I’ve been a little out of the Rockies loop lately, mostly owing to the thing that gets in the way of most hobbies now and again: life. But I’m a Rockies fan through and through, and wild horses couldn’t have kept me from last night’s farewell to the great Todd Helton.
Let’s not even talk about the game. A 15-5 loss to the Red Sox in which the fading Roy Oswalt gives up a grand slam and even Tulo can’t field a routine groundout just isn’t something I want to dwell on. Especially when the only person who contributed anything worth mentioning was the man of the hour in far more ways than one.
First, Helton’s game: if you saw that 2nd inning home run on TV, you did not see it. I’ve never felt the electricity in Coors Field that I felt when that ball dropped over the right field wall. The stadium was packed and it was rocking. I think we all felt he had hit that home run just for us. And he probably did. Helton also hit a sac fly and an RBI double that was just inches from being another home run, and all told he was responsible for 3 of the Rockies’ 5 runs. He also speared a pair of line drives in true Toddfather defensive fashion. Yes, he struck out in his last at bat, but what do you want? The man had about as good a game as he’s ever had, and he clearly knows a thing or two about going out in style. Plus, the Red Sox pitcher in the 7th inning was Franklin Morales. I had a feeling that wasn’t going to end well. And in the end, the ovation Helton got when he came to the plate each time, and the curtain call he took after that homer, were more than enough to cap the greatest career Rockies fans have yet seen.
I’m also pleased to say that the Rockies did a really wonderful job recognizing Helton. They painted the number 17 on all the bases, the pitcher’s mound, and both baselines, and they mowed a giant 17 into center field. In an on-field ceremony prior to the start of the game, they presented him and his family with a new horse for their ranch. It was a heck of a retirement gift, and one they’ll no doubt get plenty of use out of. Throughout the game, replacing those obnoxious between-innings trivia sessions with fans, videos of important moments from Helton’s career were played. Do you ever get tired of seeing him throw up his arms in victory as he catches the final out of the 2007 NLCS? No, of course you don’t. And it’s just better on a big screen. We also got to see video tributes from a wide variety of pro sports VIPs who weighed in on how truly priceless it’s been to have a man like Helton in our midst. The highlight video made me cry the most, but I got a little teary-eyed watching guys like Matt Holliday, Clint Hurdle, and Dante Bichette give their heartfelt thanks and congratulations to Helton.
After the game was over, the Rockies did their traditional lap around the field, but the rest of them seemed to know that this was Helton’s moment. He was ahead of the rest, surrounded by cameras, grabbing the hands of fans in the front row. He was recognized by the Red Sox players when he passed their dugout, which in my mind did not make up for the fact that a crowd of their fans on the third base line started chanting “Let’s go Red Sox” during the 1st inning, but which was still classy. And of course, after he reached home plate he got awkward man hugs from each of the Rockies as they finished their lap. It’s hard to imagine how the sport of baseball could ever properly show the Toddfather the respect he’s earned these 17 years, but it was a good start.
The best moment, for me, was in the top of the 9th when the Rockies took the field for the last time. While they were throwing the ball around the horn, Helton’s young daughters, Tierney and Gentry, ran to him and hugged him. Then they pulled up first base and carried it off the field as a keepsake for him. It was precious. Helton’s the kind of guy who says, “I’m quitting baseball for my family,” and you know that family isn’t code for “obsolescence” or “in hopes that a World Series team needs a DH next year” or “because I broke a record and I don’t care anymore.” I don’t see him returning to baseball in any form for a good long while, because I believe him when he says he wants to be with his family. Maybe someday when his girls are grown he’ll return to the Rockies in a Vinny Castilla-type role, but not now. Now is the time for him to enjoy those girls and reap the rewards of 17 years of hard work. He deserves it.
Todd Helton is gone now, and our lives are different because of him, and they’ll be different without him. For me, he’ll always embody what the Rockies are about, and why they’re so different from most Major League teams. He’s set the bar high. I’m so proud he will always be known as a Rockie. They are a far, far better organization than they ever could have been without him.