Appreciating Todd Helton


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Last week Pete Rose gave an interview in which he addressed, among other things, the current situation with Alex Rodriguez. In the midst of his usual blend of odd and self-serving comments, Rose offered a keen insight into what is troubling about ARod:

"…if I am given a second chance, I won’t need a third chance.”"

We’re all OK with Andy Pettitte, an admitted PED user, right? That’s because he didn’t take his second chance for granted. Jason Giambi‘s career has a second life in which he is regarded as an elder statesman who will inevitably be a manager after he retires. He understood that he was lucky to get a second chance in this game, both literally and in the more abstract court of public opinion, and so he is taking full advantage of it.

ARod got his second chance, and he (allegedly) took it for granted. That stinks. But for now, let’s take a moment to appreciate a player who expresses a certain reverence when it comes to his first chance to be a Major League Baseball player.

Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton turned 40 today. To mark the occasion, Jack Etikin wrote an excellent piece over at Sports On Earth about the face of the Rockies franchise. In it Helton reflects on the state of his career and why it will be difficult for him to retire:

"“There’s nothing better than competing on the highest level at anything. Whatever your profession is, to be able to do that is a blessing. People say they miss the clubhouse, they miss sitting around talking to the guys. I’m going to miss that some, but I’m going to miss the competition.“I’ve got friends. I can go to a hunting lodge and shoot the s*** with my boys. But competing at something you’re good at, something that you wanted to do since you were a kid and that’s all you ever wanted to do — when that goes away, that’s the tough pill to swallow.”"

Stoic in his disposition and curt in his interviews, Helton has always played with a distinct intensity; it’s his own unique brand of intensity where you see him battling himself internally, beating himself up for not taking advantage of an opportunity of failing to make a play to help his team.

When the Rockies finally did make a miraculous run to the playoffs and eventually the World Series in 2007, the passion for the game spilled out of Helton in the form of roaring celebrations and arms raised in the air. I cannot remember ever being as happy for a professional athlete as I was for Helton in those moments.

As a Rockies fan, I desperately want Helton to be elected to the Hall of Fame someday. Not just because I think he has the numbers for it (.317/.416/.539 with 362 HR, 583 doubles, and approaching 2500 hits) and not just because it makes me physically ill to think that he might be kept out because a. he plays at Coors Field or b. he played in the “steroid era.”

I want Todd Helton to be a Hall of Famer because I think I know the reverence with which he would regard the distinction, the manner in which he will genuinely be humbled by an honor he probably never thought was possible. Check out this quote:

"“If I step back and look at the big picture, I’ve done more than I ever expected to do in the game. I’ve got more hits. I’ve played better defense. I’ve played longer than coming into it you’d ever think. So in one sense it’s hard; in another sense you have to be realistic and look at the big picture and still realize that every day you go out there is a blessing, even when it’s tough.”"

Helton plays baseball and talks about baseball with a distinct understanding of what a special opportunity he has had. For my part, that is why I was inclined to take his emotional apology to heart when he received a DUI this past off-season. The idea that he would ever put himself in a position where he needed a second chance to be an MLB player was painful for player and fan alike, especially given the stellar reputation he had enjoyed up to that point.

Acknowledging the seriousness of that event, I hope it is the greatness of Helton’s career and the way he respected the game that wins out. I hope he gets the highest honors for the wonderful career he put together with his chance to be a Major League Baseball player.