DENVER (CBS4) – After winning just 73 games last year the Colorado Rockies made wholesale changes, but the face of their franchise is still on the team.
While Todd Helton isn’t the slugger he used to be, he still is one of the best first basemen in the game and a player the Rockies know will give them everything he has every single day.
As the 38-year-old gets ready for his 16th season, he does so with no illusions. He knows his baseball days are dwindling down to a precious few.
“I try to enjoy it more. When you’re not hurting out there it’s fun, but when you get older you creak a little bit more, your body hurts a little bit more, and it’s a young man’s game,” Helton said. “I realize my days are numbered but I’m enjoying every one of them.”
Helton’s career is in many ways defined by numbers — more than 300 home runs, more than 500 doubles, more than 1,300 runs batted in and a career batting average of .323. If he can stay healthy and avoid the nagging pain from his chronically bad back he knows he can still be a very productive player.
“I want to be in a good spot mentally for just the whole season. I’m going to have bad days physically and mentally, but I want to know that when I step on the field that I’m able to compete and to go up to the plate and do some damage,” he said.
The Rockies’ may be Troy Tulowitzki’s team now, or maybe it’s Carlos Gonzalez’s team. Both young stars are entering the prime of their careers. But the emotional leader of the team is still Helton, as he’s been for the past 15 years because of what he’s done and how he approaches the game every single day.
“He’s a guy who is a potential Hall of Famer. He’s a great leader and a great guy on and off the field,” Gonzalez said. “For me it’s a pleasure to be right next to that guy.”
Outfield Dexter Fowler says he’s learned a lot from playing with Helton.
“What it takes to stay. The guy’s been playing for 15 years. I remember when I was playing and remember seeing; ‘That’s Todd Helton, that’s Todd Helton;’ and to be on the same team with him and to be in the trenches and battling with him; it’s awesome,” Fowler said.
Helton admits he was surprised the Rockies made so many changes this offseason. But he also understands that’s what happens when a team underachieves.
“We’ll see once we get down (to spring training). We’re going to have to do a good job in spring of becoming a team, of getting to know everyone,” Helton said. “I still think we’ve got a core group of good guys who’ve been here and know how to win.”
Many picked the Rockies to win the NL West last year, but the team never lived up to expectations. Helton say he’s very optimistic about this year.
“I like our position better, actually this year. Just because of that fact that we really stink when there are expectations placed upon us,” he said. “We’ve got a chance to sneak up on some people.”
Helton isn’t the only thirtysomething in the Rockies infield. With Marco Scutaro and Casey Blake the Rockies will have plenty of experience in the infield this season.