Coors Field celebrates its favorite son Helton
Rockies first baseman adds to thrills with homer after pregame ceremony
DENVER -- The Rockies commemorated Todd Helton's last game at Coors Field on Wednesday night, after 17 years in purple pinstripes, by presenting him with a horse.
But before riding off, Helton took his own trot around the bases.
In his first at-bat, with one out in the bottom of the second, Helton launched Red Sox starter Jake Peavy's cut fastball into the right-field stands. A sellout crowd of 48,755 poured its heart out during a night of ceremony that also starred his family, involved special former teammates and guests in person and via video, and actually included a gift horse. The place tripped into delirium when the ball floated over the out-of-town scoreboard and Helton floated all the way home.
Helton, 40, who announced recently that he's retiring at season's end, also drove in a run on a third-inning sacrifice fly and doubled to left for a third RBI in the fifth inning of a 15-5 loss to the Red Sox.
The scene played out on a field spangled in Helton's No. 17 -- in purple and white beside the first- and third-base lines and etched into the center-field grass. The chances of that number being worn by a Colorado player again are probably zero.
"You can dream about it, and obviously, I hoped I would go out and play well today," Helton said. "There was so much going on before the game, my expectations really weren't that high. So to go out and to hit a home run ... I'm very proud of that double the other way.
"To have my last game here, to be able to go out and play and be productive, it means a lot to me."
It's the definition of a beautiful sunset.
The homer was Helton's 369th, which tied him with Ralph Kiner for 74th all time. He also lifted his extra-base hit total to 998, which means Helton has a chance in three season-ending games at Dodger Stadium to join the 1,000 club. He has 2,518 hits, which places him ahead of Hall of Famer Joe Morgan and in 94th place all time. He closed his career at Coors Field with a .345 batting average, 227 home runs, 321 doubles, 28 triples, 859 RBIs and 874 runs scored in 1,141 games.
And, don't forget, a horse, of course.
The gift to the Helton family was a majestic, three-time championship Tobiano Gelding Paint Horse, a 6-year-old named A Tru Bustamove, who is from one of the leading performance sires of the American Paint Association. According to the Rockies' press release, the horse is comfortable with anything "from world-class competition to recreational riding, ranching and roping."
The saddle was tooled in Greeley, Colo., by Mark Fellini, who engraved the saddle. In addition, Tom Palmer of Pueblo, Colo., engraved a custom silver cap with the Rockies' logo, which rests atop the saddle.
"It was a lot of fun," Helton said. "It really was, to be able to tip my cap every time I went up to the plate. To be able to have my daughters run out there and grab the base -- what a wonderful surprise that was. And I got a horse out of the deal. That's always cool.
"It was surprising, there's no doubt about it."
Still, in Helton's eyes, his family's participation stole the show.
His wife, Christy, and daughters, Tireney Faith, who turned 14 on Tuesday, and Gentry Grace, 4, were on the field with him during pregame ceremonies. So was his older brother, Rodney Helton, whom many college football fans remember as a linebacker at the University of Alabama in the ealry 1990s. Also on the field were former Rockies teammates Brad Hawpe and Aaron Cook, who were part of the Rockies' 2007 World Series participant and 2009 playoff team, and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, a close friend who played football with Todd Helton at Tennessee.
Tierney Helton threw out the first pitch, to her father. And at the start of the ninth inning, Tierney and Gentry dashed onto the field to take away first base as a souvenir.
"To look over and see their smiles ... Seeing them come out on the field, that's definitely the highlight of the night for me," Helton said.
For a guy who has loved the grind and challenge of the game, but not always the attention about what comes with it, it all went off well.
"After all the pregame stuff, I asked him how he kept it together like he did," manager Walt Weiss said. "True to form, he said, 'I got to get ready to play a game.' So he steps up there and hits one into the seats. It would've been foolish to even think that that was going to happen tonight, and he does it in his first at-bat."
Or maybe not.
"The great ones do that, man, they really do," said Rockies veteran Michael Cuddyer, who has played the outfield primarily since joining the club in 2012, but likely will move to first full time. "They've got a way of stepping up.
"Cal Ripken [Jr.], every single time there was a big at-bat, he hit a homer -- All-Star Game, record-breaking game. Derek Jeter, 3,000th hit, homer. It's only fitting. Todd's in that company so why not? Last home game? Homer."
The game featured many moving video tributes, particularly from former teammates Jason Giambi of the Indians and Clint Barmes of the Pirates, as well as current Pirates and former Rockies manager Clint Hurdle, particularly touched Helton. The Indians are fighting for a playoff berth and the Pirates have clinched a National League Wild Card spot.
"Some of the guys talking got to me a little bit -- Hurdle, 'Barmie,' 'G,' that they took the time just to sit there to talk about me when they have other things going on in their life," Helton said.
Helton also humbly thanked Peavy and the Red Sox for helping the night go smoothly.
"It was kind of surreal," Helton said. "I hit it and I'm like, that's a homer. But I really wasn't sure. I thought, 'That couldn't really happen.' I think Peavy just did me a favor. He's a good dude and he probably just helped me out right there."
Rockies hitting coach Dante Bichette said, "It's too good to be true. It's almost like they planned it. … But it's all right. It ain't that easy."
At game's end, Helton led the Rockies' traditional fan appreciation lap around the stadium, shaking hands and receiving the applause. Even the Red Sox stayed in their dugout to applaud and congratulate him. After completing the lap and hugging every teammate, coach and person associated with the Rockies at home plate, Helton did television interviews. Then, he stepped back onto the grass for one more tip of the cap.
"I just knew it was the last time," he said. "It was a special moment. They're all special. I'm going to hopefully remember all of them, remember the whole night. Everything about it was great. If we would've won, it would've been perfect. We didn't, but I hit a homer."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.