Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Hometown Hero - Todd Helton's Retirement

I don’t know if it is hearing the crack of the bat, eating the foot-long hot dogs, or spending time with my dad, but I have always loved baseball. Baseball is one of the few no-frills sports, that truly is just about the game. There are no cheerleaders, no half-time show, and no grown-men dancing in the end-zone; no, baseball is all sport and no glamour. I learned at a young age the magic of baseball. I held in reverence names such as: Mickey Mantle, Nolan Ryan, Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and about a hundred others. I was one of those rare girls that collected baseball cards instead of Strawberry Shortcake. I remember the day my dad took me to my first baseball game like it was yesterday. The excitement downtown was palpable. My first game was at Coors Field. The Rockies were still in their infancy, and they were playing their first season at the new field. The second I heard the announcer say the hallowed name of Andres Galarraga, I fell in love. There is something so perfect about a baseball game. The field, the players, the game, is just the same as it has always been, and watching a game is like connecting to American history. My dad took me to as many games as he could when I was a kid. I was even lucky enough to see the last game that Ozzie Smith every played at Coors Field. It wasn’t just my dad who loved baseball; I would watch game after game with my grandfather. My grandfather had M.S. for the majority of his adult life, and was confined to a wheelchair, so he rarely missed a televised Rockies game. Watching a game with him was even better than being at the field. He would tell stories of watching baseball as a kid, and yell at the players on the screen that they needed to run faster, or work on their hitting. Needless to say, the Rockies have always been a part of my life, so when I was eleven years old and my mother told me that I was going to get to meet the new first basemen for the Rockies, I was excited.
            My mother works for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, it was Colorado Division of Wildlife at the time, and she said that there was an opportunity for two kids to get to go duck hunting with Todd Helton. She then told me that I was one of the kids that were going to go. I was more than excited, I was nervous. I had never met a pro ball player before. I had a few things signed over the years, because a lot of the Rockies like to hunt and fish, so they would send things home with my mom, but this was my first time actually meeting one. The day finally came, and my dad drove me to the meeting spot. We met Todd and the man who was in charge of the day at a gas station before we headed to a local radio station. Now, when I was eleven, I was awkward, lanky, and had a pixie cut. The man in charge of the day thought that I was the boy who was coming with us, and my dad had to inform him that I was his daughter. I definitely felt worse at that point, and wished I had never cut my hair. Then, we finally met Todd. He is a lot taller in person, than he looks on the field. He said hi to me and told my dad that they would take good care of me. My dad handed me my shotgun, and told Todd that he wasn’t worried about me. We waited for the boy to come, and then we all left to the radio station. I didn’t know that we were going to be on the radio, so I was extremely nervous, the nauseous kind of nervous. Todd kept cracking jokes, and that helped to ease my mind. Once all of the pomp and circumstance was over, we finally got ready to head out duck hunting. I was a little sheepish at first, but then relaxed once I realized what a laid back guy Todd was. Throughout the day Todd told us stories about high school, and a lip fungus he once had. I, of course, found him hilarious. He told us about his time with the Rockies, and he told me about his girlfriend that he was going to ask to marry him. (I even got a sneak peek at the ring!) After Todd took us out to lunch, we did a little more hunting, and we finally got a couple ducks. Todd threw our ducks into the back of his rental car, and joked about having to return it with blood in the trunk. Then, it was finally time to head home. The boy that had come with us had a box of things for Todd to sign, and I had nothing. Neither I nor my parents thought that it was appropriate to bring anything, because I was able to have the experience of just being able to hang out with Todd for the day. So, Todd signed every piece of memorabilia that the boy had brought, and when he was finished, the boy thanked him, said good-bye to all of us, and went with his mom. I shook Todd’s hand, thanked him for the day, and got ready to go with my dad. Todd asked if I had anything for him to sign. I told him no, but that I had had a great day. So he told me to wait a minute while he went through the batting bag he had in his car. He finally pulled out a black batting glove. He told me that that was all he had. Todd signed the glove with a black sharpie, and said that he was sorry that no one would be able to tell it was his signature. I was so excited, and told him that it didn’t matter because I would know. That was it. I ran back to my dad, and never saw Todd up close again.

            Even though I never saw Todd in person again, I have followed his career, and cheered him on. I watched from my college apartment as the Rockies came so close to the World Series, and I watched the Rockies lose game after game from my grandfather’s hospital room. Through it all, I have always felt like I had the inside track on Todd, that he was not only a great ballplayer, but that he was a great person as well. A pro athlete not only took the time to spend the day with a couple of kids, but he helped an awkward eleven year old girl not feel so awkward for one day. So when I saw my twitter feed announce that Todd Helton was going to retire, a bit of sadness washed over me. The Rockies are not only losing one of the best first basemen in major league history, but they are losing one of the best people. Fifteen years after meeting Todd Helton, on September 29th, 2013, I will be at home with my husband and our son, who was born on a Rockies opening day, watching an old friend take his last stand at first base, and feeling the same loss that the rest of Colorado will feel as we say goodbye to number 17. 


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