I was last truly euphoric about the state of the Rockies on a Thursday.
The date was April 14th, 2011. That afternoon, the Rockies swept both ends of a doubleheader, as well as a four game series against the Mets to improve to 11-2 on the young season, Troy Tulowitzki homered in his fourth straight contest and had now hit 22 bombs in his last 40 games, and one very lucky Rockies fan was leaving the park with a Todd Helton bat. It's safe to say that I didn't drive home that night, I floated home atop a cloud; immersed in total bliss, and completely oblivious to the utter baseball hell that was preparing to descend upon my Rockies fanhood.
Nothing else mattered. At that moment, the Rockies were the best team in baseball, Troy Tulowitzki was the best player in baseball, and Todd Helton just gave me one of his batting practice bats. All was right with the world as far as I was concerned.
The moment I received the souvenir unfolded in a blur. Wanting to catch the end of Rockies batting practice, I made sure I arrived at Citi Field early and was one of the first dozen paying customers through the gate. In a flash, I dashed through the Jackie Robinson rotunda, made my way towards the field, and positioned myself directly behind the Rockies dugout.
For a moment, I was the only fan within 25 rows of the field, and as luck would have it, that was the exact moment Todd Helton finished taking his cuts. As he walked back to the dugout, I waved at him (most likely with a big goofy grin on my face) and managed a "Hi Todd!!!"
Helton looked up at me, and then down at his bat. Up at me again, and down at his bat again; and as he took his first step into the dugout, he tossed the bat in my direction. It's a good thing nobody else was there because I was so shocked that it was probably a couple of seconds before I actually picked it up. I yelled out a "Thanks Todd", and just like that he was gone.
After getting the bat home, one of the most interesting decisions was deciding where to put it. Once my sister bought me a beautiful case to display it in, I was going to mount it on the wall, but after thinking about it for a while, I actually ended up putting the case on the desk near my bed. My reasoning was simple. I wanted that bat, and the memories of that afternoon to be the last things I thought about each night before I closed my eyes and went to sleep.
Fast forward to present day. Todd Helton is arrested for DUI and I am both shocked and disappointed in a man I've loved and respected for years. For the first time that I could ever remember, it was hard being a Helton fan. This is of course the curse of loving baseball players both for their on field production and for who they are as people, even if we don't truly know them. Some fans overstate it, others prefer to deny its existence at all, but there's absolutely a connection formed between fans and the players who are part of their day almost every day from April through September each calendar year.
We learn things about these players. We get to know their mannerisms , their idiosyncrasies, and just little things about them as people you can't learn from athletes in sports that don't take place every day. This is why the news of Helton's DUI is so tough. You can't care about Todd Helton the person and not take this event seriously. I was so furious when I heard the news that I removed the bat Helton gave from the desk near my bed - I no longer wanted that to be the last thing I saw each night before I closed my eyes and went to sleep.
Yesterday, Todd Helton addressed the media for the first time since the incident. He was both very candid, and very apologetic about what he called a "monumental mistake". You can read more about what he said in the linked article by Troy Renck, but one of the most important things Helton did yesterday for me was ask for everyone's forgiveness. Nearly two weeks after first reading about the crime, I'm ready to grant it, but NOT so that it in any way, shape or form diminishes what he did. I've struggled with this predicament for a while now - I want to forgive Todd and move on, but I also want him to have to take the penalties that come with this mistake and become a better man for it, just like I would for any other human being who found themselves in the same situation. Is it possible for both of those things to happen simultaneously? I believe the answer to that question is yes, but I also believe that it's tricky.
For now, I'm going to treat this like driving a car. I'm willing to put this in the rear view mirror and move forward. However, just like with driving a car, you have to look in your rear view mirror and acknowledge what's behind you every once in a while. This DUI is now a stain on Helton's legacy, there's no going back and changing that; however, it also doesn't have to be the end of the road and the only thing we focus on. What matters most now is how Helton responds to this act, and the example he sets going forward showing others how serious his actions were, and how tragically they could have ended. So far, he's off to good start. Tonight, for the first time since his arrest, Todd Helton's bat will be the last thing I see before before I close my eyes and go to sleep.
All off season long I've made my presence on the DJ LeMahieu bandwagon known, now it looks like Troy Tulowitzki also "likes his chances" and "doesn't think anybody should sleep on him". I love it when Tulo and I share the same opinion on a topic.