Helton will play in final home game Wednesday
DENVER — Todd Helton appreciates all the applause even if he’s a no-fuss kind of person.
Each time the Colorado Rockies first baseman has stepped into the batter’s box or made a play in the field — no matter how routine — since announcing his retirement nearly two weeks ago, the crowd at Coors Field has given him a roaring ovation.
Even for Helton, who doesn’t do “nostalgia,” it’s sinking in that Wednesday night against Boston really will be the last time in his 17-year career that he wears the purple pinstripes in front of the home fans. The team will honor No. 17 — the owner of virtually every offensive record in franchise history — with an on-field ceremony and by passing out 35,000 commemorative Helton bobblehead dolls.
“Seventeen years goes by in a heartbeat,” Helton said. “Once you get caught up in a season, caught up going out there and playing, it just happens. The next thing you know you’re retiring.”
Soon, Helton will trade driving in runs for driving around his ranch located up the road from the ball park. He will do some hunting, clean up his property after the recent devastating floods that hit the state and spend more time with his wife, Christy, and two daughters.
“Going out there and playing the last (home) game, I think that’s going to be emotional,” the usually stoic Helton said. “It’s going to be tough. It’s also going to be a good day.”
Saying farewell to Helton seems almost surreal for smooth-field shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Helton has scooped countless throws out of the dirt to bail out Tulowitzki and the rest of the infielders.
“It’s just crazy to think he won’t be there,” Tulowitzki said. “It will be a sad for myself, seeing him go. But I’m happy for him, if it’s time to go. He’s had a great career, a Hall of Fame career.”
Helton will certainly receive strong consideration for Cooperstown, even if he did play his entire career at hitter-friendly Coors Field. After all, he’s one of two players to have at least 2,500 hits, 550 doubles, 350 home runs and hit .315 or higher for his career.
The other? Former St. Louis Cardinals great and Hall of Famer Stan Musial.
“Helton has put up monster numbers,” outfielder Carlos Gonzalez said. “I’m sure that he feels really happy the way he’s going to end.”
Indeed, he does.
Always able to keep his emotions in check, Helton cracked — briefly, anyway — at his recent farewell news conference, choking up several times as he chatted about his playing days.
But now, with the games dwindling until his final contest Sunday in Los Angeles against the Dodgers, he’s at peace with his decision. He’s ready for retirement, despite hitting .314 since his announcement.
“Mentally, I’m prepared for it,” said Helton, a first-round pick out of the University of Tennessee in 1995. “It’s September. I’m 40 years old. I’m looking forward to the season ending. It may be tough again once spring training rolls around, when next seasons starts. It may be hard for me then. But right now, it’s been a long grind, long season. It’s time.”
With Helton goes the face of the franchise, the player who’s been in the field so long that he once was teammates with current manager Walt Weiss.
“Just steady. Just so steady,” Rockies owner Dick Monfort said about his longtime first baseman who’s been bothered by back and hip trouble in recent seasons. “When Todd came up to bat, you had as much confidence in him as anybody. We’ll miss him around here.”
Helton made his Rockies debut on Aug. 2, 1997, in Pittsburgh, batting fifth and starting in left field. He flied out in his first plate appearance and then singled. Following a walk, he hit his first homer, a solo shot off Marc Wilkins.
Since then, there have been plenty more highlights for Helton:
— Winning three gold gloves.
— Finishing fifth in the 2000 NL MVP race after a season in which he hit .372 with 42 homers and 147 RBIs.
— Hitting for his only cycle on June 19, 1999, against Florida.
— Making five All-Star teams.
— Leading the Rockies to the 2007 World Series (where they were swept by the Boston Red Sox).
“This is a sad moment for him and his family, for the fans and for us, knowing that we’re not going to have him next year or the year after,” Gonzalez said. “It’s part of the game. It’s part of life.”
Picking a particular memory of Helton was difficult for Tulowitzki. Sure, there was Helton’s iconic pose after catching the final out in the NL championship series as the Rockies advanced to their only World Series appearance. Or the dramatic walk-off homer he hit a month earlier against the Dodgers that ignited their Rocktober run.
For Tulowitzki, Helton will be best remembered for the way he carried himself.
“Just a professional. Coming here every single day to work, trying to help the team win games,” Tulowitzki said. “When I think of the word professional, he will come to mind.”