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Wednesday, March 30, 2005; Page H15

Remember when Clubber Lang was asked for his prediction for his upcoming fight against Rocky Balboa in "Rocky III"? Clubber's succinct answer: "Pain."

That's what we're looking at here, folks. Lots and lots of pain. As in, painful to watch. As in, pain and suffering. As in, growing pains.

Buy a scorecard when you go to Coors Field, fans. The Rockies, coming off a 94-loss season in 2004, are preparing to field a team with as many as four rookies in the starting lineup and another one -- Jeff Francis -- in their starting rotation. Probable closer Chin-hui Tsao has pitched all of 52 2/3 innings in the majors.

The Rockies' own overspending put them in this position in the first place. The cumbersome contracts of Preston Wilson and Charles Johnson proved to be untradeable this winter, forcing the team to go young and cheap at other positions. Meanwhile, Johnson, at $9 million, may be the highest-paid third-string catcher in history.

Oh, that's not to say the Rockies won't be competitive most nights. Their rotation, built around 2002 rookie of the year Jason Jennings, is solid enough, and Francis -- Baseball America's 2004 Minor League Player of the Year -- could be a star in the making. Their bullpen is full of young power arms. And first baseman Todd Helton, at 31, is still very much in his prime.

But there will be no loveable underdog stories here. The Rockies are no "Rocky." And this is going to be painful.

-- Dave Sheinin

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