Rocky Mountain memories live on

DENVER

I am sitting in the lobby of the venerable Oxford Hotel in downtown Denver, writing this column, as ghost tours glide through on a chilly autumn night.

A 20-something blonde, wearing a long lacy dress from the 1880s era, has just informed a group that legendary lawman Bat Masterson shot a man in the Oxford over a century ago.

As the tour ends, a lady approaches with her teenage daughter and says “You gave her $8 on her 8th birthday.”

I am here on a sentimental journey to see the Colorado Rockies in their first World Series, and it is good to be home.

From 1984 to 1999, I lived in Denver, with more than half of those years spent chasing the story of baseball’s arrival in the Rocky Mountain region.

I worked for the Rocky Mountain News as a sportswriter and man-about-town columnist for 15 years before switching to the neon nightlife of Las Vegas.

Game 3 tonight will open the floodgate on emotions, starting with my first World Series, the 1975 Red Sox-Reds classic, when I was a young reporter with The Associated Press in Cincinnati.

About 20 years and many World Series later, I was in Denver chronicling many a development in the Rockies’ history.

I’m reliving those giddy days this week, from breaking one of the biggest stories of my career — that Denver was officially getting a team — to reporting that the team would be known as the Rockies.

Along the way, the courtship wasn’t always cordial. There were times when team owners viewed us as gnats, buzzing in their face like the midge attack that annoyed Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain in Cleveland.

Commissioner Peter Ueberroth had just taken over baseball at a time when the owners were going off in more directions than a herd of cats. He was a tough, no-nonsense guy who had little patience for reporters.

I’ll be generous and say I caught him on a bad day during the 1986 winter meetings in Hollywood, Fla. A day or so earlier, after a tip from Dallas Morning News baseball writer Tracy Ringolsby, I ran a story quoting San Diego Padres president Ballard Smith saying the major league owners were resisting the idea of having billionaire Marvin Davis as an owner.

Davis, who made millions as a Denver oilman, was the city’s greatest hope. He had almost bought and moved the Oakland A’s to Denver in 1978, and fans in the Rocky Mountain region saw him as a savior, the man who could deliver a team.

During the commissioner’s state-of-baseball address with 100-plus reporters, I asked Ueberroth if baseball had issues with Davis that would prevent him from being an owner.

Ueberroth, whom I knew from my days as AP’s coordinator of coverage for the Los Angeles Olympics, gave me the death stare, an emphatic “no,” followed by a dismissive “next question.”

I should have gotten the message, but this was a huge story in Denver.

As Ueberroth walked toward an exit at the end of his state-of-baseball session, I followed him to the door and rephrased the question.

He didn’t like that one, either, and, with a clenched jaw, he reached up and gave me a slap in the face. Not as hard as Pete Rose’s stinger, but it got my attention.

End of interview.

But Coors Field will be a world away from those ghosts of the past when the Rockies try to prevent Rocktober from becoming Shocktober.

SIGHTINGS

Ousted New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, making the most of a classic fall day with a round a golf at Wynn Las Vegas on Friday. …

Demi Moore, on the set of “What Happens in Vegas” during filming Friday in the Planet Hollywood Resort. During breaks, she was seen playing blackjack in the casino. …

At Gavin Maloof’s housewarming party Thursday at Southern Highlands Golf Club: home run king Barry Bonds, Terrell Owens and Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys, boxing champ Floyd Mayweather Jr., Larry Johnson of the Kansas City Chiefs, Sacramento Kings coach Reggie Theus and members of the team and cheerleading squad; Panic at the Disco and Papa Roach, two of Maloof’s favorite bands; rapper Xzibit, Timbaland, comedian Jeffrey Ross, veteran sports reporter Jim Gray, Jeff Bozz and Devin Haman, the owners of Sunset Tan, now a reality show; and MySpace queen and MTV reality star Tila Tequila. …

THE PUNCH LINE

President Bush arrived in San Diego this morning where he met with Gov. (Arnold) Schwarzenegger. Our fate is in the hands of the only two politicians who don’t speak English.” — Jimmy Kimmel

Norm Clarke can be reached at (702) 383-0244 or norm@reviewjournal.com. Find additional sightings and more online at www.normclarke.com.

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