Can '07's dream season be precursor for '21?

April 23rd, 2021

DENVER -- The Rockies’ classic 13-inning, 8-7 victory over the Padres on Oct. 1, 2007, is unforgettable for anyone who was at Coors Field, and certainly memorable for those who watched on television.

Even more, the momentum twists and two key controversies -- Garrett Atkins’ seventh-inning double that the Rockies swear was a home run, to Matt Holliday’s game-winning slide that the Padres and their fans still swear about -- can be relived at any time through the magic of Film Room.

The game has taken on a legendary aura. And that’s where longtime Denver journalist and author Denny Dressman comes in with his latest book: “Game 163: The Epic ’07 Wild Card Tiebreaker, and the Rockies Team That Went to the World Series.” (2020, ComServ Books, Denver)

The 230-page book finds anecdotes and facts that have crystalized over time. And, significantly, it tells a story that is relevant as today’s Rockies try to find their way back to challenging for a championship.

Dressman, a member of the Denver Press Club Hall of Fame, has written 12 other books, including a biography of the late Eddie Robinson (“Eddie Robinson … He was the Martin Luther King of Football") and his coaching career at Grambling State University against the backdrop of the Jim Crow era and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

The Rockies' high-water moment in 2007 was the year that Dressman concluded a 42-year newspaper career. The look back at the classic game came off exactly as intended: as a labor of love for a longtime sports fan/award-winning reporter, editor and executive.

To make the book work, Dressman does more than take the fan through the entirety of the game; he delves within.

There’s the oft-told story of manager Clint Hurdle announcing to the team that the game's starter would be Josh Fogg -- a heart-and-soul character who had a habit of winning games against big-name pitchers -- and teammates retorting, “Oh, there go our chances,” to break the ice. But Dressman tells the inside story: Fogg, even before joining the Rockies, ran the club's NCAA basketball and fantasy football pools and took pride in the often silly little things that pull a team together.

The author leads us through recently-promoted reliever Ryan Speier’s rally-stopping contribution, which would not be his last to the 2007 Rockies. Dressman chronicles how third-base coach Mike Gallego, once an undersized but hearty contributor to Athletics and Cardinals teams managed by Tony La Russa, translated his aggression to Rockies baserunners. He even tracks down Padres figures such as Josh Bard, who noted that closer Trevor Hoffman (that night’s losing pitcher) was dealing with unspoken elbow issues. Reliever Matt Herges, Holliday and Jamey Carroll, who delivered the winning sacrifice fly, also translated thoughts and feelings experienced at field level to the fans.

Dressman talks to TBS play-by-play broadcaster Dan Orsillo and color commentator Joe Simpson, who had not worked together before, but crammed to pull off an insightful broadcast. And one can’t forget the late Craig Sager, the sideline reporter who tracked down Inez Selby, a season-ticket holder throughout the franchise’s history, who was also the fan closest to the disputed Atkins hit.

Memorable as the action was, the background Dressman provided in his early chapters makes this more than just a game story or a reminiscence.

Can Dressman’s look at the 2007 team be applied to ’21 and beyond?

Dressman interviewed some of the key figures of that period -- Hurdle, the manager; Dan O’Dowd, the general manager; and Bill Geivett, the assistant GM who played a key player development role. Their comments also bring to light the leadership of Keli McGregor, the late president of the franchise whose impact is still felt.

The 2007 Rockies were born of a self-inflicted mess -- massive contracts for pitchers Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle going into the '01 season that would set the franchise back for years. Dressman chronicles an organizational retreat after the '02 season when McGregor coined the phrase “getting back to shore.” It would start with the Rockies sending Hampton to the Braves in a complicated three-team trade. But it was more than that. It was a challenge to stick together through tough years of tight payrolls and waiting for homegrown prospects to arrive.

Interestingly, though, consecutive chapters “Homegrown” and “Dealin’ Dan” show that the 2007 Rockies were who McGregor wanted them to be -- drafted and developed -- yet didn’t operate in total servitude to that philosophy.

With franchise cornerstone Todd Helton (who turned down a trade to the Red Sox before the 2007 season) in place, the '05 Draft brought in Troy Tulowitzki to spice up an already hungry group of organization products. Yet, ’07 would not have come together had the Rockies not allowed O’Dowd’s well-intentioned moves -- small and big -- to bring in at least 10 significant contributors to the team. And to Game 163.

For any fan of a team taking a hard look in the mirror in order to find its way, this book shows that the heights are reachable.