DENVER (AP) — Todd Helton brought the crowd at Coors Field to its feet again Sunday when the Colorado Rockies retired the No. 17 jersey of their longtime first baseman.
Helton, a career .316 hitter, retired after last season following a stellar 17-year career, all with the Rockies. He is the first player in the team’s 22-year history to have his number retired.
With his wife and two daughters looking on and in front of a full house that included many in the crowd wearing vintage Helton jerseys, the five-time All-Star thanked the city, fans, former teammates and his family for their support, and Rockies ownership for giving him his chance.
“Thank you all so much. What a great turnout,” Helton said during a ceremony before Sunday’s doubleheader against the Cincinnati Reds. “I’m proud to say I’m a Colorado Rockie for life. There’s no greater honor for me than having my number retired from the team that I put my heart and soul into.”
As part of the tribute, the Rockies unveiled a plaque bearing Helton’s No. 17 on the facade of the second-deck railing next to one bearing the initials of Keli S. McGregor, the Rockies’ late president, and Jackie Robinson’s No. 42, which has been retired by all of major league baseball.
During an earlier news conference, Helton said looking back, his steady approach to his job paid off in a tribute he never could have envisioned.
“I just came to work every day,” he said. “That’s all I did really. I showed up every day and played as hard as I could. Some days, that was enough. Some days it wasn’t, but that’s all right. To be honored for that, it’s truly special.”
Helton was far from ordinary, lending credibility to young organization trying to make a name for itself, becoming the face of the team to its fans and with his play helping the Rockies reach the World Series for the first time in 2007, though they fell short of the championship.
“It’s a tremendous honor I think for any athlete, but I think it means a great deal to a player that played his entire career here — that was all in for the state of Colorado and the city of Denver,” Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, a friend and former college football teammate of Helton at Tennessee, said earlier this week.
“Todd is the ultimate Colorado Rockie and so to have his No. 17 retired, it’s obviously a no-brainer. I think it’s special for the Rockies organization and all the Rockies fans that Todd was truly part of them for his entire career.”
Rockies reliever Matt Belisle, Helton’s former teammate, said he “set an example for what it is to be a gamer and a winner.”
During his news conference, Helton was asked if there was anything significant behind his No. 17. It turned out he was given the number during his first big league spring training camp.
“I showed up and it was in my locker and I certainly wasn’t about to say anything good or bad,” Helton said. “I just took the number and stuck with it.”
It sure worked out, for Helton and Rockies.