Helton looks to contribute in final leg of career
The face of the Rockies franchise, Helton seeks to cap his stellar resume
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton knows the end of his playing career is near.
He just isn't saying it.
Helton is not into pomp and circumstance. He never has sought attention, and he is not going to start now.
There will be no farewell tour. Any celebration will be for the Rockies.
"I just want to finish the season healthy, and with a feeling I am able to help this team be better in whatever way I can," Helton said. "To have a chance to go out with a trip to the playoffs, that would be the ultimate."
Helton, however, isn't about to just hang on to be around. If he doesn't feel he is a positive, he will know it's time to move on.
Helton is the face of the franchise. Eventually, his No. 17 will be the first number retired by the Rockies.
A first-round Draft choice in 1995, the team's third year of competition, Helton was in the big leagues by '97. And since then, he has basically established every offensive high-water mark in franchise history. Five years after his retirement, Helton will become the first real test of how much Coors Field will be held against offensive players by voters for the Hall of Fame.
Helton's resume puts him among the game's elite. He has compiled a .964 OPS (which ranks 17th all-time), a .419 on-base percentage (which ranks 20th) and a .545 slugging percentage (which ranks 33rd). Helton goes into 2013 with a .320 average (53rd all-time) and with a chance to climb into the top 70 in home runs and RBIs.
His personality, however, puts him in the background. He's not shy. He's not standoffish. He is quiet.
As a young player, given his background as a quarterback at Tennessee (handling the snaps in between Heath Shuler and Payton Manning), Helton carried the leadership role in the Rockies' clubhouse. It was a silent leadership. It was from observation of a man possessed with being the best and not settling for less.
He was so demanding on himself he never could come to grips with the idea he could challenge a teammate, when Helton, himself, didn't feel he was carrying his share of the tangible load.
Helton, however, has been the sign of stability in a clubhouse where turnover is common, and he has always stepped forward to make new faces feel at home, whether they be the young kids out of Colorado's Minor League system or veterans acquired in some type of a transaction.
There have been 467 players, including Helton, to wear a Rockies uniform since the team's inception in 1993. Helton has been a teammate of 427 of the others. He'll add a few more names to that roster this year.
He's looking forward to it, although he knows that he isn't today what he once was.
The National League batting champion in 2000, Helton has a career 58.4 WAR, which ranks 161st all-time, 109th among position players. A five-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger winner and three-time Gold Glove selection, he holds virtually every Colorado franchise record.
And he's not done, yet.
Helton is, after all, 39, and coming off hip surgery. He feels strong, but he knows at this stage of his career it's more about preventing injuries than playing through them.
"Obviously I have to be more realistic about what my body can do and how I bounce back," he said. "Take, for example, diving for balls. I'm sore the next day. No way around it. I've got to pay attention to that."
And Helton is going to listen closely. He wants to go out with a flourish, but he's not going to force the issue. He's not going to become a burden to the Rockies.
"I'm taking it on a daily basis," said Helton. "It depends on my body. It's not what it used to be. The grind of the season has worn it down."
It's that grind that Helton will battle. It's why the man who once felt taking a game off was a crime will accept his idle time.
"I have to understand that there are days I have to take off to allow me to bounce back and make a positive contribution the next game," he said. "I have to be more honest with myself."
Helton has adjusted his approach to extend his career. Coming off the hip surgery, he was quickly given the green light to get in shape, and he approached it with more focus on cardiovascular work.
"I ran a lot more than I ever ran," he said. "I realize if I have my legs strong there's less chance of having problems with my back or hips. It's about playing smart."
It's about Helton's desire to make a positive contribution in what figures to be his final year. He wants to earn his keep, even in the final days.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.