DENVER -- After spending a considerable amount of time observing Todd Helton's jersey retirement ceremony and all of the events surrounding it, I left Coors Field last Sunday with one main takeaway: No. 17 is just a regular guy. And he enjoys being that way.
"That's the beauty of it: I can do whatever I feel like. I could go to Alaska, build a log hut and catch trout and cook 'em," Helton said prior to the ceremony. "I may do that. It's either that or coaching."
Helton has had no issues moving on from being a superstar baseball player to a guy who likes to spend time with his family and with the outdoors. He doesn't plan on doing much of anything else until he's been away from baseball for at least a full year.
"I've gotten to experience my first summer since I was five or six years old. No responsibility, no baseball ... it's good," Helton said. "I'm not a beach person, but I've spent a lot of time at the beach," he added.
OK, maybe Helton doesn't enjoy everything about the outdoors, but he certainly makes up for it by doing things he does love.
"I try to [put together] some incredible days where I'll ski in the morning and golf in the afternoon," Helton explained. "Coolest days ever, and Colorado is the best place to do it because you can do so much outside here and do all the things I love to do."
That's not the only thing Helton appreciates about the Centennial State. Again, it comes back to being a regular guy.
"When I came here from Tennessee, I always said it had the nicest people. But Colorado has the same type of down-to-earth, regular people you enjoy spending time with," Helton said. "I raised my kids here and plan on staying here a long time. I can pretty much go anywhere I want at this point, but I'll never leave Colorado."
Of course, for me, it was hard to view him as a normal, everyday man who wants to spend his whole life in Colorado after I spent every spring and summer for the better part of two decades watching Todd Helton, the Superstar on a near-nightly basis.
During his peak years, Helton had a slew of record-setting seasons. He had the five All-Star Game selections, four Silver Slugger Awards and three Gold Gloves. And he went out there and played his heart out despite being stuck on bad rebuilding teams.
Before Sunday, those were some of the things that made me in awe of Helton. And watching him speak to a room full of people that included a former teammate of Helton's, Rockies closer LaTroy Hawkins, only magnified that awe. I was speechless during the entire press conference. But that's OK, because it allowed me the opportunity to listen; to take in what Helton was really trying to say: that he is a regular guy who is humbled by the honor of having his number retired. "When they told me, obviously I was honored and didn't know what to say," Helton said, about when the Rockies informed him of their decision to retire his number.
"But when it comes around, like it has right now" -- Helton paused, seemingly to gather his emotions -- "it's a big deal, and I'm just excited to be here."
It also became clear that this is a man who is perfectly content without baseball ruling his life. Sure, there are things Helton misses about baseball, particularly the one-on-one competition between the batter and pitcher. "I played the game for those situations where your cajones are in a little bit of a bind and you've gotta go out and perform," Helton said. "I liked that, and I'm going to miss that."
But Helton's face lit up a little bit more when talking about life after the game.
"I'm very excited about the way my body feels," Helton quipped. "Having this long, rest-of-my-life break, I've recovered well and I feel good that I was able to play 17 years in a major sport and walk away being able to play golf and still do the things that I enjoy and love."
Compare that to the torture he put himself through during every season and offseason over the past few decades, and it's easy to see why Helton seems so happy.
"A 162-game season takes its toll as you get older," Helton explained. "When you're younger, it takes you a couple weeks to get over that soreness and get back at it. But when you're 41 or 42, as LaTroy is," -- that line drew a chorus of chuckles -- "you go the whole offseason and your body still hasn't recovered from the grind that you put it through."
Still awestruck, I started to think about how much better my life would be if I were able to step away from the daily grind for even a short period of time and have the chance to appreciate how much I enjoy being around my family. Shortly thereafter, Helton talked about that very thing.
"We've moved on to soccer now," Helton said in response to a question about coaching his daughter, Tierney Faith, in softball. "We had a great season. It's been a lot of fun to be able to spend time not only getting to know her better but also her friends. I got to see them before, but didn't get to know them."
"I'm glad I get to be there now."
It was at that point that I became less in awe of Helton, the player and more in awe of Helton, the father. That was the most telling sign that this unbelievable baseball player -- this star -- transcends sports. And, as a father myself, that opened my eyes to just how much I'll miss watching a guy like him day in and day out.
While kneeling on the field near the visitors' on-deck circle before the festivities (and definitely still floored about everything happening around me), I made it a point to absorb the experience as much as I could. I paid close attention to the fans, most of whom were grinning from ear to ear despite their beloved Rockies being mired in a horrific season. I watched both teams line up -- eyes focused and ears perked -- to watch the ceremony. I gazed at the various members of the Rockies' front office, all of whom looked on proudly, lined up near home plate. And I fixated on Helton and his family members in the middle of the diamond, appearing equal parts nervous and excited.
I began to think about Helton's career after an illness and chronic injuries to his back and hip slowly robbed him of his power at the plate and mobility in the field. I recalled how, in the four seasons his body allowed it, he produced at a high level, and that in two of those years, the Rockies made the postseason. I reminisced about the walk-off home run against the Dodgers, the celebration when Colorado punched its ticket to the World Series, and the dramatic long ball in his final game at Coors Field.
As a smile stretched across my face, I remembered another quote Helton offered before the ceremony:
"Baseball is a fairly slow game so you have plenty of time to look."
I realized that, even though I've probably seen upwards of 1,000 Rockies games since Helton began playing in 1997, I didn't take enough time to look at -- and truly appreciate -- No. 17.
Because there will likely never be another Rockie quite like him.