Donning a neon yellow vest and preparing to embark on my nightly rounds as a campus student security officer, I pulled up the Rockies vs. Dodgers game on MLB TV for a quick peak at the ending.
It was September 19th. The year was 2007 and I was a senior in college, living in Saint Peter, MN. The last time the Rockies had made the playoffs, 12 years earlier, I was nine years old. Colorado had held on to a contending spot in the standings longer than usual in 2007, but when the Dodgers rolled into Coors Field that day it appeared that the dream was almost dead.
Almost dead. Todd Helton stood in against Dodgers closer Takashi Saito with a 1-2 count, two outs, his team down 8-7, and Matt Holliday on first representing the tying run. So there he was, the franchise player, the man who represents all things Rockies, down to his final strike and nearing the team’s final chance to make a rare playoff appearance (and what would be the first of his career).
Catcher Russell Martin set up on the inside corner. Out loud to an empty safety and security office, I said, “You better not go in there.” As I uttered the final syllable Saito delivered his pitch, and Helton launched it towards the right field bleachers.
Walk off home run. 9-8 Rockies. They swept that doubleheader and such was the beginning of Rocktober, though we didn’t know it at the time.
When Helton reached his teammates at home plate, he roared like a wild man, throwing his helmet off his head. We had never seen Helton react that way.
I ran up the stairs and out of the office. Smiling like an idiot, I kept pumping my fist. Tempted to sprint from one academic building to the next, I decided I needed someone to high five. Fist bump. Hug. Something. Somebody needed to know what had just happened. Unfortunately I had the creeping suspicion that Helton’s moment had not exactly resonated on a small liberal arts campus in southern Minnesota.
Finally I called my mom, who had also seen it. Short of breath, I rambled to her about how it was so awesome and that it would have been awesome no matter what but it was more awesome because it was Todd Helton who hit it and he’s been through so much with the franchise and he deserves it and I’ve just always really wanted the Rockies to make the playoffs so Helton could play in the playoffs and did you see how excited he was and that was so awesome. Like any good mom would, even as an excited Rockies fan herself, she just let her son keep going and going about how happy he was.
After we disconnected I was still hyped and overloaded with excitement. I would have told anybody who would listen how happy I was about what just happened. What I had just seen one of my favorite baseball players do, in an important moment in the season…it meant something.
Maybe people would say it shouldn’t mean anything to me other than another fun sports moment. But it did mean more, and it meant more because it was Todd.
That walk-off home run was thrilling because it made me think, “Maybe they’re not out of it yet.” And I thought that because I saw that same hope in Helton’s uncharacteristic celebration. Right then, it looked like Helton might have finally reached the pay-off for all those dreary years with the franchise. Truly nobody deserved it, as well as all the moments that followed as the Rockies stormed to the World Series, as much as Helton did.
A little over a week ago my wife asked me for my all-time favorite sports memories. Even with game 163 and being in the park for Ryan Spilborghs‘s walk-off grand slam and seeing two Broncos Super Bowl wins, I picked that walk-off home run from Helton. Of everything, I picked a regular season Rockies game that I watched on a computer.
That moment was that special, and it was special because it was Todd Helton. For that and for so many other memories, I am grateful that Helton has been a member of the Colorado Rockies for his whole career.
Happy Birthday Todd.