All 36,690 fans at Coors Field stood in anticipation as their longtime leader stared in the face of a dream situation: bases loaded, late in the ballgame, trailing by four. Oh, and he’s the pinch hitter.
Helton immediately established his discipline at the plate by fouling off tough pitches and avoiding balls outside of the zone. And then with one swift swing, the pride of Tennessee baseball launched a ball 403 feet into the raucous crowd in right field.
Peyton Manning, the newly-acquired quarterback for the Denver Broncos and close friend of Helton's, grinned and high-fived fellow fans as Helton rounded the bases for the 351st time. The Rockies dugout erupted as if it was a playoff game.
Todd Helton is 38 years old but is playing as well as he has in years. Father Time is no match for the "Toddfather."
Despite hovering around .500 early in the season, the Rockies offense is near the top of the league in runs and slugging percentage.
And Todd Helton is a cornerstone to the juggernaut.
The 14-year veteran leads his squad in slugging and OPS, while providing a sense of composure and confidence that the young players strive to emulate.
But his stats go far beyond bragging rights on a sheet of paper. Helton has proven that he is still the rock of the franchise; the focal point of the club house and the go-to guy in pressure situations.
While Colorado’s young stars ride hot and cold streaks, and the shaky pitching staff is on the brink of going full-on Chernobyl in any given inning, Helton is the steady presence that keeps his team rolling forward.
He has become somewhat lost in the shuffle over the years, as the Rockies have developed new all-stars and endured significant changes in the roster. Troy Tulowitzki taking the reins as the team leader during spring training in 2010 was blown out of proportion.
Helton’s aura with the Rockies is on par with John Elway’s immortality with the Denver Broncos.
Possibly, Helton is held in slightly less regard than he deserves, because he is a reminder of the dark days of Coors Field in the early 2000s.
During Colorado’s forgettable baseball drought, No. 17 established himself as one of the best in the league and represented the purple pinstripes in five straight All-Star games. Unfortunately, the Rockies did not mirror his success, finishing with an average record of 74-88 over those seasons.
Eventually, their fortunes began to turn in the latter half of the decade—the same time Helton’s stats began to decline.
Matt Holliday and Tulowitzki were finalists for the National League MVP and Rookie of the Year awards, respectively, in 2007, and it appeared as if the new faces of the Rockies were in the driver’s seat.
Helton was, more or less, along for the ride.
Now, the emergence of Tulo and Carlos Gonzalez as two of the game’s best may represent a changing of the guard, but Helton remains the unmistakable identity of the Rockies.
2012 has proven that the bearded first baseman is far from finished.
In fact, he’s as valuable as any member of the Rockies heralded batting order. Not to mention, he's still an outstanding defensive player. And judging from his demeanor, Helton expects nothing less.
He has never hinted at retirement and strongly shot down such rumors that surfaced late in 2010. Since then, the media has far too much respect to even consider bringing up the R-word within earshot of the man who deserves a place in Cooperstown.
His resurgence this season has far since put any whispers of retirement to rest.
Colorado’s most beloved slugger is as deserving as any player in the league for another postseason appearance, and he is providing the spark the Rockies desperately need. The Colorado Rockies have coined 2012 as “The Year of the Fan.”
As fans, let’s make this “The Year of the Toddfather” instead.