DENVER -As Todd Helton emerged from the dugout at Coors Field Sunday afternoon, theme music from “The Natural” filled the ballpark. Thunder rolled in the distance. Fans wearing No. 17 jerseys filled the stands.
But it was Helton’s 11-year-old daughter,Tierney Faith, wearing a black dress and black, high-top Converse All-Stars, who put the memorable day into sweet perspective.
“My daddy has been a Colorado Rockie my entire life,” Tiereny said. “This stadium has been my second home. Thank you for that.
“Now that my daddy has been home with us this season – a lot. I want to ask you one question. Do you want him back? Just kidding, Daddy. I love you. We are so proud of you.” Her words were greeted with cheers, laughter anda few tears.
“A beautiful moment, what a great way to honor Todd,” said Denverite Ellen Barnes, who proudly wore her decade-old purple Helton jersey.
The Rockies have played 3,461 regular-season games and Helton took the field for 2,247 of them – 65 percent. He wore No. 17 for each of those games. Now, no other Rockies player will ever don No. 17 again. The Rockies officially retired Helton’s number Sunday, unveiling a No. 17 plaque on the facade of the second deck in right-center field. He became the first player so honored by the franchise that began play in 1993.
His number is now displayed next to Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 and a plaque bearing the initials “KSM,” for Keli Scott McGregor, the team president who died in 2010 at age 47.
Helton retired from baseball at the end of last season – his 17th, appropriately – concluded a career that included five All-Star Games, three Gold Gloves, four Silver Slugger awards, 2,519 hits, 369 home runs and 592 doubles. He is considered by many to be a future Hall of Famer.
“I am proud to say that I am a Colorado Rockie for life,” said the former Tennessee Vol and Central High School star, wearing a dark suit and a purple tie. “There is no greater honor, for me, than having my number retired from the team that I put my heart and soul into. Thank you, all of Colorado, for making my baseball dreams come true. God bless, and go Rockies.” Sharing the day withHelton were his wife, Christy, and his daughters, Tierney Faith and 4-yearold Gentry Grace.
Before Helton took his brief turn at the podium, former teammates Brad Hawpe and Matt Belisle spoke about their good friend.
Hawpe, who played with Helton on the 2007 World Series team, spoke lovingly of Helton, and also told a telling anecdote.
“I was a first baseman for my whole life,” Hawpe said. “My first day in my first big-league camp, I was terribly nervous. I strolled over to first base to take a few groundballs with Todd Helton.
“After a few groundballs, he looked at me and said, ‘You look good over here at first. And I hear you can hit a little.’ “I was about to respond to him, and I look over at him and he’s staring a hole right through me. He said, ‘You better find a new position.’ ” Belisle, the current Rockies reliever who spent four seasons with Helton, said he learned to live by Helton’s motto: “Man up, do your job, win a ballgame.” Before the ceremony,Helton described what the honor will mean to him in the years to come.
“I think when I look back on it, the enormity will kick in,” he said. “And probably anytime I walk into the stadium and see my number up there, the number one-seven up there, it will be incredible for me.
“My girls are old enough now where they’re going to see some things. They’re going to hear the crowd clapping for dad. I think, to me, that’s cool.” Helton, a native of Knoxville and drafted out of the University of Tennessee in the first round in 1995, said Colorado will always be his home.
“When I came here from Tennessee, I always said that Tennessee had the nicest people and the greatest people,” he recalled. “Well, they said, ‘What do you like about Colorado?’ Well, the people are the same type of people. Just the same regular people you enjoy spending time with. I call this place home now. I’ve raised my kids here and I plan on staying here a long time. I could pretty much go anywhere I want, but at this point, I’ll never leave Colorado.”
Retired Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, left, jokes with co-owner Charlie Monfort after a ceremony at which Helton’s number was retired before the Rockies game against Cincinnati in Denver on Sunday.
Published By:Knoxville News Sentinel
Courtesy of:Patrick Saunders