Minor-league baseball’s first chapter in Colorado Springs filled much of the 1950s with teams boasting a unique name, the Sky Sox, and streams of players pursuing their dreams.
But that era faded like a forgotten scrapbook during three decades without America’s summer pastime in this city — until 1987. Then the ownership of a Pacific Coast League franchise, the Hawaii Islanders, decided to relocate that team to the mainland.
The right people in Colorado Springs jumped at the opportunity and began a whirlwind romance. A stadium site came available from a developer, Mayor Robert Isaac led an effort to produce needed infrastructure, team owner Dave Elmore found positive fan interest and president-general manager Fred Whitacre brought years of promotional expertise.
That December, Isaac and City Council approved a package deal, business leader Gary Loo provided stadium financing, and Colorado Springs had its own team again. Reviving the nickname of Sky Sox was the easiest part.
Just four months later in April 1988, the Sky Sox brought the highest level of minor-league baseball to the foot of Pikes Peak. They affiliated with the Cleveland Indians, who provided veterans trying to earn another chance and prospects on their way up. In a nod to history, the team played its first half-season at Memorial Park on the same field where the first Sky Sox played. Then in June, Sky Sox Stadium was born in Stetson Hills, the highest altitude of any ballpark in pro baseball at 6,531 feet.
That launched a stretch of special teams, players, managers and moments. Little did Colorado Springs realize how those wearing Sky Sox uniforms and representing this city would go on to etch their own places in baseball history. Others including Luis Medina, Trenidad Hubbard and Alan Cockrell became much-loved heroes to the local fans.
Among those first Sky Sox in 1988 was first baseman Terry Francona, who later managed the Boston Red Sox to two World Series titles. In 1992, the Sky Sox won the PCL championship, and the pitcher recording the final out was Jerry Dipoto, now the Seattle Mariners’ general manager. Also on that team was Jim Thome, who went on to a Hall of Fame career in Cleveland. The manager, Charlie Manuel, later guided Philadelphia to a World Series title.
In 1993, the Sky Sox embraced a new parent club as the Colorado Rockies became reality. The proximity to Denver helped immeasurably, and players learned the nuances of playing in the thin air.
A similar script unfolded as another PCL title came in 1995 and, later, Sky Sox alumni led by Matt Holliday, Brad Hawpe and future Hall of Famer Todd Helton carried Colorado to the 2007 World Series. Ex-Sky Sox still play for the current Rockies, most notably Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon.
After two decades, the Rockies moved on and the Milwaukee Brewers supplied the Sky Sox roster from 2015 through 2018, when the nickname and the PCL membership came to an end. But for thousands of loyal Colorado Springs fans, the memories of all those teams, players and games live on.
Generously Submitted by Ralph Routon, Executive Editor Emeritus, Colorado Springs Independent and Colorado Springs Business Journal