By Kristin Pazulski, DENVER DAILY NEWS
It was likely the quietest crowd Coors Field has ever had as about 2,500 friends and family gathered Sunday to memorialize Keli McGregor, the 48-year-old Colorado Rockies president who died unexpectedly last week.
The somber service revealed a man strong in stature, character, faith, family and work; a man who challenged his co-workers, strengthened and inspired his family, and valued relationships over winning.
Along with McGregor’s former Colorado State University football coach, Rockies leaders and friends, McGregor’s four children all spoke at the service. They all wore Rockies jerseys with the number 88, their father’s number as a CSU All-American tight end.
His daughter, Jordan, 20, said she found the strength to celebrate his life at the memorial rather than mourn his death by following his example.
“I will do my best for you, daddy,” she said before starting her comments.
She said that though 12 percent of her feels lost and confused, “88 percent tells me to do what my daddy would do.”
“I want to grow up to be just like you,” read Logan McGregor, 11, in a letter to his father.
His 14-year-old daughter Landri McGregor read the words of the popular “You Raise Me Up,” written by Brendan Graham, while looking up to the heavens to address her father.
And 17-year-old Taylor McGregor read a letter from her mother, Keli’s wife, Lori McGregor. Taylor later took the stage again to share her own story about her father.
Lori and Keli were childhood sweethearts, having met in high school. Throughout the letter, read by Taylor, Lori called Keli my “sweet handsome boy.” She said that when they took their vows 25 years ago, she never thought she was going to be faced with “’til death do us part” so soon. “To say my heart is broken is not even close,” Taylor read.
Lori wrote in the letter that it was going to be hard to go on without him, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to, but she knew that he would want her to.
“We were going to grow old together … I’m going to do this alone now,” she wrote.
This May 31 would be their 25th wedding anniversary, and Lori had made a video of photos from the couple’s 25-plus years together as a surprise for the anniversary. The video, which flashed photos while playing songs that reminded her of their relationship, including “Baby I’m A Want You” by Bread and Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me,” was completed the day before Keli’s death, and was shown during the service.
Many spoke to Keli’s bigness.
Though the former NFL tight end was over six feet tall and about 250 pounds, they referred not to his physical size, but the size of his character, his personality, his leadership and his faith. “He never made you feel small, ever,” said his pastor, Rev. Peter Morin, of Faith Lutheran Church.
Greg Feasel, current vice president of business operations for the Rockies, said that earlier in the week someone mentioned to him that Keli was a large man.
“Keli was a large man, but that’s not what (he) was talking about,” Feasel said. “He was saying that he was a giant of a man … not because he played for the NFL, but because of who he was.”
As mourners questioned the reasons for the early death of such a good man, they found answers in the legacy he left behind.
“Why did God take someone so young, someone who gave so much and still had so much to give?” asked Todd Tedford, Keli’s close friend. “God must have needed a president for another team.”
Sonny Lubick, former head coach of CSU football, who coached Keli in his college years, said Keli’s message is helping him more forward.
“Life without you is very, very difficult,” he said, addressing Keli during the service. “Only the strength of the message you gave … has helped us go forward.”
Clint Hurdle, the former Rockies manager, told stories about Keli’s influence on his life and career.
“He challenged me to embrace my faith, my family and the challenges that come with running a ballpark,” he said. “He loved leadership challenges, and we talked about (them) ’til we were blue in the face.”
Hurdle said Keli inspired him to take one day at a time, and his voice broke up as he revealed that he told Keli the list of songs he wanted played at his funeral, expecting Keli to be able to help plan the funeral when Hurdle’s time came.
The atmosphere in Coors Field was somber but friendly before the memorial began, as mourners greeted each other. Once the service began, the crowd was silent besides sniffles, flapping flags and the sound of the birds living in the rafters.
On the smaller of the stadium’s big screens, a slideshow of family vacation and holiday photos rotated on the field’s screen. There were even two snapshots of McGregor dressed as a cheerleader and another in a hula coconut bra.
At the end of the service, bagpiper Michael Lancaster played “Amazing Grace” as bundles of purple and white balloons were released in right field. Most blew out of the stadium over right field, but one purple one rose straight up, alone, with a group following soon after.
“In leadership,” said Keli in a video clip of him addressing the 2007 Colorado Rockies, “sometimes it comes down to courage.”