16 Pitches is Book 3, but of a trilogy, or in a series?

When I authored Game 163 a few years ago, it wasn’t intended to be the first step in writing a trilogy or a series about the Colorado Rockies’ classic extra-inning games in their first 15 years. 

I saw a replay of their 2007 Wild Card tiebreaker game against San Diego on television in the early days of the pandemic, when Major League Baseball was on hiatus. I thought it might make a book along the lines of Kevin Cook’s entertaining Ten Innings at Wrigley, which I had recently read. It was a gift from our daughter.

But after I had such a good time researching and writing Game 163, I thought another game I had attended, the marathon Coors Field official opener in 1995, might be just as much fun. So, I did Walk-Off! (which turned out to be even more fun).

I asked Scott Johnson, who designs my books, to give Walk-Off! a cover design similar to Game 163, as if they were part of a series—in case I ever did another Rockies book like them. 

Scott not only liked the idea; he asked me what I was going to write next. I told him I didn’t have another idea and didn’t know if I ever would. He said he had my next subject, then suggested I write about what I’ll call here, The Mayne Game. 

I said I’d look into it. My concern was that there might not be enough related material and backstory to sustain a full-fledged book.

In both Game 163 and Walk-Off! the games were the focal point, but the books examined larger stories—the 2007 Rockies’ improbable blitz to their first World Series, and the birth and first three years of the expansion Rockies, culminating in winning the first National League Wild Card in ’95, respectively. 

16 Pitches, which will usher in the New Year, is the result of my discernment. It’s shorter than either of those predecessors, but the story it tells is every bit as rich.

One of the extra dimensions relates the unfortunate fate of young Ben Petrick, whose “can’t miss” career was short-circuited by a rare illness that affects one in eight thousand young people. 

Another is Jack Dempsey (not boxing’s Manassas Mauler, a Colorado legend) shooting the photograph that graces the cover—the only image of Brent Mayne pitching ever made.

What made these books such fun for me was tracking down those who played key roles in each game, and telling their stories, often for the first time. 

My subjects are not always the stars of the team, but rather members of the supporting cast: the Jim Tatums, Adam Melhuses and Jamey Carrolls of the world.

It took four months to track down Tatum, a bench player chosen in the National League expansion draft after the 1992 season. I finally reached him through a teacher at his high school—who wasn’t there when he graduated 30 years earlier but was active on social media and willing to help track him down.

Tatum’s account of being in Venezuela at the time of the draft, and the story of his meeting with legendary Harry Caray in Chicago during the Rockies’ inaugural season are two of the best anecdotes in Walk-Off!— built around Dante Bichette’s game-winning  three-run homer in the 14th inning.

With 16 Pitches, it’s not so much the search for Melhuse, a journeyman reserve, as the story he told of a Minor Leaguer named Garrett Nago, who took time out of his own pursuit of a Big-League career to help a kid who was not yet in high school. 

Melhuse’s first Major League hit made Mayne, an accomplished Major League catcher, the winning pitcher—the first position player to be the winning pitcher in a Major League game since Rocky Colavito for the Yankees in 1968.  And the first in the National League since 1956.

Carroll played 12 seasons in the Majors for six teams but averaged only 352 plate appearances per season; he was a utility guy more than a starter. But he’ll forever be the batter whose liner to right field scored Matt Holliday with the winning run in the 2007 Wild Card tiebreaker game—Game 163, as that book is titled.

 The Pittsburgh Pirates’ public relations director helped me connect with Carroll, living in retirement in Florida. Carroll’s account of facing Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman with the game in the balance is fascinating.

The pages of all three books are filled with great stories, from and about, numerous other names any Rockies fan will recognize. And there are more tales of connecting with interview subjects than I have space to tell.

Among the names: Bob Gebhard, who built the original Rockies as the team’s first General Manager, and Dan O’Dowd, his successor; former managers Clint Hurdle and Buddy Bell, and Hurdle’s third base coach, Mike Gallego; umpires Tim McClelland and Ed Montague; Dante Bichette, Larry Walker, Bill Swift, Todd Helton, Josh Fogg and many others.

And, of course, Brent Mayne, the star of 16 Pitches, who had never pitched before and never did again. As he tells it, so humorously, pitching is a lot different than catching.

Trilogies usually are written in sequential order.  But in this case, Book Three (Game 163) came first; Book One (Walk-Off!) was second; and Book Two (16 Pitches) is third. 

So, is this a trilogy, or a series? I’ll let you decide.

I’ve now written in-depth about the three most exciting games/periods in the Rockies’ early years. And each was a great adventure for me.

I hope they’re as enjoyable to read.

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 15 books, nine of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at dennydressman@comcast.net.