I’m not a Colorado Rockies fan, exactly, but I do have a certain love for the Blake Street Bombers. It’s partly the altitude, but it always seems that Denver games are exciting no matter who wins (again, I’m obviously not a real Rockies fan) because the ball just seems to fly out of Coors Field.
Plus, the legendary Todd Helton and I share a birthday: August 20. What’s more, when I took my daughter, Sidney, to her first-ever baseball game, it was August 20, 2011. She was about 18 months old and knew it was not only my birthday but the Rockies’ longtime first-baseman’s birthday. And he hit a home run. Pretty special day.
Last night was even better, although Sidney wasn’t there. It was Helton’s last-ever game in Denver. 17 years with the same team (and he wears #17). These days 7 years with the same team is a big deal, but 17? That’s just plain old school, and admirable. Helton, with his impressive play and genuine personality, has become as much a part of the fabric of Colorado as any athlete besides perhaps John Elway.
In a pregame ceremony, the Rockies gave Helton a horse for his ranch. Giving someone worth over $100 million a gift is always awkward, so no real complaints for the weirdness there. But the in-game video tributes from former teammates and coaches (including current Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Clint Barmes and coach Clint Hurdle, who are still beloved in Denver) were wonderful, as were in-game highlights of Helton’s career. The Helton bobblehead the team gave away wasn’t bad either.
What made last night unforgettable, though, was Helton’s first time at bat, which turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had at a sporting event. As he walked to the plate, the crowd of probably 45,000 people stood as one and applauded Helton’s amazing career, and Red Sox shortstop Dustin Pedroia walked out to pitcher Jake Peavy to give Helton some time to soak in the ovation. Then, the magical happened:
Helton tipped his cap, stood in, and hit a long home run over the right-field porch. No adjectives possible or necessary.