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Rocky Mountain Guy


by HOWIE STALWICK & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & en years removed from the dusty baseball diamonds of little Class B high schools in Eastern Washington, Jeremy Affeldt finds himself standing on baseball's grandest stage -- the World Series.

Affeldt, a former Northwest Christian standout, has played a key role in the amazing late-season surge of the Colorado Rockies.

The Rockies won 21 of 22 games to capture their first National League pennant. Affeldt did his part by yielding just two hits and one run in 6 2/3 innings and 10 relief appearances over that span.

"What hasn't gone right for us?" Affeldt asked earlier this week in a phone interview from Denver before the Rockies headed to Boston to open the World Series against the Red Sox. "At the beginning of the season, we were just playing OK. We weren't losing at home a lot, but we had a couple of losing streaks.

"Arizona played well the whole way through. We were just able to take four games from them in the League Championship Series because we're really on a roll."

During the regular season, the 28-year-old Affeldt posted a 4-3 record in the regular season with a career-best 3.51 earned run average in a career-high 75 games (three fewer than team leader Manny Corpas, Colorado's closer). Affeldt finished 11 games, but he had no saves, since he works primarily in middle relief and in situations where his left-handed arm comes in handy against left-handed hitters.

"I've really learned how to pitch this year ... obviously, it was my best year," Affeldt says.

Like his team, Affeldt overcame long odds to reach the World Series. After all, there's not a whole lot of big-league talent being groomed at Affeldt's old B rivals like Selkirk, Wellpinit and Cusick. "Cusick didn't even have a mound," Affeldt recalls. "They just had a circle drawn in the ground. It was just on flat ground."

He shudders at the memory of pitching against a Selkirk team that had to play eighth graders. "I threw hard, but I didn't know where it was going," Affeldt says. "I didn't want to hit one of those little eighth graders."

Affeldt, a devout Christian known for his charity work and gracious manner, stresses he has warm memories of "people doing the best they could" to play, coach and provide facilities at the Class B level.

And he continues to give back to his hometown. In November, Affeldt is scheduled to speak at several Spokane-area high schools about challenges facing teenagers. The program is a joint venture between Generation Alive and the Jeremy Affeldt Foundation. "I'd like to help kids dream big," Affeldt says. "I've done it -- it's a great feeling."

In addition, soon after Affeldt turned pro in 1997, he donated money to help build Northwest Christian's current baseball and softball fields. "Our field was terrible," Affeldt says. "I figured if I can play on that field, I can play anywhere."

This week, "anywhere" means fabled Fenway Park in Boston. Affeldt says "some of my best games as a starter came against Boston" when he spent his first four and a half seasons in the American League before hapless Kansas City traded him to Colorado last summer.

"I had a lot of good times in Kansas City," says Affeldt, who signed with the Royals as a third-round draft pick out of Northwest Christian. "I made a lot of good friends. But I was kind of burned out on the situation."

The Royals bounced Affeldt back and forth between starting and relieving. The Rockies have used him exclusively in relief, and Affeldt might prove particularly valuable in the World Series against David Ortiz. Boston's lefty slugger was hitless in 12 career at-bats against Affeldt before ripping a double in their one interleague showdown this year.

"He just kinda laughed at me after he hit it," Affeldt says. "There's been some good battles. He's hit some balls hard off me for outs. It's not like I 'own' him."

The Rockies "own" Affeldt until the end of the season, when he becomes eligible for free agency for the first time in his career. After signing six straight one-year contracts (the current one for $1,250,000), Affeldt says he hopes to land a three-year contract with the Rockies or another worthy suitor.

Like, say, the Seattle Mariners? Affeldt lives at Loon Lake in the off-season with wife Larisa, his high school sweetheart. Now that 2-month-old Walker has entered the mix, Affeldt says the appeal of living near the grandparents is one that makes the Mariners an attractive option.

"If they called, I'd definitely listen, because it's close to home," Affeldt says.