Todd Helton’s Last Ride?

In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage.
Billy Shakespeare

Every Rockies’ fan feels like they know Todd Helton. He is one of baseball’s good guys, a down-to-earth superstar that doesn’t take himself too seriously. Off the field, he is perhaps the most humble icon in the game. However, right now, he is miserable. Last year was easily the worst season of Helton’s career and his struggles were a major factor in the Rockies’ disappointing season.

Helton is at the tail-end of what should be a Hall of Fame career and everyone wants him to go out with a bang. He has three years left on his contract. However, if he continues to play the way he did last season, his days as a regular are over. Todd will never be happy as a bench player and he knows that. This year he is out to prove that he isn’t done and his inner fire seems to be burning stronger than ever. He reported to camp early with his sinews stiffened and his blood summoned.

This article was supposed to be a complete breakdown of the first basemen in camp with the Rockies, but it quickly turned into a piece on Helton. I can write about Mike Jacobs another day. Helton’s ability to bounce back from 2010 will go a long way in deciding the fate of the 2011 Rockies. The team is hoping that young players like Ian Stewart, Seth Smith and Chris Iannetta will finally step up, but they also desperately need Helton back to form.

Like you would expect of a 37-year-old that has played 14 major league seasons, Helton peaked long ago, but the Rockies believe he can still bring something to the table. Over the past several seasons, Helton’s biggest problem has been his back. Prior to the 2010 season, he handled it with kid gloves and his off-season workouts suffered. Last year, he endured general fatigue and a lack of lower body strength.

This year, Helton has decided to let it rip and if his back goes out, then so be it. In the off-season, he worked out like he was 28 again, reporting to camp in the best shape he’s been in for quite some time. According to reports, he looks strong and nimble; the sweet swing has returned.

The Rockies don’t need Todd to hit 30 homeruns and drive in 140 runs. Besides, those days are long gone. He hasn’t approached 30 dingers in a season since 2004. All they need is the Helton of 2009, the one that hit .325/.416/.489 with 38 doubles. That stat-line would do a great job of protecting Tulo from the five hole. Plus, if Helton produces, there will be less pressure on Ian Stewart and Seth Smith. It is hardly a coincidence that their struggles matched Todd’s last season.

If the Todd-Father is healthy, he will produce. You can take that to the bank. Not counting his first big league season in 1997, Helton has had only two seasons when he hit under .300 — last year and 2008. Those happen to be the only two years in his career when he played under 140 games. If he gets 500 at-bats next year, he will hit over .300. It’s basically a sure thing.

The Rockies next best option at first is Ty Wigginton, but the Rox didn’t acquire Wigginton to play first. They want him to fill in at second, third and in the outfield. If he has to rotate with Helton, he won’t be as effective.

Flickr

Beyond the fact that the Rockies need him this year, we want Helton to succeed because of who he is and what he represents. He is the Rockies’ most identifiable player and hopefully the franchise’s first ever Hall of Fame inductee. No one wants to see him forced out of the game. We want him to end his career on top, in dignified fashion. A strong finish would be good for everyone involved.

Optimism always thrives this time of year. Every spring, we hear about how a player is going to have a big year because of a key adjustment to his batting stance or a totally revamped off-season routine. Sometimes it translates into success, most times it doesn’t. But, it’s different with Helton. We know his greatness and we expect him to bounce back. We don’t hope. We truly believe he will return to form.

For over a decade Helton has been a rock and the Rockies are the only team he will ever play for — a true rarity in this day in age. Our relationship with him is one that few cities get to experience with their athletes. He can’t play forever, but maybe we can put off the end for just a little longer. So, once more unto the breach, dear Todd, once more; we are all pulling for you more than anyone else.

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Topics: Chris Ianetta, Colorado Rockies, Ian Stewart, Mike Jacobs, Seth Smith, Todd Helton, Todd-Father, Ty Wigginton, William Shakespeare

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