Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Todd Helton Gets 2,000th Hit; Deserves Better

The saying goes "you don't know what you got until it's gone."

Todd Helton had to wait one extra day for his 2,000 career hit after the official scorer in Atlanta ruled his liner past Yunel Escobar. It was a debatable ruling that everyone seemed to care about except for Helton himself.

The hit came in the third inning, a hard ground ball to left field on an 0-2 pitch, was the highlight of a sloppy game in which the Rockies could not make pitches when they needed too, struggled with the gloves, and only had three hits in the 8-1 loss to the Braves.

In many ways, the loss was symbolic of Helton's career.

While Helton continues to find new ways to get better, his team finds new ways to struggle. In 12 full seasons with the Rockies, Helton has a career batting average of .328. He is the club leader in hits, doubles, home runs, batting average, and almost any other measurable stat. Unfortunately for Helton, the only stat that people seem to dwell on is his $16.6 million contract.

Helton has one postseason appearance in the Rockies miracle run in 2007. It was vindicating for his years having to carry a team that fielded the likes of Jose Hernandez, Jeff Cirillo, Kit Pellow, Royce Clayton and several other hardly noteworthy players.

When the franchise finally grew a team worthy of Major League contention, the ownership did their very best to ship Helton off before it all began. He was literally minutes away from being traded to the Red Sox after the 2006 season. Sometimes the best trades are the ones that never happened. Without Helton, the 2007 Colorado Rockies famous "Rocktober" never happens.

The fact of the matter is, Helton had several opportunities to go to the front office and say that he wanted out. He did not have to endure the years of hardship that the club suffered after the failed signings of Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle. In the height of his career, the five time All Star could have easily said that he wanted to go to a contender.

Instead, Helton pulled up his boot straps and endured the tough times. Matt Holliday often times would talk about how Helton would call him while he was making his way through the farm system and encourage him. Holliday said that Helton would tell him to keep working hard, because he knew they would be good.

Although quiet, it has been much reported that Helton is the most respected man to walk through the clubhouse. Even when Holliday took the reigns and turned into a great hitter the players looked to Helton. Opposing managers still feared Helton more than anyone in the lineup. Bruce Bochy would often say that the last member of the Rockies lineup that he wanted to face when the game on the line was not Holliday, but Helton.

While Helton has been the consummate competitor, he has done the majority of his damage outside of the national spotlight. Despite his .291 career road average, Helton is often seen by the national media as a "Coors Field hitter." They say that he is a good hitter, but not great. They continue to languish praise on players like Ryan Howard and others who have never had anywhere near the success that Helton has had.

When Helton struggled last year, battling a bad back that would ultimately require surgery, instead of continuing to back the man who had carried the Rockies for so many years, the local media and the fans turned their back on their hero. Fans suggested that he was overpaid and he was the reason that the Rockies would not sign free agents. Members of the media, some who rarely wrote about baseball or the Rockies, wrote that Helton was done, a has-been.

It is a shame because if Helton would have played in a city that got more national attention, if he would have been in a town that was not completely infatuated by their football team, if he would have been on a team that had the opportunity to win any night that they suited up, he would be a sure-fire Hall of Famer.

Instead, he continues to work his tail off to play for a team that resides in a town that has no idea what they have been fortunate enough to watch for the last 12+ years. When Helton retires and this team struggles to find a new leader and a new face of the franchise fans and media members may finally realize what they were fortunate enough to be a part of. Unfortunately it will be too late to get back what they never realized they had for so long.

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