DENVER -- Gleaming, new Coors Field hosted its first regular-season game on April 26, 1995, and Dante Bichette ended the night by leaving a glorious impression that still hasn't faded.
The place opened with a wild game that ushered in a season of high-scoring, exciting and successful baseball, and Bichette punctuated it with a 14th-inning, three-run homer to beat the Mets.
That was Bichette, who becomes the first star player to have spent most of his career with the Rockies franchise to appear on the Hall of Fame ballot. Bichette was a prolific and clutch hitter during his Major League career from 1988-2001, the best seven seasons of which were spent in purple pinstripes.
The home opener homer opened a 1995 season that culminated with Bichette finishing second to the Reds' Barry Larkin in National League Most Valuable Player voting. Bichette batted .340 with a career-high 40 home runs and 128 RBIs.
It was the year Coors opened and quickly proved to be the greatest hitter's park in baseball history. However, there is a difference between players who pile up numbers and those like Bichette, who by sheer force of their swings can make a winner out of a team. The Rockies, in just their third season of operation, made the playoffs.
"If you look at the MVP ballot, there is no asterisk for where you play," the Rockies' manager at the time, Don Baylor, told the Rocky Mountain News. It's how valuable you were to your team. It's not hard to figure out what Dante meant to our team.
"Dante didn't just build up numbers. He got key hits, and he always hit late in the game."
Bichette was a steal for original Rockies general manager Bob Gebhard. The Rockies selected outfielder Kevin Reimer from the Rangers in the expansion draft before the 1993 season, then traded Reimer to the Brewers for Bichette, who hit .310 with 21 home runs in the Rockies' inaugural season at Mile High Stadium.
Bichette joined Andres Galarraga, Larry Walker and Vinny Castilla to form "The Blake Street Bombers," a group of hitters that helped draw large crowds and enjoyed celebrity status in Denver until Bichette was traded to the Reds after the 1999 season.
Bichette was more than a basher. In 1996, Bichette stole a career-high 31 bases, hit 31 homers and drove in a career-high 141 RBIs.
A student of hitting, Bichette explained to the Denver Post the reasons he loves baseball.
"It's the most unique game there is. It's the best game ever invented. There's not a feeling like hitting a home run to win a game. It's the best emotional high you could have."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.