When the Rockies traded first basemen Andres Galarraga to the Braves in 1998, I recall my mom being extremely unhappy. Andres was her favorite player and to this day she still holds it against Bob Gebhard, the general manager at the time, for making that trade.
Of course, as Rockies fans were soon to find out, this was the trade that was made to make room in the starting lineup for a rookie first baseman named Todd Helton.
After Helton hit his 500th career double against the Diamondbacks yesterday afternoon, I ran it by my mom that this probably would never have happened if Colorado hadn't traded Galarraga. She looked at me with a half smile on her face and said, "I know, but I still hate that damn Gebhard."
Sorry Bob. Luckily for you other Rockies fans have been a little more forgiving.
As has been the case his entire career, achievements and milestones have come as easily to Todd Helton as donuts do to a cop. Yet if you expect Todd to brag about his most recent accomplishment, and it's a big one, then you haven't been watching the same player that I have for the past 11 years.
It wasn't long ago that Helton was the young baseball phenom from Colorado that no major league pitcher wanted to face. In addition to his lethal swing and spot-on plate mechanics, Todd showed an incredible amount of discipline to the strike zone.
He rarely ever chased a pitch out of the zone, making him one of the toughest outs in all of baseball. On top of all that, he's a former gold glove winner and an absolute stud at first base.
However, for all of his talent and his baseball pedigree, it is Helton's humility and sportsmanship that have always rung the truest to his character. He was the best player on one of the league's worst teams for nearly a decade, and never once did he complain about his teammates or demand a trade.
When the front office finally came through and delivered a team good enough for the World Series, Helton's eyes lit up like a kid on Christmas morning who had never received a present before.
Now at the backend of his career, Todd continues to overcome all the obstacles thrown his way. Whereas before he had to deal with being the only star on an inconsistent team, he now faces the challenge of inconsistent health.
A battered and aging back cut Helton's 2008 campaign short and threatened to end his career before he bounced back and returned to form this season.
I've had the privledge of watching Helton play for more than half my life, and I know how he good he is. When the day comes where he quietly walks away from the game, the Rockies will undoubtedly retire his number.
If Cooperstown doesn't fret over the fact that he played all his home games at Coors Field, he should make the Hall of Fame. Even then, Todd would just smile and modestly say how fortunate he was to be in Colorado and to play with the players that the Rockies picked up over the years.
To me, Todd Helton represents everything that is good about sports. He is the model for a how a great baseball player should be, on and off of the field. In an era where fans fear that they are running out of heroes, Helton remains one of the most successful and controversy-free players in all of baseball. Wednesday's milestone only further confirmed that.
Just don't expect to hear any of this from Todd.
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