Despite a relatively short history, the Colorado Rockies have employed several extraordinary players — Larry Walker, Andres Galarraga, Matt Holliday, Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to name a few — but only one will have the distinction as the first to have his number retired based on his time in a Rockies uniform.
That honor will go to Todd Helton, who’s No. 17 uniform will be immortalized during a pregame ceremony at Coors Field on Sunday, Aug. 17.
If you enjoy symmetry, then it’s a pretty fitting occasion, especially when you consider that Helton retired in 2013 following 17 seasons as the Rockies starting first baseman. It comes three days before his 41 birthday, so it can also be considered an early birthday present.
According to the Denver Post, the Rockies plan on making it a weekend long celebration of Helton’s career. On Friday, Aug. 15, the first 15,000 fans will receive a Todd Helton Farewell bobblehead. The following evening will feature Helton collectible jerseys. And then "Retire 17" weekend concludes with the ceremony and a Helton bobblehead gnome giveaway on Sunday.
That’s a pretty loaded weekend, but it’s certainly well deserved. Helton holds every offensive record there is to hold for the Rockies, and became only the 95th player in baseball history to reach 2,500 hits back on Sept. 1. Had he not missed several games over the past seven seasons with reoccurring back problems, he would have challenged and likely surpassed 3,000 hits.
Helton was a hitting machine, but often overlooked was his exceptional glove work and difference making throwing arm. Blessed with a quarterback's cannon — he backed up Peyton Manning at the University of Tennessee — Helton could make every throw from his first base position, including lasers across the diamond to nail lead runners on bunt attempts.
His Hall of Fame case takes a hit because of his injuries and his home ballpark. However, had he remained healthy, his performance may have stayed strong enough to outweigh the Coors Field factor. Unfortunately, we’ll never know for sure, but his career is certainly worthy of the acknowledgement the Rockies will give him in August.
When Helton's No. 17 goes up, it will join Jackie Robinson's No. 42, which is universally retired in major league baseball, and No. 57, which honors former starting pitcher Darryl Kile. Kile died of a heart attack in 2002 while playing for the St. Louis Cardinals.
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