Walt Weiss didn't become Rockies manager to babysit or conduct science experiments. He created absolutes in how baseball should be played, and repeated a simple message to his players: compete.

A curious outgrowth of his mantra, which began the first day of full-squad workouts at spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz., was the clarity it provided players.

"We have a direction," said veteran outfielder Michael Cuddyer. "When you talk about last year, that was a different team. We have a veteran team, with guys who have been there, done that. The young guys feed off that. And we are learning to turn the page. We feel like we have a chance to win every game."

Last year, the challenge on a nightly basis was to avoid embarrassment. The Rockies lost 98 games, and their way, a team more notable for its ever-changing philosophies and MRIs than RBIs.

It's not that the Rockies now are in first place in the National League West, a jarring development by any measure. Teams get hot. It will happen to nearly everyone this season, though probably not to the Astros. It's how the Rockies have reached this perch that's more impressive. The schedule hasn't exactly been set up for them.

The Rockies have played more road games than home games, never a blueprint for success. But they have gone 8-8 in visiting ballparks. They took a kick to the shins from the Giants, and staggered through Phoenix like a giraffe on ice skates.


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Last year, those series would have spawned long losing spirals. This year, the Rockies took the failure personally.

"We are in for the fight," said reliever Matt Belisle, one of the most respected voices in the team's clubhouse. "We know it's a long haul. But we can take our punches and throw them right back. That says a lot about the mental perspective of this group. There's an expectation in here that's fueled by confidence."

Don't think the players haven't noticed the front office's actions, either.

Last year, there was a chilling disconnect between the brass and the clubhouse, particularly as it related to the four-man pitching rotation. So far, the pieces are working in concert. The players trust Weiss, and they see management making moves to improve the roster.

Last weekend, the Rockies promoted third baseman Nolan Arenado from Triple-A Colorado Springs because they deemed him ready and capable of lengthening the lineup and solidifying the defense. Thursday, the Rockies signed veteran pitcher Roy Oswalt to a minor-league contract. It's a low-risk, high-reward move. Oswalt will make a few starts in extended spring training, probably go to Double-A Tulsa, then be considered for a call-up.

If he's healthy — the Rockies seemed impressed with Oswalt's workout Wednesday — he should be able to help, similar to Jon Garland.

This team isn't built to win, at least not right now. That's jumping ahead a few blocks, if not months. But the Rockies' offense has brought "our swag back," said shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, and the bullpen has provided a mental edge, with the team confident when the relievers take the ball with a lead.

Fans are naturally suspicious. Who can blame them after last year's grease fire? It's May, though, and the Rockies are competing. They're a lot more intriguing than anyone thought they would be.

"That's the (fans') prerogative, if they want to believe in us or not," Cuddyer said. "But I will tell you right now that we believe in here."