UNDER FURTHER REVIEW – ‘Next year’ finally here; even Rockies have hope

Next year—as in “Wait ‘til next year”— finally has arrived; the Rockies are hard at work in Scottsdale.

Granted, only one team can win the World Series, and the postseason is limited to five clubs from each league. But . . .

“Hope springs eternal” applies to all 30 when they gather in Arizona and Florida each February—even the Rockies. 

And sometimes, “hope” is justified. In 1991, for example, the Twins and Braves met in a “worst-to-first” Series, after both finished last in their divisions the year before.

It was a relatively quiet offseason at 20th and Blake, which understandably has left Rockies fans with little reason to hope for big things in 2023. (Even owner Dick Monfort has set a relatively low bar—a .500 season.)

But as venerable Lee Corso, once a head coach, is wont to say on ESPN Gameday during college football season, not so fast!

Remember, we’re talking hope.

It’s reasonable to hope that last off-season’s big free agent signing will live up to expectations a year later and be the superstar addition everyone thought he’d be in 2022.

At least Kris Bryant himself, who played in only 42 games because of back and foot injuries after signing a seven-year, $182-million contract, says he’s now healthy and ready to contribute. He’s also exuding positivity and uplifting his teammates in the process.

If he lives up to last year’s expectations, he could transform this team.

It’s also possible that Ezequiel Tovar, following in the footsteps of Troy Tulowitzki and Trevor Story, will be as good at shortstop as touted. He did get hits in his first two Major League at-bats last summer—on back-to-back pitches, no less!

And who’s to say German Marquez and Kyle Freeland won’t bounce back after disappointing performances? Same for Ryan McMahon. 

The optimists say these three are free of last spring’s distractions, caused by the lockout and contract-extension negotiations.

Who’s to say the bullpen won’t be stronger with homeboy Pierce Johnson, who has pitched well for San Diego in the past, instead of inconsistent Carlos Estevez; another ex-Padre, Dinelson Lamet, for a full season; and Brent Suter, a gift from the Brewers, as a second lefty to complement Lucas Gilbreath? 

Is rejuvenated Riley Pint a sleeper?

And is the mid-season return of Tyler Kinley—undiminished following Tommy John surgery for the second time in his career—too much to ask?

What if last season’s first-half version of C.J. Cron returns and avoids his second-half swoon? Manager Bud Black and staff may be onto something with a new approach to days off for Cron and others.

It won’t take much for Brendan Rodgers to get off to a better start than he did a year ago. Maybe this will be his breakout season.

If these things come to pass, Rockies fans could be thrilled that Black was extended for another season at the outset of Spring Training.

Regardless, real baseball fans are in for a treat. 

No more second basemen in short right field, or three fielders between first and second.

Games will be played in less than three hours—considerably less, thanks to the pitch clock that will force hitters and pitchers to stop wasting time preening after every pitch.

AND, the distance between bases has been reduced by FOUR INCHES by changing to larger bases, which, combined with an effective limit of two pickoff attempts per batter, surely will lead to more stolen bases than we’ve seen in recent decades.

Also, the Rockies will play every team in both leagues, thus reducing the number of times they will have to play the Dodgers, Padres, Giants and Diamondbacks, and giving them a chance to get well against all of the also-rans in the American League.

The first spring game is Saturday, when the occupants who share the Salt River Fields complex play each other (as they always do to start the preseason.)

It will be the 14th spring opener in purple pinstripes for homegrown Chuck Nazty, who’s entering the final year of the six-year, $108 million extension he signed in 2018 and nearing the end of a fine career.

Wouldn’t it be special if he made it to the Series with the only team he’s played for—before it’s too late?  You know, another worst-to-first storybook season.

It’s not too much to hope for.

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