Colorado Rockies WHERE THE DOLLARS REALLY CARRY

March 23, 1998

CLOSE BUT NO CIGARS/NL WEST

February 14 was a landmark date for general manager Bob Gebhard,
and not just because that was the day the Rockies pitchers and
catchers reported to camp. "I smoked for 31 years, and by the
end I was up to at least three packs a day," says Gebhard. "It
was time to quit, and I figured Valentine's Day was a good day
to start."

Gebhard could be forgiven if he felt the urge to light up a
celebratory smoke this spring. The off-season, highlighted by
the signing of free-agent righthander Darryl Kile and an
expansion-draft-day trade that delivered second baseman Mike
Lansing from the Expos, was the busiest and most productive in
Colorado's six-year history. Their expansion cousins in Florida
may have won the World Series in 1997, but it is the Rockies,
not the stripped-down Marlins, who have a real chance to be
around at the end of this season.

They should be, because the problems that plague other
teams--unstable or tight-fisted ownership, dire need of a new
stadium, a shaky fan base--are nonexistent in Denver. The
Rockies have led the majors in attendance in every season of
their existence, have 35,000 season-ticket holders, are among
baseball's top five clubs in merchandising revenue and will
benefit this season from a new $150 million local television
deal. "Denver has everything you could want as a player," says
Kile, a 19-game winner in Houston last year. "Great city, great
ballpark, great fans and ownership that's willing to do whatever
it takes to put a contender on the field."

Colorado's .486 winning percentage over its first five seasons
is the highest ever for an expansion team. This spring the
Rockies have had to fill holes left by the departure of two
veterans who helped establish the franchise: first baseman
Andres Galarraga (replaced by rookie slugger Todd Helton) and
shortstop Walt Weiss (replaced by Neifi Perez, whom manager Don
Baylor compares to Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio).

"We should be a team that can perennially contend because we
have a good farm system that is contributing now and, with the
fan support we have, we can play the free-agent market," says
Jerry McMorris, the Rockies' trucking-magnate owner. "Put that
together with a great place to live and a sellout every night,
and we've got our own set of lures to help bring players in
here."

Of course the most effective bait any owner can dangle is cash,
and McMorris has shown himself willing to dole out plenty of
that. Kile's three-year, $24 million contract was the
centerpiece of an off-season spending binge that will increase
the Rockies payroll from $45 million last year to about $63
million--and keep Kile, Lansing, righthander Pedro Astacio (who
arrived in a trade with the Dodgers last August) and third
baseman Vinny Castilla in Colorado through at least 2000.

Persuading offensive stars to settle down in Denver has never
been difficult, but before Kile's arrival a frontline pitcher
volunteered to work in the homer-happy atmosphere of Coors Field
about as often as Oprah sits down to a steak dinner. Signing
Kile was a big step toward reversing that trend, which is why
the Rockies were willing to overpay for him. "We knew we might
have to, but he was the guy we wanted," says Gebhard. "It tells
our pitchers and other pitchers out there that if you have good
stuff and believe in yourself, you can pitch in Coors Field."

If that lesson can be learned by a crop of young, talented and
homegrown pitchers, the Rockies--who have never had a starter
finish the season with an ERA lower than 4.00--may not have to
dip back into the free-agent pool to shore up their staff
anytime soon. Possible starters Jamey Wright, 23, John Thomson,
24, and Roger Bailey, 27, are three of the gems of the deep farm
system that has also pumped out Perez and Helton.

Patience in developing talent and a willingness to spend money
to keep it have been the signature of almost every successful
pro franchise. Colorado is on the verge of joining that elite
group. "I've always told our ownership that as a new franchise,
we want to try to develop like the 49ers," says Baylor. "An
organization that is in it for the long haul--as a player,
that's where you want to be."

It's an approach that could test Gebhard's willpower. Some
October very soon, he could be forced to take a long pull on a
victory cigar.

--Stephen Cannella

COLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN HOMEBODY Rockies games are high-scoring as a rule, so catcher Kirt Manwaring sees plenty of action at the plate. [Kirt Manwaring and opposing player in game] COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO [Todd Helton]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)