By Todd Phifer, Fort Collins
It’s difficult to imagine anyone impacting the Colorado sports scene more profoundly than Keli McGregor. While there have been many great players and numerous exemplary executives in our state, McGregor stood alone as a standout athlete and influential administrator. Perhaps that’s why his tragic death in April 2010 at age 48 was so difficult to accept.
McGregor was a four-sport athlete at Lakewood High School before deciding to accept a walk-on opportunity to play football at Colorado State University. A legendary growth spurt during his first year at CSU transformed him from running back to tight end, where he was a four-year starter from 1981-84. He was a three-time, all-Western Athletic Conference selection and a two-time all-American for CSU, where he still ranks fifth on the all-time receptions list.
After being selected by the Denver Broncos in the fourth round of the 1984 draft, McGregor played for the Broncos, Colts and Seahawks before embarking upon a career in athletic administration at the University of Arkansas.
During his time at CSU, McGregor developed a close friendship with Mike McMorris, whose father, Jerry, became the first principal owner of the Colorado Rockies in 1993. Jerry McMorris was looking for some fresh ideas from outside the baseball world to bring to the fledgling franchise, and he hired McGregor as director of stadium operations.
“The way that Keli came in and handled everything so smoothly, and the way he worked with others in baseball, I just knew it would be a matter of time before he would be the man sitting in the big chair with the ultimate authority,” said McMorris, a 2009 Colorado Sports Hall of Fame inductee.
McGregor held several positions within the Rockies organization before being named team president in 2000. He worked to fortify the team’s farm system, declaring that the franchise would emphasize character while building the team with home-grown players.
He also strongly emphasized community involvement from players and others within the organization. He cofounded and served as president of the Reaching Out to Youth (ROY) Foundation in the battle against cystic fibrosis, which had claimed the life of his dear friend, Mike McMorris. He also served on numerous boards, including the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. The Rockies helped build more than 100 youth baseball fields during his 18 years with the franchise.
Despite coming from a football background, McGregor quickly learned the inner workings of Major League Baseball and was highly respected by players, administrators and owners throughout the sport.
“I talked to (commissioner) Bud Selig, who is a good friend of mine, the day after Keli died,” McMorris said. “He told me Keli was on the short list of people being considered to be the next commisioner of baseball. That’s how highly regarded he was. It makes me sad when I think about how much more he could have accomplished.”
McGregor was in his glory in 2007, when the Rockies made a historical late-season charge that carried them into their first World Series. Even though they were swept in four games by the Boston Red Sox, reaching the World Series was the ultimate affirmation that McGregor’s emphasis on player development and character were the keys to the franchise’s future success.
His tragic death from a heart virus was mourned from Fort Collins to Denver, across the state and throughout baseball.