Helton wants one more kick at the can in 2013
DENVER -- Todd Helton has been the face of the Colorado Rockies franchise since his arrival to the big leagues in August 1997.He wants to go out wearing a smile, not a frown. He wants to walk away from the game, not limp. He wants to play one more year. Limited by an aching hip that finally required surgery in August, Helton has found little joy during the 2012 season. He didn't meet his personal expectations, and the Rockies ... well, they head into the final week of the season trying to avoid the first 100-loss campaign in franchise history. That's why Helton had the surgery to repair the torn labrum in his right hip on Aug. 10. Doctors told him he could be ready to go, full-speed ahead, in six months, which puts him on schedule to be ready for full workouts by the time Spring Training 2013 begins. "Nobody wants to go out having a season in the fashion that I went out," Helton said. "Hopefully, I will get back to baseball shape and feel good next year and be able to come back and play." Helton ranks among the top 100 players all-time in most offensive categories, including 53rd in average (.320), 17th in OPS (.964) and 85th in RBI (1,345). Eleven times from 1998-2009, he played in more than 140 games. Then came a battle with back problems that led to surgery after the 2009 season, and this year, there was the hip problem. The final numbers for 2012 are a .238 average, seven home runs and 37 RBIs in 69 games. And then there has been the struggle for the Rockies, who, since Helton's arrival, have counted on him for stability in a world of ups and downs. It was Helton pumping his fist in the air when he delivered the two-out, two-run walk-off home run off Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Takashi Saito in the bottom of the ninth inning of the second game of a Sept. 18, 2007, doubleheader that is credited with igniting the Rockies on the surge to the organization's only World Series appearance. The Rockies won 14 of their final 15 regular-season games that year to rally from fourth place in the National League West to the NL Wild Card, and then swept Philadelphia in the NL Division Series and Arizona in the NL Championship Series to advance to the World Series. The Saito game was the third game in that stretch, and anyone associated with the Rockies points to seeing Helton show emotion as the turning point.
That adds up to plenty of reasons for Helton to return for the final year on his contract, an opportunity he has been led to believe will be there."Going into [the surgery, there] was always a good chance [of a comeback]," said Helton. "All in all, I have been really pleased the pain is gone. I felt like I should have been walking a week after the surgery even though you take it easy. But you hear some horror stories about the hip surgeries, and I was very fortunate and blessed that mine went really well.'' It has gone so well that Helton is optimistic about what lays ahead. "I'm not getting in baseball shape yet, but I'm working out, doing the things that go with the rehab process, getting both hips strengthened, so when I do start the offseason workout, there will be no issues.'' Helton does remain cautious about where his rehab will lead. Helton is adamant that if he does play in 2013, he will accept a limited role, but it won't be similar to the one Jason Giambi has filled the past three years with the Rockies, where he pinch-hits with rare appearances in the lineup. "I wouldn't be away from my family to pinch-hit,'' said Helton, who turned 39 in August. "I mean, obviously I am pushing 40, and you know I can't be out there every day. That is impossible. There are days I wake up and I am wondering, like a lot of people, how I am going to tie my shoe that day.
"From that point, I know there are going to be days when I am not going to out there and perform, but the days that I do feel good and feel like I can go out there and hit there all over the ballpark, I want to be out there.''And it is all about Helton wanting to walk away on his own terms. It's not about money. Helton restructured his contract two years ago to help the Rockies have budget space for multiyear deals for Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, and his guarantee is $5 million in 2013. Helton has made more than $150 million during his career, and he has been careful with his money over the years. And it's not about a good-bye tour, along the lines of Chipper Jones. "I respect Chipper and what he did, but that's not me," Helton said. Never has been. For Helton, it's about playing the game, competing and winning. It's about him being a part of the winning formula, even if he assumes a secondary role in his final days as a player.
That's why he had hope for 2012 at the start of the season, only to be slapped back to reality by mid-July.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.