Todd Helton could have as easily gone down as the last great cowboy of the west instead of the greatest Colorado Rockies player of all time. Yes, he loves the outdoor hunting and ranch life, but it’s more in the way he carries himself. Helton’s patience at the plate is similar to that of a great leading man in a western taking his time, serving as the shadow of the law. In Colorado, Helton has been the stoic first baseman as everyone around him moves.
Last week, Helton tied a game in the ninth inning, which would ultimately be won by Colorado in 15 innings. Being among the small contingent of reporters still around after the game, I saw Helton really open up. I had interviewed Helton only once before, but mostly gave him the space and respect one does to an elder statesman. On this day in his final home stand, Helton held court.
Helton said that the homerun meant so much because he wasn’t sure he’d be in that situation again. The previous night he struck out to end the game, but in that 15-inning affair, he became the hero one more time. The magnitude of that moment left Helton more emotional than I had seen. In these past couple weeks, Helton has shown fans who he really is, a man who cares immensely about Denver and the Colorado Rockies.
Many questioned why Helton continued to hold on the last couple of years. Over half a decade removed from the prime of his career, Helton seemed to be going out to first base just to fill a roster spot. Especially after the DUI, it seemed that Helton had little to offer this team other than a hole at first base. In his last home stand, he’s contributed like a younger, forgotten Helton once again. He’s been a story to extend another unremarkable Rockies season.
Helton saw only four winning seasons over the course of his career. He was the hero in 2007 by hitting the iconic first homerun to start the streak. It began the Rockies greatest comeback in the sports history as they swept through the National League to play in the World Series. Outside of that one season, there was only one more playoff appearance and many years where the only remarkable thing on Coors Field was Helton himself.
Helton’s walkup song these past couple of years, “Springsteen” by Eric Church, may capture a player better than any combination in the history of baseball.
The lyrics include:
“To this day when I hear that song, I see you standing there on that lawn,”
“Funny how a melody sounds like a memory, like a soundtrack to a July Saturday night.”
“Do you relive those glory days from so long ago?”
However, there is one thing the song gets wrong. The chorus goes, “When you think about me, do you think about 17?” When, in fact, for Helton, it’s reversed. For any Rockies fan, it’s impossible to think of anything other than Helton when you see the number 17.
The Rockies only truly have one tradition. While Dinger may haunt the luxury seating behind the plate, fans may inappropriately do the wave and sports writers may only remember the days before the humidor, the only true tradition the Rockies have is at first base. “Now batting, number 17, Todd Helton.”
Helton, relatively healthy, will take a final swing tonight at the Coors Field plate. He will go out on his terms. Then he will get on his horse and ride off into the sunset; the last great cowboy of the Rockies.