Nolan Arenado had the best game that no Rockies fan saw

1:46 | MLB
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Thursday July 20th, 2017

Nolan Arenado played the game of his life on Wednesday. His five hits were a career high. His three home runs were a career high. His 14 total bases were a career high. (His seven RBI actually only tied his career high, because he’s very good.) The Rockies, who scored in every inning but the eighth, won 18–4 to sweep the Padres. Every Colorado starter but one reached base. Righthander Jon Gray, in his fourth start since returning from a broken left foot, three-hit San Diego through five before tiring. It was a good day to be a Rockies fan—unless, of course, you live in Colorado.

AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain (known until this season as Root Sports), the Rockies’ broadcast partner, televises just 150 of their games per year, and this one didn’t make the cut. That’s the second fewest in the majors, ahead of only the hapless Reds, whose fans are probably grateful to take 13 days off from watching their race for the first pick in the 2018 draft. Colorado, on the other hand, is on pace to win 94 games and make the postseason for the first time in nearly a decade—FanGraphs gives them more than a 65% chance of October baseball; Baseball Prospectus is even more generous, at more than 75%.

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Arenado is having a career year in what has been a career of consecutive career years; the third baseman leads the league in both defensive WAR (1.9) and extra-base hits (56, after tonight) and is a legitimate MVP candidate. Centerfielder Charlie Blackmon, May’s NL Player of the Month, has long been among the most underrated players in baseball and with his .981 OPS is doing his best to shed that title. Perhaps most important, the Rockies seem to have solved the game’s most beguiling riddle: how to construct a pitching staff that must play 81 times at a mile above sea level. The Dodgers seem insurmountable, but with consistency and a little luck Colorado should find itself in the wild card game come October.

And the fans care: Attendance, which usually takes a season or two to catch up to on-field performance, is up nearly 5,000 people per game over last year. (That’s second only to the Braves, who are enjoying the first year of their taxpayer-funded suburban ballpark.) The Rockies’ TV ratings have improved by 19% from last year, according to an analysis by the Sports Business Journal.

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And yet their regional sports network, in what seems to be an attempt to cut costs, chooses a dozen midweek day games to skip. (AT&T SportsNet did not immediately return a request for comment.) Because of MLB’s deals with cable companies, even local fans who subscribe to the MLB.TV package are blacked out from watching their team online. Baseball already struggles to seize the attention of a young demographic choosing among a head-spinning array of options; the last thing it needs is to force those potential fans to call their grandfathers and ask them how to turn on the radio.   

No wonder a local toddler went nuts when Blackmon was introduced at the All-Star Game last week. The kid was probably just excited to see him on TV.

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