Sunday Rockpile: A love letter to Todd Helton

Doug Pensinger

I am too young to recall much of the careers of Cal Ripken Jr or Tony Gwynn... I have been to countless Rockies games during the Todd Helton era, however, and personally witnessed a lifetime of memories from the same #17 in that same CR hat.

Dear Todd Helton,

We, the diehard fans of Rockies Nation, would like to say thank you. A lot has been written about you this season (and pre-season) and there is certainly more to come. The pundits and talking heads may have decided that you are mostly done being a productive baseball player, but as I sat in the stands Friday night and watched you foul off pitch after pitch before finally hitting a moonshot game-tying home run, I was reminded just how much I love baseball.

Our own Kevin V. Minor wrote an excellent breakdown in this week's Rock Mining, showing that you clearly can still help this team (and that the alternatives really are not outperforming you.) I wrote a few weeks back that I believe you should be hitting eighth in the lineup not as a punishment, but as a way for you to capitalize on your current strengths. I still believe this is a better solution than relegation to the bench, and agree with Kevin's arguments that Cuddyer should be batting second.

So my ideal lineup would look like this:

Dex, Cuddy, Cargo, Tulo, Rosario, Arenado, DJLM, Helton, Pitcher.

There was a fair amount of backlash when I first suggested this idea. But I think mostly that came from people who badly wanted to defend the Todd Helton. And I don't blame them. I tried to make it clear that I don't think hitting eighth is a bad thing and in case there was any doubt on my true feelings, I will get back to my love letter...

I was just a kid when I first heard the name Todd Helton. And I was not a fan. I was a fan of the Big Cat, Andres Galarraga. I was still too young to understand transactions, minor leagues, and the general concepts behind how front offices build teams. So I started off mad and weary of this smooth faced kid who took the place of one of my favorite players. You, dear Toddfather, taught me a great deal about baseball from that point on, and I became a fan.

You taught me about the battle for the strike zone. I learned from watching your at-bats game after game how the hitter can take all the advantages a pitcher has and minimize them by understanding and controlling that little invisible space above the plate. Your discipline, quick hands, and ability to cover the two-strike borderline pitch taught me how fundamentally important each pitch could be and that in baseball, like in life, you can't take anything for granted or it will come back to bite you.

I grew up watching baseball as you grew up playing baseball. You taught a whole new generation what the word "loyalty" means. I am not naive enough to believe you had complete control over this but we all know there were a number of times in your career when you could have forced your way onto another (likely better) team. It is sweet serenity for so many of us that the greatest Rockie of all time wore a CR on his hat every day for 16 years.

I am too young to recall much of the careers of Cal Ripken Jr or Tony Gwynn. I was a fan, but only personally got to see the tail end of their careers. I remember my dad saying something along the lines of "we may never see that again" referring to great players giving their entire careers to one team. I have been to countless Rockies games during the Todd Helton era, however, and personally witnessed a lifetime of memories from the same #17 in that same CR hat.

If Friday night's blast, which literally filled my eyes up with tears, is the last time I see you hit a home run live, I can only say that I will always remember it. I will always remember you flirting with .400. I will always remember "Todd and the toddlers." I will always remember the triple you hit in Philadelphia in your very first post season at-bat after years of waiting. I will always remember you throwing your hands and your head into the air as soon as you caught the throw from Troy Tulowitzki in game 4 of the 2007 NLCS. I may never have been happier for the happiness of another human being I had never met then I was in that moment.

I will always remember that for a good solid decade, you were the reason to buy Rockies tickets.

When you made your MLB debut, I didn't know what a balk was, or even that pitching a ball on purpose (or not swinging at a strike) could be a good thing. Now, at the end of your career, I get to write for a Rockies website filled with some of the most knowledgeable baseball fans I have ever seen. And for that, I say thank you.

Thank you for teaching me about the game I love. I will always remember the great Todd Helton.

Links:

Rex Brothers is likely the Rockies new closer for a little while Rafael Betancourt was sent to the 15 day DL.

Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post gives a breakdown on what we've seen and what we might expect from Brothers.

Not explicitly Rockies related, but I found this piece on Fangraphs breaking down some of the greatest pitching rotations in history to be pretty fascinating.

Todd Helton talks to the Denver Post about pinch hitting.

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