By Corey Brock
DENVER -- The hottest seat in baseball, as it turns out, doesn't actually come with a seat at all. It's simply a place to stand with a 10-inch wide rail for you to rest your beer.
And if it's an intimate view of the field you seek, this probably isn't the place for you.
You're not close enough to politely encourage Nolan Arenado to hit behind the runner for a change, nor can you shame Charlie Blackmon into reconsidering the practicality of his ridiculous beard.
But step away from the pricey premium seats at Coors Field and look up -- way up -- and you'll find baseball's hottest seat in The Rooftop, a 38,000 square foot bar and social area that can accommodate up to 3,000 fans in two-tiered standing-room only setting brimming with creature comforts.
"It was empty seats before and super depressing," said former Denver resident Jeff Thompson, who now lives in Seattle. "But now you have … this."
Whereas the upper deck seats in right field were once reserved only for pigeons and not patrons, it's now a gathering space for foodies, families and that demographic baseball keeps chasing (ages 21-30), making Coors Field another big league ballpark that has made or is considering changes to keep up with the fan experience and how they consume a game.
Elisa Berzins, the coordinator of promotions for special events and marketing for The Rooftop, said that a handful of Major League team officials have visited the area this season to take notes.
The Indians, who recently announced renovation plans for Progressive Field, will cut 5,000 seats and are moving ahead with plans for Opening Day 2015 that will include standing room areas and social spaces. They were "inspired" by the Rockies' Rooftop design, said team president Mark Shapiro.
The Indians conducted a three-year search of ballpark, stadium and arena trends to see what was being done in the way of the congregation spaces where fans could still view the action.
"That's areas where they can actually interact with each other and still see the field and be connected with what's going on in the game," Shapiro said.
It's clear that teams are looking at the ways fans are taking in a game now more than ever. The days of being anchored to your seat for nine innings and three-plus hours are gone. The game is shifting now to group gathering places, where interaction with other fans is easier. (So if you're watching a game and the seats look a bit more empty than you might expect, these new gathering spaces are often a reason why.)
In ballparks in Texas, Toronto, Baltimore, Minnesota and Tampa they've already embraced this concept, instituting similar gathering spaces that give fans a view of the field. The Astros are among other clubs currently considering making a similar renovation.
The Rockies might very well be heading toward 100 losses and their best player, Troy Tulowitzki, has been banished to the disabled list, but The Rooftop has allowed the club one a glimmer of hope, where the Colorado craft beer and good times flow.
The Rockies won't release revenue figures and their attendance figures are on-par with 2013 -- they rank 10th in the big leagues -- but it's evident that the Rooftop has been a big hit. Even for less-than marquee foes or non-weekend dates, the $14-$15 tickets (including a $6 concession or merchandise credit) are a hot commodity.
This rookie sensation doesn't appear to be headed toward regression anytime soon.
Thompson has arrived early on this warm Saturday in September and has four beers lined up in front of him and girlfriend, Kris Corbitt, an hour before first pitch. Not more than an earshot away, DJ Billy Beats is busily setting up his turntable for the night. Next to the cabanas out back -- yes, this is a ballpark -- a family of five is trying to choose teams for a game of Cornhole with some semblance of civility.
"That doesn't look like anything you'd see at a baseball game," Corbitt said of Cornhole.
Three innings after the game has started, after most of the families have retreated to their seats and the crowd has now turned decidedly younger. The Rooftop now feels more like a nightclub, especially if you step inside Tavern Ballpark bar, which has 52 taps and where the bar itself is 52 feet, 80 inches long -- fitting at 5,280 feet above sea level.
If watching Rockies manager Walt Weiss change pitchers for the umpteenth time isn't your thing, there are 40 televisions scattered throughout the area.
"I'm a hardcore Rockies fan, but it's a little disheartening paying for a ticket when the team isn't doing very well," said Jeremy Platt, a 28-year-old from Denver, who said that he usually attends 10 or so games each season.
To be sure, it's a different view from The Rooftop. "But being up here is definitely worth it," Platt said, setting down his can of Blue Moon and surveying the field. Over his right shoulder, because it's a clear day, you can see the Rocky Mountains off in the distance.
As the story goes, the Rockies, specifically owner Dick Monfort, grew tired of watching scores and scores of fans line the rooftop bars on Blake Street outside the ballpark, eventually heading across the street in the third or fourth inning with their pockets empty and their stomachs full.
Why not, Monfort thought, find a way to get those fans into the ballpark early, have them eat, drink and spend what they would have spent elsewhere, at Coors Field?
The team held several focus groups a year ago, really hammering on the 21-30 age demographic -- what do you do before the game? How much money are you willing to spend? What do you typically eat and drink?
"It was 'how can we get people into the stadium before the game,'" Berzins said.
To build this area, the Rockies had to swallow hard and do the thing most teams shudder at -- remove seats, about 3,500 of them. The price tag was about $10 million, which came from a capital construction fund, and from a pool of funds belonging to the team and the Denver Metropolitan Stadium District.
Denver's Lauren Cochran, 28, describes herself as tepid baseball fan at best. But there's a certain appeal to The Rooftop that will keep her coming back in a way a typical baseball game never would have.
"I buy the ticket just for The Rooftop. I don't even need to go to my seat," Cochran said. "Everyone is out here having a good time, especially the women. We like to get a little crazy up here.
"It really makes you wonder why they didn't think of this sooner."
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