"Four years ago we committed to dig ourselves out financially and to strengthen our development process," team president Kelli McGregor said Monday, explaining his faith in the men he believes can finish the job they started. "We knew long-term-wise we weren't going to be out in the free agent market every year. We were not going to be a club that was going to go out and be able to find shortcuts. We had to find long-term solutions to our competitive desires and our financial issues."
The Rockies struggled in 2005, matching their worst record in franchise history at 67-95 and finishing last in their division for only the second time in thirteen years, but McGregor had no trouble seeing the silver lining in the season.
"There's strength in being able to be patient and persevere," said McGregor, recalling the 15-35 record after April and May. "You've got to know what your end goal is always. You map out how you go about business every day and you stay clearly focused on your end goal. When you have a belief in something you can't see, you really start to build momentum, and I would say that [through O'Dowd's and Hurdle's] leadership, we have some internal momentum around that belief."
O'Dowd is the second general manager in franchise history, and he is currently in his seventh year in that capacity since being hired Sept. 20, 1999. After making a splash with a series of big trades and signings early in his tenure as GM, O'Dowd has turned his focus to building the organization from within, boasting a 2005 team with homegrown rookie regulars at six positions and four members of the starting rotation that were raised as Rockies.
"I'm much more in my element now than I was early on in my tenure here," O'Dowd said Monday, reflecting on his shift in perspective. "I'm much more comfortable, I'm much more confident, I'm much more secure through the scouting and development process than I was through the trade and fee agency and change process. I think my changes have really mirrored our organizational changes. We don't overreact and we don't panic. We just stick to doing what we do well and continuing to try and get better at that."
"Last year was the best year that I've had in this job with the Rockies," O'Dowd added, sounding an organizational theme of growth through adversity. "I know we only won 67 games, but I felt the farm system had finally produced a quality group of homegrown guys. It's only going to get better from here on out."
Hurdle took over as field manager on April 26, 2002, compiling a 278-350 record in nearly four full seasons. His teams have finished in fourth place three times and finished fifth in 2005, a season he greeted with renewed enthusiasm for the unique challenges of guiding a club characterized by youth.
"It was probably my most challenging [season in baseball]," Hurdle said, reflecting on a 30-year career as a player, coach, and manager. "We had a season that could have spun out of control after two months, but the team did not let that happen. They banded together and rallied and got better as the season went on. They finished the season with a sense of accomplishment and pride in the uniform, and that hasn't been evident there in a long time."
Hurdle's .443 winning percentage is fourth among the four managers in Rockies history, and he is the second-longest-serving Rockies manager, after Don Baylor's six years at the helm from 1993-1998.
"I completely trust Clint and his areas of responsibilities," O'Dowd stressed. "I know that he trusts me and my motives. I'm not saying that we agree about everything all the time. It wouldn't be healthy, and it's not the case. You create a system of checks and balances for the organization, and the outcome of those checks and balances is a very healthy process."
Hurdle echoed those sentiments, calling himself "completely tied at the hip to Dick (Chairman and CEO) and Charlie (Vice Chairman) Monfort and to Dan and to Kelli."
"We know we are in this for all the right reasons," Hurdle added. "We're confident in each other's skills. We depend on each other's skills. We trust each other completely. It's gratifying to know that you'll be able to continue on hand-in-hand with all these guys you started this journey with."
As O'Dowd and Hurdle look at the journey in front of them, they see no reason to change course. Last year's young team has been augmented with a veteran presence in the bullpen and increased catching depth, addressing the team's biggest off season needs. Calling the West "wide open," Hurdle hopes to build on the team's strong 30-28 finish, and he is confident the team's work ethic and commitment to excellence will finally bear fruit.
"The environment we've been able to create on and off the field is very special right now," Hurdle summed up. "I know we're the only ones who see it, but sometimes when special things happen it's because you see them before they happen."
To help those having difficulty visualizing those special things that have yet to happen, McGregor has gone so far as to create a physical image capturing the team's vision statement.
"It's a picture of champagne bottles on ice," McGregor says. "The end goal is to get those corks out of the bottles and have something to celebrate here."