Helton, Giambi share leadership role
Veterans team up to help young teammates, each other
DENVER -- The Rockies already had their All-Star caliber first baseman with a power bat from the left side and experience to lend younger teammates in Todd Helton. They're even better now, because they've made room for a star first baseman just like Helton.
One-time MVP Jason Giambi joined the team Sept. 1, and immediately demonstrated the ability to change games as a pinch-hitter. Giambi has hit .368 with two home runs, 11 RBIs and seven walks, mostly as a pinch-hitter.
The two are working as smoothly off the field as on, providing their own brands of leadership. Helton, hitting .322 with 15 homers and 86 RBIs, and Giambi are approaching their roles with mutual respect and an eye toward winning.
"In my opinion, Todd is a future Hall of Famer, a guy I always enjoyed watching from afar when I played in the other league," said Giambi, the 2000 American Leauge MVP while with the Athletics and a habitual playoff participant with the A's and Yankees. "To see him play day in and day out is really impressive.
"I knew Todd well enough. And he knows me. I'm coming in here to help win. It's not a situation where egos are involved or anything else."
At 36, two years younger than Giambi, Helton finds himself in a position of looking up to a teammate, something that hasn't happened often because the Rockies are built around young talent.
"I like to pick his brain," Helton said. "He's been around longer than I have, so it helps me to talk to him about situations. He's also been to the postseason more, so he's a great guy to have."
The two have different effects on teammates.
Helton was the Rockies' first-round Draft selection in 1995, and has seen every homegrown prospect come through the system since. He can be comical or gruff, but it is all backed with genuine caring. His willingness to call a Minor League prospect who is struggling or welcome a new player has set the tone for the club.
Third baseman Ian Stewart, who like Helton was a top Rockies pick, said Helton refused to let him be a shy rookie when he began being invited to Major League Spring Training.
"He's a great guy, a great friend," Stewart said. "He likes to joke around, act like he doesn't like you at times. But that's to make sure those rookie guys aren't overconfident or acting like they've been here for years.
"But then he'll throw his arm around your shoulder or give you a big bear hug, talk to you just to see how you're doing. I didn't know him before I came here. But he supports me, going out of his way to see how my wife is doing or even now how my baby is doing."
Center fielder Dexter Fowler said, "He gives us positive encouragement but gets on us when we need it. But he's more of an example for us. When he goes, we go."
Helton especially has an ear for teammates who are struggling. For example, Chris Iannetta began the season as the club's No. 1 catcher. But his struggles and the surge of Yorvit Torrealba have meant Iannetta is playing sparingly.
Through the struggles, Helton knew Iannetta well enough to understand that the best way to help was by being a friend, not an advisor.
"He's hard on himself," Helton said. "He's a lot like myself in that regard. He expects himself to go out and be a great ballplayer."
Helton was genuinely touched when Iannetta's two-run homer in the 11th inning gave the Rockies a 7-5 victory over the Brewers on Tuesday night.
"Every time he goes to the plate, you pull for him," Helton said.
It's impossible for Giambi to know his new teammates as well as Helton does, but he has been quick about sharing his extensive knowledge.
"He really knows hitting," Helton said. "I mean, he could be a hitting coach one day. I know hitting, but I can't express it the way he can."
After being released by the Athletics in August, Giambi signed a Minor League deal with the Rockies and immediately took speedy infielder Eric Young Jr. under his wing. The two would work in the batting cages together.
When both joined the big club, manager Jim Tracy was using Young as the left-handed pinch-hitter in the middle innings and Giambi toward the end of games. During games, Young and Giambi often sat together in the dugout, with Giambi describing the course of the game and alerting Young when his opportunity would come and how to prepare for it.
The mentorship has helped Young hit .260 through the first 26 Major League games of his career.
"When I was a young player with the A's, I followed Mark McGwire around like a puppy," Giambi said. "That's how the game gets passed on. It's your responsibility as an older player."
Teammates also marvel at how Giambi can change a game. He already has delivered two game-wining hits and been a part of several other game-turning rallies. The stirring in the opposing dugout and bullpen that often accompanies the prospect of Giambi entering a game has become great theatre.
"Giambi's presence really makes a difference," Fowler said. "He's intimidating. When he comes out of the dugout, everybody is pumped up."
Helton and Giambi represent a paring of similar skills, but by no means is it a conflict.
"It was an exciting opportunity to play on a team that's hungry and has an opportunity to win," Giambi said. "That's all Todd and I both care about."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.