OURS: Forever-Rockie Helton gets his well-deserved call to the Hall

Mike Olson Avatar
January 26, 2024

About five years into my last stint in L.A., and missing Colorado fiercely, I would try to get to just about anything Colorado-sports related I could. While visiting Broncos tickets were a little too rare and expensive for my blood, I could usually get to at least one or two visiting Avs and Nuggets games every season between the Kings, Ducks, Lakers, and Clippers. And the Rockies… oh, the Rockies…

You could snag so many great Rockies tickets in California between regular Dodgers and Padres visits, let alone when they’d occasionally play the Angels. L.A. fans took those Rockies pretty lightly, and so with all the division games to choose from, it was easy to try to cherry pick a game or five every year. In 2013, the Rockies would play their last game of the season on a Sunday afternoon at Dodgers Stadium. We grabbed tickets not long after the schedule came out.

It wouldn’t be until a couple weeks before that season finale that Todd Helton would announce he’d be retiring at year’s end. Suddenly tickets for our game were snapped up quickly, and the sudden buyer’s market for our tickets made us consider selling, simply to cover a few more bills. I remembered the sadness I’d felt in a similar situation years earlier, having won 1998 Coors Field All-Star tickets via lottery, and eventually selling them at a crazy high price to pay the bills. None of that changed how I felt sitting at home for the game watching Larry Walker, Vinnie Castilla, Dante Bichette, and even the recently-departed Andrés Galarraga play a fun All-Star game in my home state. Remembering how rough that had been pushed me to hang onto the tickets for Helton’s last game.

16 years earlier, Galarraga’s departure had been somewhat precipitated by the young Helton, who wasn’t ready for that All-Star contest in his rookie season, but had impressed enough in his ’97 call-up to make the club feel the iconic “Big Cat” was expendable. ’98 Rookie Helton hit .315 with a .530 slugging percentage and a .995 fielding percentage in year one to finish second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. Helton really never looked back, and in 17 seasons, was always a cornerstone in Colorado. When Walker, Galarraga, Bichette, and Castilla formed the Blake Street Bombers, it had been a magical time, but each had come to the Rockies from a team prior, and each went on to more baseball after. Each was a huge part of Colorado baseball. But while Helton was here, and never anywhere else, he WAS Colorado Rockies baseball.

The ability to stay was almost taken out of his control in a proposed trade between the Rockies and Boston Red Sox between the 2006 and 2007 seasons. In a bit of baseball luck rarely seen in Colorado, the deal fell apart over players surrounding Helton, and instead he got the opportunity to face the Red Sox at season’s end, as one of the centerpieces of that magical Rocktober. While the Rockies were swept by a Boston machine in that World Series, listen to Helton’s comments on the topic from an interview a few days ago with Denver7 and Pueblo’s own Troy Renck:

Losing it with the Rockies meant more than winning it somewhere else. There aren’t many people wired that way. Helton was pretty unique. You watch the superstars of every sports league go chasing after contracts and then chasing after rings. Helton tended to make contract deals that helped the club over the long haul, and wanted to only make it to the top on a set of stairs he had helped build brick by brick… Hell, what sort of amazing and Hall of Fame athlete would call Denver home his whole life, and then be thrilled to be awarded by his team at his retirement, not with a sports car, or jewelry, but with a horse???

It’s incredible to read the dozens of tributes to Helton, whether the lovely and impassioned words of DNVR’s own Justin Michael, or the ever-thoughful bond between he and some backup scrub behind him at Tennessee named… Manning? Do I have that right?

The passion for Todd is genuine, and he always gave it in return. As he became the Rockies’ elder statesman, Helton educated youngsters named Arenado, Tulowitzki, and by those last seasons, some kid named Charlie Blackmon and shown them how to treat the game like a pro’s pro. He was the first example for a group of guys now known for that attitude themselves. Helton came to define what Rockies baseball meant for us all, including some of the greats that followed.

So even when he decided to step aside, after a back that kept failing him and a team trying to find its next era, he still gave his all that last season, clear up until that last game, which ended up a really lovely afternoon at Dodgers Stadium, especially in a 2-1 Rockies win, which gave them a 2-1 series win. Helton has a single and a walk in four at bats that day, and though his hit didn’t bring in either of the Rockies runs, he was still one of the most active components of that day’s contest. When they wrapped the game up that day, we weren’t close enough to wander down, but several Rockies fans waited above the Colorado dugout, hoping to see Helton as a player one last time.

True to every other moment he’d spent as a Rockie, Helton did not disappoint. Did I cry? Of course I cried. Nor does he disappoint a decade later, in a much deserved appointment to baseball’s Hall, when all he has to say is still complimentary and kind. Well done, Mr. Helton. It was such a pleasure to always get to call you ours.


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