DENVER (AP) – All the tributes and tips of the cap to the adoring crowd are now just memories for Todd Helton.
On deck, a leisurely life of riding his new horse – a retirement gift from the Colorado Rockies – around his ranch located just a few miles away from the ball park.
For the first time in nearly two decades, the Rockies are left wondering: Who’s on first?
Not only that, but possibly who will be managing this team as well. By all accounts, Walt Weiss should be back after guiding the team to a 74-88 mark in his first season. But he was only brought on board with a one-year deal.
Asked if Weiss was planning to return, owner Dick Monfort said: “I think so. I’ve heard that.
“He did great. I couldn’t be happier.”
The Rockies once again dealt with a string of injuries to their big names as they finished last in the NL West for a second straight year. All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki missed 25 games because of a broken rib and slugger Carlos Gonzalez sat out a handful of contests with a sprained right middle finger, one that might require offseason surgery.
“I think you can look at a lot of things that would be excuses,” said Tulowitzki, who missed most of last year with a groin injury. “Injuries are excuses for me, young players are excuses for me. We’ve got to find a way to get it done.”
Without Helton, too, the face of the franchise.
The 40-year-old announced earlier in September that this – his 17th season – would be his last. Helton simply felt it was time to wrap up a career that saw him set virtually every hitting record in team history. He leaves the game as one of two players to have at least 2,500 hits, 550 doubles, 350 home runs and hit .315 or higher for his career, joining former St. Louis Cardinals great and Hall of Famer Stan Musial.
“It’s been a great run, and I’ve accomplished more in this game than I ever thought,” Helton said.
In his final at-bat Sunday in Los Angeles against the Dodgers, Helton swung for the fences – and struck out.
“I’d rather go down swinging, if that’s the way I’m going to go down,” Helton said. “You always wish you could slow down and enjoy it a little bit more.”
For Tulowitzki, the full weight of Helton’s absence won’t be felt until next season.
“He’s always been there for me,” Tulowitzki said. “We’re good friends. We’ve talked a lot about hitting and a lot about opposing pitchers. So that’s something I’m definitely going to miss, but it hasn’t sunk in yet.”
Helton’s replacement at first will be a hot topic over the winter. The simple solution might be relocating Michael Cuddyer from right field to the infield. Cuddyer is coming off a season in which he hit .331 to win his first NL batting title.
The other options could be finding a first baseman on the free agent market or converting catcher Wilin Rosario.
One thing that will be difficult to replace: Helton’s leadership in the clubhouse. He certainly had a memorable final week, too, giving the fans at Coors Field one last enduring memory in his final home game – a homer to right field.
“It’s pretty cool to watch a legend in his last days,” Weiss said.
With Helton’s retirement, this becomes Tulowitzki’s team. He’s the leader in the eyes of Cuddyer.
“He’s a guy who prepares and is just as resilient and plays with as much tenacity as Todd,” Cuddyer said. “So I think it’s going to be an easy transition for him to be able to step into that.”
On the mound, the Rockies have a solid core of starters to build around in Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa and Tyler Chatwood. The trio combined for 38 wins.
“Next year is going to be way better than this year,” said De La Rosa, who finished 16-6 before a bothersome left thumb cut short his season. “We have a lot of talent to be in a good place. We’re going to do that.”
They have some up-and-comers, too, such as slick-fielding third baseman Nolan Arenado, infielder DJ LeMahieu and outfielder Charlie Blackmon.
“We’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of talent who are just going to get better and make this team better,” Cuddyer said. “We’re not far off.”
– By Pat Graham, AP Sports Writer
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