(USA Today)When the Colorado Rockies arrive to their spring training facility in Arizona next Februrary, they will do so without the greatest player in franchise history. After 17 major league seasons, Todd Helton confirmed to the Denver Post's Troy Renck on Saturday night that he's set to retire following the 2013 season.
"Yes, this is it. It just seems like it's time. It's a young man's game. I am 40 years old. I am looking forward to doing something else besides baseball. Whatever that may be. I am not sure yet," said Helton, sitting next to his wife, Christy. "I am going to start a new chapter not only in my life but our lives. It will be different. It will be difficult, but it will be exciting."
Helton, 40, hasn't been the same player since 2008. That's when his chronic back issues really began to take hold. It's those back issues that have sapped the majority of Helton's strength and productivity, but it has been through sheer will and determination that the five-time All-Star has been able to extend his career even to this point.
Helton has undergone one major operation on his back to alleviate the pain. That came after the 2008 season. At the end of 2012, Helton had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right hip. It was that injury that many believed signaled the end of his career, but Helton battled back again to give Colorado 13 home runs and 51 RBIs through 112 games.
It has been a battle, too. A constant battle. Before every game Helton puts himself through an extensive stretching program to make sure he's loose for whatever the Rockies might need that day. Whether it's four at-bats and nine innings in the field, or one late inning at-bat against the opponent's closer, Helton was ready to answer the call more times than not.
Now, he's prepared to answer a new call and take a on a new challenge.
"During the season I definitely wavered. It usually wasn't from having a great game. I just enjoyed the competition, and I felt like I had bat speed. That's what I will miss. The competition. I don't know how I will replace that yet. There were days, I thought, 'Maybe I can do this one year,' " Helton said. "Then ultimately, it's the travel, being away from the family. It is just time."
Helton is the type of player you never want to see walk away from the game. Even as the years have worn on him and his body has let him down, when it's a good Todd Helton day, it's a joy to watch. No hitter can frustrate the game's elite pitchers quite like the Toddfather. He's a magician when it comes to spoiling their best two strike offerings. Then he leaves them scratching their heads as he dumps their first mistake in the left field corner for one of his trademark doubles. His 587 career doubles are good enough for 16th place on the all-time list.
On Sept. 1, Helton became the 95th player in baseball history to reach 2,500 hits. He also holds every offensive record their is to hold for the Rockies. Simply put, he was a hitting machine. But it's often overlooked that he's just as smooth defensively. Holstered with a quarterback's arm — he backed up Peyton Manning at the University of Tennessee — Helton could make difference making throws from his first base position. He was especially adept at fielding bunts and making strong, accurate throws on the run.
He's a special player. Hall of Fame special, though? That will be a tough call. If the writers factor in his all around game, which they certainly should, he has a shot. If they focus on the Coors Field too heavily, he probably doesn't. If he was only a healthier player, the conversation might not even be necessary.