By Patrick Saunders, The Denver Post
In April 26, 1995, in the first game ever played at Coors Field, the wet, cold marathon was approaching five hours. The New York Mets and Colorado Rockies were in the bottom of the 14th inning when outfielder Dante Bichette smacked a two-run, one-out, walk-off homer, lifting the Rockies to an 11-9 victory.
The moment is embedded in the memories of Rockies fans: Bichette’s quick swing, the triumphant fist pump and the sheepish grin. Bichette always had a flair for the dramatic.
“He was the best I ever played with when it came to driving in runs,” said Walt Weiss, Bichette’s former teammate and the Rockies manager from 2013-16.
Now Bichette is a member of the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, an honor that touches his heart and conjures up fond memories of his adopted state.
“Colorado was a special place to me, what I call my baseball home,” Bichette said. “That’s the best thing an athlete can wish for, to be remembered. Even fans who weren’t old enough to see me kind of remember you, because they’ve heard the stories. It’s kind of nice to have a little legacy.”
Bichette began his career with the California Angels and then moved on to the Milwaukee Brewers before joining the Rockies for their inaugural 1993 season.
“I remember Jerry McMorris (the club’s principal owner) saying at our very first meeting that this is a great opportunity for every one of us,” Bichette recalled. “These fans had been waiting a long time for baseball, and they were going to show up. I remember taking that to heart. I figured it was time to do it. It just worked out.”
It sure did. Bichette hit the first home run in club history, a solo shot off the Mets’ Bret Saberhagen at Shea Stadium on April 7, 1993. He became a star in LoDo. He walked to the plate with Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” blaring through the Coors Field speakers. There was always the chance he would send a homer flying through the mile-high air.
Bichette was a four-time all-star with the Rockies and finished his 14-year career as a .299 hitter with 274 home runs and 1,141 RBIs. In seven seasons with the Rockies (1993-99), he compiled a .316 batting average that’s tied for third-best in club history. His 201 home runs rank fourth. His best season was 1995 when he hit .340, mashed 40 homers, drove in 128 runs. He finished second in the National League MVP voting to Cincinnati’s Barry Larkin. He followed up with a terrific encore season in 1996, earning his third consecutive All-Star Game appearance and driving in a career-high 141 runs. He led the National League with 219 hits in 1998, and was named an all-star for the fourth time.
Bichette, 53, now resides near St. Petersburg, Florida, and still plays a little baseball for various men’s teams. He was the Rockies’ hitting coach under Weiss during the 2013 season.
He was the best I ever played with when it came to driving in runs.