What would the Rockies be without Todd Helton and Charlie Blackmon?
It’s hard to even fathom the organization without them.
Including the upcoming 2024 season, the Rockies have either had Helton or Blackmon — or both — on their roster for 28 of their 32 years as a Major League Baseball team. That’s 87.5% of their existence. If you add the two seasons Helton was in the Minor Leagues, you can round up to 30 out of 32 years, or 93.75% of the time.
Even though they only played two full seasons and one month of 2011 together, the two are the faces of the Colorado Rockies.
Separately, they are mile-high legends in purple pinstripes. One is a Hall of Famer who led the Rockies to their only National League pennant. The other redefined leadoff hitting and helped guide the Rockies to their only back-to-back playoff appearances.
Together, they have nine All-Star appearances and — along with Hall of Famer Larry Walker — dominate the top tier of the offensive career leaderboards in team history.
Even more importantly, they represent greatness, leadership and loyalty. Helton proved it with his actions and reaffirmed it with his words in his Hall of Fame celebration at McGregor Square on Jan. 27.
“I almost got traded in 2007 when we went to the World Series,” Helton told KOA Rockies announcer Jerry Schemmel. “And I say this all the time — going to the World Series with the Colorado Rockies is way better than winning it with another team.”
Helton and Blackmon are rare breeds who pride themselves in spending their entire career in one place — one that often counted against their statistics and, more often than not, wasn’t accompanied by winning seasons. Entering his 14th season as a Rockie and 17th season with the organization, Blackmon displayed his gratitude at Rockies Fest on Jan. 27 on a panel with Nolan Jones, Sean Bouchard and Hunter Goodman.
“To get to play baseball — awesome, amazing, very lucky. To be able to play as long as I have gotten to play, I just feel blessed, very thankful. A lot of things have gone right in my life,” Blackmon said. “But to do it with one team, one organization, so many more things have to go exactly to plan. You have to play well, they have to want you, you have to want to be there, then there’s contracts and all this noise outside of the game of baseball. So, I am just really excited and thankful to come back and to be able to do it again.”
Succeeding against the best
Blackmon and Helton put in the work, studied pitchers, made adjustments, and established routines that set the expectations for the franchise. Extremely skilled hitters, both stepped up to the plate and produced baseball art. Whether it was a clutch hit or an at-bat that made the opposing pitcher work, both are famous for getting the job done, even against top pitching.
In 2013, the Denver Post’s Patrick Saunders talked to some of the best pitchers of the time — from Curt Schilling to Roy Oswalt to Matt Cain — and none of them enjoyed facing Helton.
“I would tell you that I was a guy who prepared and did my due diligence,” Schilling told Saunders. “And I was never afraid of a hitter when I stepped up on the mound. But I never, ever felt comfortable when Todd was at the plate. I never had any level of comfort. He was that good.”
For Blackmon, it’s all about building that mindset of confidence at the plate and not letting any pitcher — whether it’s a future Hall of Famer or a guy you grew up idolizing — shift the batter’s focus.
“If the fact that whoever I am facing and he’s good makes me nervous, that hurts me,” Blackmon said at Rockies Fest. “If I can turn a really big situation – in the ninth inning with the winning run on base – if I can turn that into normal, every day, and I am not really phased by it, then that’s going to help you play the game.”
The throughline to the next generation
First with the Toddfather and then with Chuck Nazty, the Rockies have been led for 30 years by silent workhorses who helped an expansion team build and maintain an identity. Both are humble stewards of the game who make those around them better. Maybe not through motivational speeches and overflowing emotion, but through example and mentorship.
As he’s moved past his prime and become the leader in the clubhouse, Blackmon has carried the Helton torch proudly and valiantly the last few seasons, which have been some of the Rockies darkest. Approaching what could be his final season, he represents a throughline of serious and quiet leaders, with Troy Tulowitzki and Nolan Arenado in the middle, but that all started with Helton.
With the Rockies trying to rebound from a 100-loss season and moving toward a brighter future, someone new will need to take the reins of the club. While it could be Ryan McMahon, I would put my money on Nolan Jones. He’s learning from Blackmon and could be a perfect person to take the baton.
“Chuck has faced like every guy in the league like 100 times so he knows — not an old joke — but just experience. He’s got so much experience and knowledge,” Jones said at Rockies Fest. “…Every day, I ask Chuck what his plan is. I watch Chuck take outfield reps for like two hours before every game. It’s unbelievable. Just to see the work ethic and the approach he takes every day, I got to learn from and try to model.”
The modeling is already working. You can see it in how Jones talks about his approach to the game, even as he transitioned from the minors to the majors.
“When I got called up to the big leagues, I cried. It’s all you ever dreamed about and you get here and you are around these guys, but we have to perform to stay here,” Jones said. “...We want to help the Rockies win. We want to be here for a long time. So I think, like Chuck said, the more that I’m admiring that guy on the mound or thinking about his Cy Youngs or All-Star Games, there’s way more important things that I need to think about, which kind of changes my belief in myself. I like to go up to the plate every time and say, ‘I am better than you no matter who you are,’ but when I am thinking about their awards or the guys I watched on TV, it can get a little hairy there.”
With his stock soaring as he enteres his first full MLB season, Jones represents a new kind of player compared to the traditional Rockies mold. While he’s soaking up Blackmon’s lessons, he also emulates another baseball great and that could be a positive change to bring in a new era.
“I always loved watching Bryce Harper play,” Jones said. “I think he plays with a fire and an energy that I love and try to play with as well. Playing the game, trying to win, just having fun – I think letting your emotions out sometimes is cool.”
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With pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training on Feb. 15 and the full squad due in Arizona by Feb. 20, the Rockies announced a slate of 12 pitchers, five infielders, four outfielders, three catchers and two utility players as non-roster invitees on Thursday. There will be baseball games this month!
We’ll be celebrating all year and we’ll take all the Helton Hall-of-Fame content we can get. This one from Kevin Henry has some great photos of Helton checking out various memorabilia in Cooperstown.
As the high expectations keep rolling in for Nolan Jones in 2024, David Adler and Thomas Harrigan dub Jones the Rockies best all-around hitter and say the number to watch is his OPS+. In his rookie campaign, he posted a 138 OPS+ to go with .931 OPS and slashed .297/.389/.542 with 20 homers and 20 in only 106 games. What can he do in a full season?
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