Helton coming to Suplizio

Todd Helton will be the main attraction today and Saturday at Suplizio Field, when he plays for the GJ Rockies on an injury rehab assignment.

Patrick Johnson knows he’ll have to surrender his No. 17 jersey the next couple of days.

“That’s the word around the locker room,” the Grand Junction Rockies pitcher said Thursday after it was confirmed that Todd Helton will be playing today and Saturday with the Rookie club at Suplizio Field.

“I was kind of joking around and said, ‘If he wants it, he’s gonna have to come ask me for it.’ But I would gladly give it up, it was just a joke. I’ll wear a different one for him.”

However, Johnson said, Helton should probably bring his own jersey.

“I don’t think he’ll be able to fit in mine. He might need to bring his own,” said Johnson, who is 6-foot-1, 180 pounds. Helton is 6-2, 220.

Helton, who has been on the disabled list since July 9 with a strained right hip, will start his rehabilitation assignment tonight with the Rookie Rockies when they play the Missoula Osprey. The first baseman was hitting .235 with seven home runs and 34 RBI when he went on the disabled list.

The ticket office at the south gate of Suplizio Field opens at noon today and Saturday. Gates will open at 4:30 both days, an hour earlier than normal, to accommodate what the club expects — and hopes — will be a full house. Tickets are $8 and $10. Tickets also can be ordered by calling 255-ROCK (255-7625).

“I think it’s going to be pretty fun,” said Ryan Warner, tonight’s starting pitcher. Warner grew up in Colorado Springs, so he’s watched Helton for years.

“He’s my favorite Rockie, and having him over there is going to be cool. I’m going to try to not make him work too hard.”

Johnson will give up his jersey, and Ben Waldrip will gladly give up his position at first base for Helton as he tests his right hip. Helton is eligible to come off the disabled list July 25.

“Just anything you can,” Waldrip said of what he hopes to pick up the next two days. “You want to take every advantage you can in pro ball and especially when you have a future Hall of Famer in and get to hang out with him for two days.

“It’s a real treat when he’s probably the Rockies’ best player ever and he’s going to be in the Hall of Fame and probably is one of the best first basemen of all time in all of baseball.”

This isn’t Helton’s first trip to the Rockies’ first level in the organization. In July 2010 he spent three days with the Casper Ghosts on another rehab assignment. All three games sold out, a rarity in Casper.

The Grand Junction Rockies announced Helton’s trip on their Twitter account late Thursday morning, and word quickly spread throughout town. The Denver Post reported earlier this week that a trip to Grand Junction was a possibility.

“I heard about it, and I thought they were blowing smoke,” Waldrip said. “I didn’t think it would actually happen. You see it mostly in Double A and Triple A. You don’t see it much in Rookie ball, at least I haven’t heard much of it.”

Waldrip said as a kid he looked up to Helton and watched him play.

“I had his playing card and kind of idolized him,” he said. “Not only do I have a chance to play for the same organization but to have him here for two days and have him share the same town and same position, it’s gonna be a real treat.

“I’m looking forward to learning a lot from him and getting to know him as well.”

The young Rockies will not only learn from watching Helton play, they’ll ask as much as possible the next couple of days about life in the big leagues and how to get there.

“Any time you get to play with a big-leaguer and a guy who’s a future Hall of Famer, it’s exciting,” Johnson said. “They know so much about the game, and they bring that atmosphere to your team. It makes you all play up to his level. It’s real exciting to pick his brain, so to speak, and see the stuff he knows about the game.”

Then there’s the big question: Do you ask your new teammate for his autograph? After all, you’re a pro ballplayer, too.

“That’s the hard part,” Waldrip said, grinning. “I’m gonna ask him for his autograph for sure.

“He’s just a normal guy like everybody else. He’s here playing baseball and making a life out of it as well.

“It’s kind of a funny situation. He’s in the same spot we are, but he’s already made it and been there awhile. Being able to play with him for two days and spend some time with him, I’m really looking forward to it.”


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