Coors Field, the home of baseball
's Colorado Rockies
, is the best hitters' park in the major leagues
. The baseball-only venue seats 50,445 and its location at the corner of 20th and Blake Streets in Denver, Colorado
lends the lineups that bat in its homer-friendly confines the nickname "Blake Street Bombers."
One of the new wave of retro ballparks that began with Baltimore's Camden Yards, Coors Field designed by the ubiquitous Kansas City architectural firm HOK Sports and was completed in 1995 at a cost of $215 million. The ballpark was originally designed to seat 43,800, but because of record attendance at the Rockies' first home of Mile High Stadium in their first two years of play, HOK was asked to add nearly 7,000 more seats. The fans continued to come out after Coors opened, and the Rockies registered 203 consecutive sellouts before the string ended in the second game of a day-night doubleheader on September 6, 1997. Even though the sellout streak ended, Coors Field continues to be a popular venue, and the Rockies have led the majors in attendance every year since the ballpark opened.
A state of the art structure of steel and retro-style brick, Coors offers sweeping views of The Rocky Mountains and Denver's downtown. Unique features include a line of purple seats at row 20 in the upper deck, exactly one mile above sea level, and a copse of evergreen trees behind the centerfield wall to represent the Rockies' namesake. In 1997, a waterfall and pool were added to the center field landscaping. The Coors Field version of bleacher bums make their home in the cheap seats in left center, known as the "Rockpile." Because of the cold, a specially-designed heating system under the field melts snow as it hits the ground.
Coors Field is infamous to baseball fans as the most lopsidedly hitter-friendly park anywhere - a haven for batters and a hellhole for pitchers. Talented pitchers whose careers have been derailed at Coors include Mike Hampton, Darryl Kile, Denny Neagle, Pedro Astacio, John Thomson, and Kevin Ritz. Mediocre hitters who became superstars thanks to Coors include Dante Bichette, Vinny Castilla, and Jeffrey Hammonds. Games at Coors field average nearly 12 runs scored, and Colorado has led the National League in team runs scored in five out of its ten years of existence. There are several reasons why Coors Field is such a hitters haven, all of them relating to its high altitude, nearly a mile above sea level. Some of the major factors include:
The Thin Air
Thinner air at the high altitude means less air resistance, which means balls fly farther. On average, fly balls travel 10 percent farther at Coors than at sea level, which means those 360 foot fly outs turn into 400 foot home runs.
The Huge Outfield
Recognizing that altitude would lead to more home runs, the designers of Coors Field tried to compensate by pushing back the fences, but this only made pitchers' problems even worse. Coors has one of the most spacious outfields in the majors: 347 feet to left, 415 feet to center, 350 feet to right, and a cavernous 390 feet to the alley in left. This means that the outfielders have to cover a lot more ground than they would in a smaller stadium. They usually end up playing deep to guard against extra-base hits, meaning that a lot of would-be pop-ups turn into bloop singles. A better idea, in my opinion, would have been to keep the fences at more normal dimensions but make them really, really high to limit home runs.
Pitches That Won't Break
Less air resistance not only leads to more home runs, but also plays havoc with pitchers' breaking balls. Pitches such as curveballs, sliders, and sinkers break about 30 percent less and cut fastballs straighten out. Darryl Kile's famed curve, which broke about 16 inches when he was at sea level in Houston, broke only about 10 inches at Coors, becoming a much more hitable pitch.
Many observers around baseball believe that having Coors Field as their home ballpark is a major obstacle hindering the Rockies from achieving success in the wins column. The Rockies have tried everything, it seems, but all to no avail. They tried winning with power in the mid-1990s, building a fearsome lineup around slugers Bichette, Castilla, Ellis Burks, Larry Walker, and Andres Galarraga. They tried winning with pitching in the early 2000s with the signing of big-name pitchers like Neagle and Hampton. And most recently they have tried winning with speed and defense with guys like Juan Pierre, Neifi Perez, Todd Hollandsworth, and Juan Uribe. But nothing has worked. Outside of a lone postseason appearance as a weak wild card seed that was knocked out easily by the Braves in 1995, the Rockies have never come close to winning it all, despite one of the biggest budgets and most rabid fanbases in the game.
The problem is that the Rockies can never win on the road. While batters from any team can walk into Coors Field, enjoy the same benefits as Rockies hitters, and hope to beat Colorado in a slugfest, Rockies hitters struggle horribly on the road because they become accustomed to seeing fat pitches that don't break and then can't adjust quickly to the real sliders and curves they see at sea level. Meanwhile, Rockies pitchers do not suddenly become better on the road like you might expect, because they lose their feel for and confidence in their breaking pitches while at Coors - two things not easily recovered.
What is the solution? I wish I knew, because if I did the Rockies would make me a very rich man to tell them.