DENVER — The picture spoke volumes before Dante Bichette uttered a word Monday. Behind his office desk, a picture of Bichette as a Colorado Rockie holding a gigantic bat over his shoulders stared back at the Zoom screen. Bichette took that postcard-worthy photo on a 16-degree day in between seasons. There were so many memorable Colorado moments for the slugger, from his changing hair to his walk-off home runs.
One he will never forget: representing the Rockies in the 1998 All-Star Game at Coors Field. It is a feeling the likes of Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon aim to experience this season as the Midsummer Classic returns to Denver, made official Tuesday.
"There were some great fans from the get go. As long as I was there, it was sold out. It was deserving then (for the game). And it’s deserving again," Bichette told Denver7. "They are going through tough times. But the fans still show up and support the players. It’s still, in my opinion, the most beautiful stadium there is.”
The 1998 Game was held on July 7 in front of 51,267 fans. The Rockies had sold out every game in franchise history to that point, and delighted in supporting the sport's best on a warm summer evening. Colorado was well-represented with Larry Walker starting in center field and hitting seventh. Bichette and Vinny Castilla, who finished third in the Home Run Derby the day before behind Ken Griffey Jr. and Jim Thomas, entered as reserves.
Walt Weiss joined Walker in the lineup. In his first season with Atlanta, he made his only All-Star Game. It came during a traumatic time in his life.
When Weiss learned he would be returning to his second home in Colorado -- he spent the previous four seasons with the Rockies as a fan favorite -- Weiss had spent 10 consecutive days at his 3-year-old son Brody's bedside as he fought for his life after a bacterial infection shut down his kidneys. Brody became ill from a deadly form of E. coli bacteria after an outbreak at White Water, an Atlanta-area amusement park.
The Rockies arranged for a charter to fly Brody to the game, something that halts Weiss' speech 23 years later.
"One of the highlights of my career. You know, it was a whirlwind to be honest. Brody was in critical condition in hospital. I wasn’t sure I would play in game," Weiss, a current bench coach for the Braves, told Denver7. "There was a happy ending to that that story, and Brody ended up being OK. It was a storybook coming back to Denver. To be able to go back and play in that All-Star game, all things considered, it was certainly one of the highlights of my career."
The American League won 13-8 as Roberto Alomar won MVP honors. Weiss went 2-for-3, and Bichette remembers missing a home run by a few feet in his first at-bat. Thinking back to that night brings smiles. Weiss has a memorabilia room in his house with a designated section for the game. Like Bichette, when he thinks of Colorado he thinks of the fans.
"I remember it well. Man, I got a great ovation. The fans always received me well there. It was like going back home," Weiss said. "And I still live there today. So it’s still home. I remember getting a nice ovation (during introductions) and the stuff I was dealing with my son, the people embraced me even more at that point and time. It’s a great memory."
When many recall the 1998 Midsummer Classic, they don't recall the classic. They remember the club fest during the Home Run Derby. Mark McGwire hit a 510-foot home run, but failed to advance to the second round. Griffey Jr. was a reluctant participant. He was booed by fans as the top All-Star vote-getter after saying he would not swing in the slugfest. He changed his mind and won the darn thing. His 19 home runs traveled 8,178 feet, topping Thome's 17 for 7,389 feet.
With the juiced balls used in the home run derby in recent years, will a player blast a ball into the Rockpile for the first time ever?
"You could see some really cool balls hit, going places they have never been before at Coors Field," Bichette said. "I am curious to see if they hit the scoreboard. I am sure they will. It’ll be the most exciting part of the All Star game as it usually is. But the way they do it now with the time limit you might see some hitters with oxygen tanks."