Rockies

Rockies 10 Best Moments: A tearful return

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Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports

Life can often feel defined by a series of "I remember where I was when..." moments. The most poignant are marked by I remember how I felt.

In sports, even the euphoria of victory and the devastation of defeat can pale in comparison to those in-between moments that grab at your very consciousness and shake you to your core.

Robinson takes the field. Gehrig says goodbye. Mays makes a catch. Aaron breaks a record. Piazza homers for a reeling nation. Ortiz reminds everyone who's city it is. Human beings overcome.

With spring rapidly approaching, and a new season on the horizon, it's time we finish up our countdown of the Colorado Rockies Top 10 moments from the 2017 season. In this part, we look back on two moments that---while wildly different in tone---can be more than remembered, they can be relived simply by closing one's eyes. And feeling with one's heart.

Honorable Mention: Blackmon's Sprint For Home, April 21

A ballplayer never knows for sure exactly what will happen after striking the ball with the bat. With the exception of that blissful feeling---knowing they've clipped one just right surely to see it land beyond the fence---players have been conditioned since their earliest days in the game to sprint to first upon making contact regardless of the possibilities that such effort won't be necessary.

Even so, it's not uncommon to watch seasoned veterans standing stunned in the batter's box as a ball they were certain they pulled foul somehow hooks into fair territory. It happens, it seems, to almost everyone.

When Charlie Blackmon smashed a line drive into right field on April 21, he knew immediately that the ball was in play and unlikely to escape the confines of the park. It did, however, seem headed directly at right fielder Hunter Pence. But the universe laughs in the face of everything we know.

In a play you're unlikely to see exactly repeated, Pence appeared to lose the ball---and somehow his footing---in the lights turning what looked to be a tough-luck out into a race for a run.

Blackmon did what he was taught to as a kid and ran hard out of the box, which ended up paying massive dividends as it became clear he would have a chance to score. Describing himself to BSN Denver a few weeks later as the "tiredest guy in baseball," the Rockies centerfielder turned on whatever afterburners he could muster after having played the most demanding outfield spot in MLB for the last several years. He appeared to labor a bit but kicked it into gear around second, clearly anticipating the inevitable green light from Stu Cole at third base.

He wheeled around the bag as the ball came to the relay man and the crowd grew to a fever pitch. In the final stretch, Blackmon was practically leaping with each stride, culminating in a perfect feet-first slide that just barely avoided the tag at the plate. In one continuous motion, his slid up to his feet and emphatically high-fived DJ LeMahieu in one of the best singular images from the season.

As it would turn out, this odd play pretty well encapsulated the 2017 season for both teams.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWXrZHQ8Ms4

No. 4: Chad Bettis Returns From Cancer, August 14

Putting aside considerations of competition, from a purely human perspective, the best moment for the Colorado Rockies family---players, front office personnel, coaches, ballpark employees, and fans---was the 15-second walk Chad Bettis made from the dugout to the mound on August 27.

Beating back cancer is one of the most grueling things a person can endure. Cancer and the treatments put the body through absolute hell. You can become unrecognizable. Your body, the main vehicle by which to interact with the world, begins to betray you. Rest and nutrition, which anyone needs to feel normal, become almost impossible to come by in any meaningful way. And that's just the physical stuff.

The toll it can take on the mentality of even the strongest people and families can be catastrophic. And millions of people, including myself, have had their lives dramatically changed forever because of this horrific disease. It's an all-too-familiar story.

When Bettis took the hill on that emotional day, he carried with him the hopes of a better future.

Some of his teammates and his manager talked to us about the feelings heading into the contest:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3R9xc4avGM&feature=youtu.be

As if the energy in the building wasn't intense enough, Bettis was greeted by Ender Inciarte of the Atlanta Braves with a near inside-the-park home run, only to be gunned down at home plate for the first out of the game. You could watch 162 games a year for the next 20 years and not see another first out made on a relay throw at home.

If Incinerate had scored, the night might have gone a bit differently. A poor performance would by no means have dampened the magic of seeing Bettis return, but watching him go seven strong scoreless innings meant that the palpable emotion at Coors Field sustained its glorious high for an almost exhausting amount of time.

In fact, all other things aside for a brief moment, it was quite the ballgame.

The Braves, as mentioned, had a few opportunities erased by magnificent defense, and the Rockies were thwarted in each scoring opportunity as well, keeping the team deadlocked and scoreless going into the final two frames.

The crowd was very much aware that Colorado needed to score now if Bettis was to pick up the win and erupted for the hundredth time on the evening when Blackmon led the eighth off with a triple. The Rockies would ultimately plate three in the inning on singles from veteran Gerardo Parra and Carlos Gonzalez, securing the win and putting the final touches on a perfect night in LoDo.

Bettis did more than beat a physical setback and return to form to compete at an elite level, he inspired everyone who was watching. There wasn't a dry eye in the house. Those who had lost loved ones were given a moment to mourn them while simultaneously being able to share in the joy that another family had been spared their own sad fate. Those who were currently undergoing the chemotherapies and surgeries could look at a real-life example of making it all the way back, even under the toughest of circumstances.

And even those who just appreciate outstanding athletic achievement had to stand in awe of the work and dedication it took to go from a spring training diagnosis to being a pivotal rotation piece down the stretch for a postseason team.

Beat that, Hollywood.



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