In February of 2001 I had just turned 14 years old and was getting ready to get out of middle school and into high school. Being born and raised in Denver, even then, I knew all the city had ever had when it came to sports was John Elway. The two-time Super Bowl champion had last played two years earlier. The Colorado Avalanche were still competing thanks to Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic. As exciting as that was, the team had only been in Denver a handful of years and few of the teams superstars were “home grown.”
Even though Colorado weather can range from 82 degrees in January to snow in May, spring was still coming, and all I cared about was pitchers and catchers reporting. I specifically remember buying a pack of baseball cards that same day. Inside a pack of Topps brand baseball cards was a ‘League Leaders’ card with a still baby-faced first baseman from Tennessee and “.372 batting average” along the left side of the picture.
As far as sports collectibles go, that was one of my prized possessions to go with a Brett Favre rookie card and a Colorado Rockies (the hockey team) pennant from the 1980′s. The difference with the Helton baseball card was it was the first treasured item I went to the store and bought myself. Prior to that any cool sports stuff I owned had been a credit to my Dad, including a prized possession to any Broncos fan: a 1991 Todd Marinovich Raiders Rookie card.
That number became legendary, even if only in my head: .372. It was the first time I had fallen in love with a baseball number, like Bob Gibson‘s 1.12 ERA, Roger Marris’ 61 Home Runs, or Nolan Ryan and his three million strikeouts (approximately). When I saw .372 next to that Volunteer follow-through on a piece of cardboard, a baseball nerd was born.
.372 led to my learning about George Brett hitting .390, which led to the discovery of Ted Williams and .407. It really was a gateway statistic, and has since led to harder stuff like the highly addictive Sabermetrics.
Todd Helton probably has more to do with my love of baseball than any other one person other than former Coors Field PA announcer Alan Roach and his introduction of “LAAAARRRRY WALK-ER.” The “Toddfather” has been the Rockies first baseman for the majority of the time I have been alive. I can say he will be the first athlete I will truly miss seeing on the field since Elway, and he will also be the first Colorado Rockies player I tell my grandchildren about until they ask about some that guy named “Tulo.”
The numbers have been said again and again for about a week now. Whether or not Helton is a Hall-of-Famer based on numbers may be up for debate by some, but there is no doubt that he should be considered just for what he meant to one single franchise for 17 seasons.
Forget that his last game will be in Los Angeles, which is a poetic injustice regardless of how perfect his last home game went. Helton can still do some moving around in the record books today. With one home run he can tie Gil Hodges for 73rd on the all-time list, one RBI would move him to a tie with Jose Canseco for 71st all-time, and with two singles would he would tie Bill Mazeroski for 195th all-time. Finally, perhaps a bit overzealous, but after Wednesday night anything is possible, especially with a Hollywood finish at Dodger Stadium: with four doubles Helton would tie Luis Gonzalez for 15th all time.
Thank you Todd. To be honest I was only a little upset when the Rockies granted Andres Galarraga free agency in 1997. I think it paid off.