temperature falling into the low-30s.

"They brought space heaters up in the booth because we didn't have big coats or anything," said ESPN play-by-play broadcaster Jon Miller. "I think we had that somewhere in the ballpark where we were getting that [official temperature] info. I remember it was brutally cold. Joe [Morgan] was shivering. I think the Rockies sent up warmup jackets or something."

As cold as it was at the corner of 20th and Blake Street, a loss in the inaugural game at Coors Field following such a long, hard-fought battle would send the crowd home with even more of a chill.

Ricky Otero opened the inning for New York with a single to left. Jeff Kent followed with a sacrifice bunt to get Otero to second. And Joe Orsulak doubled Otero home to give the Mets yet another lead, 9-8, after Bichette misplayed Orsulak's fly ball to left. That would be the score heading to the bottom of the 14th, as the Rockies sought to make another last-gasp attempt to christen the new ballpark with a victory.

Girardi led off with a single to put the tying run aboard for Walker, who struck out swinging. [Andres] Galarraga followed with a ground ball to third that could have ended the game if not for Tim Bogar's fielding error, enabling Girardi to reach second and Galarraga to reach first safely.

With one out, Bichette strode to the plate with a chance to make up for his misplay in the outfield. But this at-bat meant much more than that to him. Coming off a winter in which he did not sign a contract until very late in the offseason, and after another star slugger had been signed to play right field, he had something to prove. And there was no better time than Game 1 of the '95 season, with a chance to be a hero.

The Mets had left-hander Mike Remlinger on the mound trying to close out Colorado. Since joining the Rockies, Bichette was hitting .339 with 14 homers against southpaws.

Bichette got into a hitter's count at 2-0, and Remlinger came with an offspeed pitch toward the outside corner of the plate. Bichette took a huge cut and missed.

"I had just swung at a pitch and almost fell down," Bichette said. "So Jon Miller goes to Joe Morgan and says, 'Well, Joe, it looks like Dante is trying a little too hard.' And Joe says, 'Well, it's Opening Day, and home run hitters try to hit home runs on Opening Day.'"

Miller prefaced the next pitch with words that would prove prescient and ominous for the Mets: "Two and one to the dangerous Dante Bichette."

On the pitch that followed, Bichette did what he set out to do -- hit a walk-off home run to lift the Rockies to an 11-9 ballpark-christening victory in a game that lasted four hours and 49 minutes in freezing temperatures. The blast landed halfway up the bleachers in left-center field, well beyond the 390-foot marker on the fence in the power alley.

As soon as it left the bat, Bichette knew it was gone and began pumping his right fist toward the home dugout.

"A high drive, way back, and there's the storybook ending for the Rockies!" exclaimed Miller on ESPN. "The Rockies have won it on a home run by Bichette, at last."

[...] The crowd was euphoric, as was Bichette. But Bichette's emotions ran much deeper than that.

"It was an un-, un-, unbelievable feeling," he said. "It could've been the World Series for me. It probably was for me. I trotted around the bases and [after being mobbed by teammates] ran into the dugout, then ran into the clubhouse. I don't think I stopped moving for half an hour. I was really, really excited to open the stadium like that.

When Bichette launched that game-winning homer, it also represented a launchpad for the Rockies in '95. The entire situation -- a 14-inning game, brutally cold weather, a nationally televised event -- made this a shining moment for Colorado. And there were still 143 games left to play [in a strike-shortened season].

"When I saw Dante hit that home run and pump his fist toward us," Eric Young said, "I knew this was gonna be a special year. Because moments like that, they mean something's brewing. And we had it on Day 1. When he pumped it, it introduced the swag. That's what it was."