Rockies have angel looking over them
Team's generosity toward scout's family reflected on field
DENVER -- As the Colorado Rockies' fantastic voyage continues, so does the bewilderment of people witnessing a baseball fable being written right in front of their widening eyes.They win on towering home runs and on rolling swinging bunts, walk-off blasts and blocked-off slides, dribblers that start foul and veer fair, fisted balls that always drop on the fair side of foul lines. They float through the air to turn certain hits into outs, while their easy grounders clank off opponents' mitts. Their bleeders turn into hits, while opponents' whistling liners turn into double plays. The run for glory now stands at 21 wins in 22 must-win games. And all this from a team that spent the past six years under .500 and this season's first 5 1/2 months doing little to call attention to itself. Like rows of dominoes, all the breaks topple their way, as if tipped by unseen hands. Their daily miracles make no sense. People marvel. But no one can offer any explanation. * * * * * Members of one family dispersed on the East Coast can explain it all. In Milford, Del., Will George watches the Rockies' march with a heavy heart -- and at the same time goosebumps and chills. George, a Major League scout for the Rockies, lost his wife Florinda to cancer early in a season that has become a rolling tribute to her memory. "I feel her presence all the time," George said. "I have a strong faith that she's in a better place than she's ever ever been, and that she's been looking out for the boys." George, 48, misses his best friend terribly, but at the same time senses her touch in everything he sees on his television screen. "I believe in angels, and I believe in heaven, and I believe a force that can watch over us all is watching over us now," George said, "giving me and my son an awful lot to be happy about during a pretty tough year." George had felt a pang of trepidation as this postseason began. He and Florinda had both grown up in the Philadelphia area, she in a family of devout Phillies fans. For Colorado to draw the Phillies as Division Series foes had been a miracle in itself. "But I worried that it might split her allegiance," said George, who needn't have been concerned. "The Rockies are blessed," says Anna Vail, a sister-in-law of Florinda. "She always said she would have a special request when she got to heaven and this was it." Another surviving sister-in-law, Liz Olivieri of Philadelphia, says, "The Rockies feel Florinda is their 'angel' and I believe this to be. Her strength and courage have been inspirations not only to her family, but to this organization."
* * * * *For nearly seven years, breast cancer had challenged Florinda, but it couldn't dim the sparkle in the beautiful brunette's eyes or invert the smile on her lips. George shared her fight and shielded their young son, Dante. George's scouting territory -- he canvassed NL East and AL East clubs, evaluating players for possible trades -- allowed him to always be home at night. He had joined the Rockies following seven years of scouting for the Florida Marlins. Dante was born during the 1997 World Series. Game 3.
"Florinda had a C-section. Third inning," George said. "We watched the rest of the game together and rooted them on."In the middle of last February, as George was packing to go to Spring Training, he was stopped in his tracks by wrenching news: Florinda's cancer had spread to her brain. His bosses' message was direct: Don't leave your house until your wife is better. Take care of your family first. George didn't have to be told twice. "I was home to protect my 9-year-old son, who had to sit and watch his mom die in front of him," he said. Florinda was enrolled in a pilot program, treated with drugs hoped to have a miracle as an ingredient. As her expectations rose even as her days dwindled, she would gaze at her husband wearily and say, "Those Rockies guys are so great. I hope I can live long enough to go to the World Series." Florinda George passed away on May 22, at 44. "Our whole front office flew out for the funeral," Will George said. "They paid for the funeral and never once did they say, 'Get back to your job.' They said, 'When you're ready, go.'" Ye who give, shall receive. * * * * * On May 22, the Rockies had a record of 18-27 and were in last place in the NL West, seven games out. The absolute low point of their season. That night, they won, 3-1, at Arizona, scoring the tiebreaking runs in the ninth. They kept winning -- five straight, without hitting a single home run, the traditional staple of this Mile-High Club. Ultimately, the Rockies' winning streak ended at seven. But it was merely the first stage of the phenomenon, the awakening, the inexplicable. "It's been very emotional," George said. "There've been times when I'd shake my head, just smile ... you can say they're lucky, but some things have happened that you don't see happen a whole lot of times.
|"There've been times when I'd shake my head, just smile ... you can say they're lucky, but some things have happened that you don't see happen a whole lot of times."|
|-- Will George|
"Gosh, it's such an unbelievable run. I don't know if I'll see another one like this in my lifetime. Me and the general manager [Dan O'Dowd] and some others think when Florinda got to heaven, she made some requests, and one of them was for the Rockies to have some success this year."Rockies manager Clint Hurdle calls it "a special moment in the careers of every man involved in this. This may not happen again. Ten, 20 years from now, it's all they'll talk about at one of those reunion games." "There's nobody in here who really deserves this," said team elder Todd Helton. "This is such a magical ride." Officially, the Rockies never had one of those Magic Numbers, just the magic. They were never ahead for anything -- until they copped the NL Wild Card berth with three runs in the bottom of the fourth extra inning of the extra game. "We've had quite a few miraculous games this year, including that one," Will George said of the off-the-deck elimination of the San Diego Padres. The Rockies, nine games under .500 before Florinda got her wings, are 33 games above .500 since she became their angel. * * * * * Grateful for the help he received from the Rockies organization and sympathetic to people who lack such support, Will George has launched a Web site (www.scoutingforacure.com) to provide financial and spiritual assistance in the fight against cancer. "I lived through this for 6 1/2 years," George said. "I don't know how people go through what we did without the kind of support we got. So I'm thankful for where and with whom I work. If people knew what they did for us, they'd say, 'Wow, those are guys to root for. Those guys deserve to have good things happen for them.'" Which is what this ride has been all about. George chuckles: "Florinda, I guess, figures you've got to win every game. She should know it's baseball; it's OK to lose every once in a while." When the ride pulled into the World Series on Monday night, Colorado vice chairman Dick Monfort stood on a podium in the middle of Coors Field, raised the 2007 NL Championship Trophy and told 50,000 people, "This is not only for these players, but also for the city of Denver and for all the employees of the Rockies organization." Watching on TV in Milford, George choked up. He knew those were not idle words.
"His actions had met those words," George said.Just as it says on the sign high on the wall inside the Rockies' Coors Field clubhouse: "Well done is better than well said." * * * * * Will George had turned down the Rockies' invitation to attend the NLCS games at Coors Field. It would not have been fair to Dante's school and extracurricular schedules. But the scout had promised to go for the World Series. And he will be at the stadium later this month. He won't be alone. Dante, who turns 10 this Sunday, will be sitting next to him. And Florinda will be above the two of them. "Sure," said the scout, "there are times I get teary-eyed, with tears of joy and sorrow. I miss my best friend. But we'll know she's there with us in spirit, for sure."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.