Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, who missed considerable time last season, is healthy, working out regularly and doing baseball activities.
Helton, who turns 40 in August, played just 69 games in 2012, the fewest in any of his 15 full major league seasons. He underwent surgery Aug. 10 to repair a torn right hip labrum. Helton took batting practice for the second time Jan. 8 and came away very encouraged.
While he's not the run-producer he once was, Helton can still make pitchers work with his ability to fight off good pitches and prolong his at-bats. He can still get on base regularly and can still play outstanding defense.
"I worked with Pat Burgess, who is our bullpen catcher but who is really good (at throwing batting practice)," Helton told MLB.com. "I got to the point where I was seeing the ball where it was pitched. I could hit it hard. It was a good feeling. I kept telling him, 'Wow, that was a lot of fun.'"
Last season, Helton hit .238 with seven homers and 37 RBI. He went on the disabled list at the All-Star break and played in just six games, the last on Aug. 5, after being activated July 27.
In 2013, Helton expects to play first base regularly and not be a pinch hitter, designated hitter and occasional starter at first base -- the role Jason Giambi filled with the Rockies the past three seasons. But Helton also realizes that for his sake and for that of the team, he must be open with manager Walt Weiss about how he feels. The Rockies do have first base options in Michael Cuddyer, Jordan Pacheco and Tyler Colvin.
"I'm not out to just say, 'I'm the first baseman,' and be a detriment to the team," Helton said. "I think I'll know if that's the case. Hopefully I'm not blinded by anything. I expect to go out and help the team. Cuddyer is an established major league player who is in the prime of his career. Pacheco is an up-and-coming star who sprays the ball all over the field and is never off-balance at the plate. Colvin just keeps getting better. Those guys can do fine."
Helton, who made his debut with the Rockies in August 1997 and has $5 million remaining on the final year of his contract, said his goal "is to get through the dadgum season." But before he started hitting, he devoted himself to necessary rehab exercises and made the decision he wants to gear up for the grind of another season.
"It's not the actual games that I had to decide I wanted to do," Helton said. "Everyone wants to play those. It's the travel, talking to you guys (in the media), the meetings, the time away from family -- those things. I don't think as you get older, the love for the game dies any."