DENVER -- The offensive fireworks that Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton has provided over that past month were rewarded on the Fourth of July.
Helton has been selected as a reserve on the National League squad for the 75th All-Star Game, it was announced on Sunday afternoon. It will be Helton's fifth straight trip to the Midsummer Classic, which will be played on Tuesday at Houston's Minute Maid Park. Helton surpassed Larry Walker (four) for most All-Star visits in club history.
"It's still the All-Star Game, still the big leagues," Helton said. "I'm excited to be there. We'll try to win a game, see what happens."
Helton will join Rockies manager Clint Hurdle, picked as a coach by NL manager Jack McKeon of the defending world champion Florida Marlins.
Helton was elected to the squad the past four seasons. As he struggled earlier this season, he said he didn't deserve to be voted onto the team by the fans. But since missing six straight starts in late May because of a strained oblique muscle that affected his back, he has put up numbers deserving of the appointment.
Helton's .352 average going into the Sunday was just two points shy of NL leader Barry Bonds. His .467 on-base percentage trailed only Bonds' superhuman .620.
"Despite the fact he missed that solid week, you look at the numbers and the way he's been able to pick things back up offensively, the defense he brings to the park every day, the presence he gives us in the third spot in the lineup," Hurdle said. "You can't go wrong picking him, that's for sure."
Before taking a seat to rest his back, Helton was batting just .219 with runners in scoring position. The pain, coupled with a slump during which his ability to drive the ball the opposite way escaped him, made the rest necessary.
After he returned, it took awhile to regain his old form. He went 3-for-20 on a West Coast road swing. But the Rockies returned home, and Helton went 8-for-14 during a four-game series against San Francisco, and he hasn't slowed since.
On June 2, Helton was batting .311, a career year for many but way below what one would expect of a player who entered the year with a .337 career average. Since then, though, Helton has batted .417 (43-for-103).
"I struggled earlier in the year, didn't drive in any runs, didn't get any key hits for us," Helton said. "I'm swinging the bat a lot better right now. I'm excited to have this honor."
Not getting the honor was third baseman Vinny Castilla, who has a team-high 69 RBIs. But the Rockies' 31-49 record and the fact there were several strong third basemen worked against him.
Todd Helton / 1B
Weight: 220 lbs
Bats: L / Throws: L
"Vinny's position, Todd's position, they're somewhat loaded," Hurdle said. "There are a lot of guys having good first halves. That's a tough process to go through. You're not going to get them all right."
Castilla, whose 16 home runs are tied with Jeromy Burnitz for the team lead, handled the news with a shrug.
"No, I'm not disappointed at all," Castilla said. "I mean, if I make it, great. If not, I'll be fine having three days here. It'll be nice if I go, but I don't make those decisions, so I'm all right."
Castilla celebrated his 37th birthday on Sunday by driving in four runs.
"If they'd have voted after today, they'd have taken Vinny, the way he's swinging it," Helton said.
Unless a Colorado player is picked as an injury replacement, this will mark the fifth time in the Rockies' 12-year history that they have had just one representative. Andres Galarraga went to Baltimore in 1993, Dante Bichette went to Pittsburgh in 1994 (although manager Don Baylor went as a coach), Walker went in 1999 and Helton went in 2002.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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