It's never easy to say goodbye to the good guys in sports, and with Todd Helton's announcement Saturday that he will be hanging up his cleats at the end of the season, baseball is most definitely losing one of its best.
While many will point to the fact that Helton played half of his games in the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field, that doesn't change the fact that the first baseman is one of only two players in baseball history to have at least 2,500 hits, 550 doubles, 350 home runs and a career batting average of .310 or higher.
The other? Stan Musial.
Whenever you wind up in the same club as "Stan the Man," you know that you've done something right—and that you have much to be proud of.
With two weeks left in his career, Helton could add to those gaudy career totals before it's all said and done.
That said, now seems like as good a time as any to take a look back at the 10 greatest moments in Todd Helton's phenomenal career.
I pose this as a question because, if we've learned anything from watching baseball over the years, it's that anything is possible—including a repeat performance of this magnitude from Helton.
While Colorado's playoff hopes had faded a long time ago, a big crowd filled Coors Field on August 30, 2013 as Helton sat three hits away from 2,500 for his career.
Asking the 40-year-old Helton to pick up three hits in a game is a stretch at this point in his career, but the veteran didn't disappoint those in attendance.
He smacked a pair of three-run home runs for the 28th multi-home run game of his career, his first since April 26, 2011, when he went off against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Helton also tied a career-high with six RBI, a feat he only achieved once before, against the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 29, 2003.
Yet the 2,500 hit plateau remained just out of reach, as he still stood one hit shy of the mark.
Playing with an injured wrist, Helton became only the third player in Colorado history to hit for the cycle, pulling off the rarity against the Florida Marlins on June 19, 1999, a game that the Rockies won with ease by a score of 10-2.
Helton doubled off of Alex Fernandez to lead off the bottom of the second inning, singled off of Fernandez in the bottom of the fourth and took the Marlins starter deep in the bottom of the fifth for a solo shot, giving the Rockies a 7-0 lead.
With reliever Brian Edmondson in to face the Rockies in the bottom of the seventh inning, Helton stepped to the plate needing only a triple for the cycle.
He sent the second pitch that he saw deep into the right-center field gap, with Marlins outfielders Preston Wilson and Denny Bautista scrambling around in pursuit of the bouncing ball while Helton rounded the bases, finally stopping at third base.
While most will point to 1998 through 2004 as the prime of Helton's career, the slugger was at his very best in 2000 and 2001, hitting a combined .354/.448/.692 with 91 home runs and 293 RBI.
On September 30, 2001, in the bottom of the third inning against the Milwaukee Brewers, Helton smacked his 52nd double of the season off of Brewers starter Jeff D'Amico, giving him 100 extra base hits on the season (52 doubles, two triples and 46 home runs).
He became the only player in MLB history to record back-to-back seasons with at least 100 extra-base hits. Only two other players have a pair of 100 extra-base hit seasons, though neither came consecutively: Hall of Famers Lou Gehrig (1927 and 1930) and Chuck Klein (1930 and 1932).
The moment would have been more fitting were it a double, but Helton and the Rockies weren't complaining about his second-inning single off of New York's Andy Pettitte on June 20, 2007, a base hit that made Helton the first player in Coors Field history to record 1,000 career hits at the ballpark.
In typical Helton fashion, the veteran wasn't interested in celebrating individual achievements, as he told The Denver Post after the game:
It was early in the game, just the second inning, so I didn’t want to show anybody up. I have too much respect for the game to show anybody up. But it was cool. It felt good to hear those cheers, and I appreciated it.
Per the Post, Helton became only the fifth active player (at the time) to have recorded 1,000 career hits in a single ballpark, joining Derek Jeter (1,116 at Yankee Stadium), Frank Thomas (1,060 at Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field), Garret Anderson (1,055 at Angel Stadium) and Sammy Sosa (1,055 at Chicago’s Wrigley Field).
Not even a legendary figure like Tris Speaker can compete with Helton when it comes to smacking doubles with consistency.
In the sixth inning of Colorado's game against San Diego on September 9, 2007, Helton took the sixth pitch that he saw from Padres reliever Joe Thatcher deep into the left-center field gap, winding up on second base with his 35th double of the season.
That two-bagger broke Speaker's 80-year-old record for most consecutive seasons with at least 35 doubles, which he had done nine years in a row from 1919 to 1927. Helton had made it an even 10 seasons of doubles dominance.
"It's a great honor," the Rockies first baseman told Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post after the game. "Anytime you do something in this game that nobody has ever done, it's a huge accomplishment."
Injuries limited Helton to only 83 games in 2008, but he came back with a vengeance in 2009, stroking 38 two-baggers along the way. It's fair to assume that had his back not caused him problems in 2008, Helton's record would stand at 12 consecutive seasons.
Helton made his major league debut on August 2, 1997 at Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium, batting fifth and starting in left field for the Colorado Rockies as they took on Francisco Cordova and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
What a debut it was.
After flying out in the second inning, Helton recorded his first hit in the fourth inning, looping a base hit into left field that allowed Andres Galarraga to advance from first to third. Two innings later, he'd draw the first walk of his career, working a seven-pitch at-bat against Cordova.
Then in the top of the eighth inning, with the Rockies trailing 6-2 and one out, Helton smacked the first home run of his career, sending Pittsburgh reliever Marc Wilkins' offering deep into the right-center field stands that cut the deficit to 6-3.
While the Rockies wound up losing the game, going 2-for-4 with a single, home run and walk—while seeing a game-high 21 pitches—isn't a bad start to anyone's major league career.
As Colorado and Arizona took to the field in front of more than 30,000 fans at Coors Field on July 22, 2009, only 49 players in baseball history had hit at least 500 doubles over the course of their career.
Before the third inning had come to an end, that club grew in size by one.
Helton smoked Arizona starter Jon Garland's second pitch of the at-bat deep to right field, where it bounced high off the scoreboard and rolled back towards the infield, forcing Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton to give chase and allowing Seth Smith to score from first base, cutting Arizona's lead to 3-2.
By the time Upton retrieved the ball and fired it back towards the infield, Helton was standing on second base with the 500th double of his career, a feat he told MLB.com's Thomas Harding that he was thrilled to be able to share with the hometown crowd:
That was a neat moment, no doubt about it. I got 2,000 hits on the road. To get 500 doubles here, it was cool, just to see the fans stand up and obviously my teammates stand up. It was a good day. It was a good win for us, too.
Garland, while he wasn't happy about allowing the milestone hit or being charged with the earned run, couldn't help but pay respect to the fearsome slugger as well:
I respect the guy. I gave him a little tip of the cap. I don't know if he saw it. It's a pretty good accomplishment, especially to do it in one place in front of his fans. I'm not sure if they really realize what kind of player he's been here for them over his full career. Hopefully, they do.
I wish it wasn't me he hit it off of, but I'm still going to show respect.
Helton was more relieved than anything when he finally recorded career hit number 2,500, as he told MLB.com's Ian McCue:
Every at-bat felt like it was getting longer and longer. I was getting a little concerned because I definitely wanted to get 2,500 here at home in front of the home crowd. I was already in my mind thinking of who was pitching tomorrow. Fans were great, teammates were great. It was mostly relief, but I was excited.
Not only was it fitting that he achieved the career milestone in front of his family and fans at Coors Field, but that he did so with a double on the seventh pitch of his at-bat against Cincinnati reliever Curtis Partch. You couldn't have written a better script.
Helton, who has made a career out of making pitchers work whenever he steps to the plate, ranks 16th on MLB's career list with 586 doubles.
His teammate Michael Cuddyer had some words of advice for players that are just beginning their major league careers as Helton's draws closer to its end, which he shared with the The Denver Post's Troy Renck:
"If you are a young player and you don't watch a guy with 2,500 hits, watch how he goes about his business, and see what he does and what's made him successful, then you are an idiot."
That's pretty good advice.
Helton and his teammates on the 2007 Colorado Rockies could only dream of what it would be like to play a postseason game at Coors Field.
A dozen years had passed since Colorado made its only playoff appearance in team history, losing in four games to the Atlanta Braves in the 1995 NLDS, two years before Helton even made his major league debut.
Heading into a day-night doubleheader on September 18, the Rockies sat in fourth place in the NL West, 6.5 games behind first place Arizona and in fourth place in the NL wild-card race, trailing San Diego by 4.5 games.
It looked as if September was going to leave the team and its fans with an empty feeling once again.
While the Rockies beat the Dodgers in the afternoon by a score of 3-1, they trailed the visiting club 8-7 heading into the bottom of the ninth. With two outs, Matt Holliday on first base and Dodgers closer Takashi Saito on the mound, Helton faced a 1-2 count.
And then he struck, sending the ball deep into the night for a two-run, walk-off home run that kept hope alive in Colorado—and that saw the usually reserved Helton let out a beastly scream as he rounded third base, before jumping into a throng of jubilant teammates that had surrounded home plate. That play was the catalyst for the Rockies' improbable run all the way to the World Series that year.
The magnitude of the moment wasn't lost on his teammates, as outfielder Cory Sullivan explained to Troy Renck of The Denver Post:
What I will always remember from that night is the level of respect we all had for him. We waited at our lockers until he came off the field, and we gave him a standing ovation when he walked in. He always let his actions speak far louder than his words. I thought our ovation to him was an appropriate response.
On June 30, 2011, as the Chicago White Sox and Colorado Rockies prepared to do battle at Coors Field, Helton became only the 54th player in major league history—and only the third active player—to appear in 2,000 games with one team.
While that's a remarkable accomplishment on its own, when you take into consideration how frequently players change teams in this era of baseball, it becomes all the more special.
According to Troy Renck of The Denver Post, Helton never tried to force his way out of town and only once did he ever come close to leaving the team, agreeing to be traded to the Boston Red Sox in the winter of 2007 in a deal for third baseman Mike Lowell, a trade that eventually fell apart.
While Colorado would go on to lose to Boston in the Fall Classic that season, Helton told Renck that he wouldn't have it any other way:
Going to the World Series with the Rockies was better than winning it with the Red Sox. I just feel like I have so much invested here in this franchise. Sure, I would have liked to have won a ring. But I am not going to lose sleep over it. My favorite moment is still that last out of the National League championship, knowing we were going to the World Series.
Devotion to a team—especially one that lost as much as Colorado did during Helton's career—is almost unheard of in today's game, especially when it involves a legitimate superstar.
It only makes Helton's star shine all the brighter.