July 25, 2014
By Brian Rice
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Todd Helton spent summer nights for 17 years at first base for the Colorado Rockies. With those days now behind him following his retirement last fall, Helton spent a rare summer night back home in Knoxville on Thursday.
Helton was the keynote speaker at the 33rd Annual Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame Dinner and Induction Ceremony at the Knoxville Convention Center.
The former Vol football and baseball player received the "Thanks for the Memories" award as part of the program before delivering his speech in a question-and-answer format with the Voice of Tennessee Baseball John Wilkerson. He was one of eight honorees on the evening with ties to the University of Tennessee, joining Peyton Manning (Chad Pennington Professional Athlete of the Year), Inky Johnson (Pat Summitt Ignite Greatness Award), Todd Kelly, Jr. (Male High School Athlete of the Year), and Hall of Fame Inductees John Bruhin, David Douglas, Wade Houston and Nikki McCray.
Helton said in his comments that there were plenty of things he missed about playing Major League Baseball, though they weren't necessarily the things the audience would have expected. He recounted a story from early in his career where he was a little too amped up for a warm-up toss in front of the dugout. His throw bounced past its intended destination and into the direction of the National Anthem performer, who was packing up the violin he had used for the Anthem. The violin did not survive the ensuing encounter with the baseball.
"I ran over to him to apologize and I asked him if I could buy him a new one," Helton said, describing the incident. "He just looked up and he said 'No, it's a family heirloom, it can't be replaced.' So those are the things I'll kind of miss."
The time away from the game has given Helton the chance to change his priorities, something he has relished.
"I don't miss the travel, it takes a toll on your body," he said. "Flying to a different city, not knowing what hotel you're waking up in and trying to get ready to play a game again. When you're playing, everything is centered around you, I wanted to be centered around my kids."
Helton was named a National League All-Star on five occasions, the first of which came in 2000 in the middle of a season where he won the NL batting title with a .372 average. Defensively, Helton was a three-time Gold Glove winner at first base for the Rockies, the team for which he played in all of his 2,247 Major League games.
He holds virtually every offensive record in Colorado, accomplished on his way to 2,519 hits, 369 home runs, 592 doubles, 1,335 walks, and 1,406 RBIs. Helton finished with a career average of .316, partly the product of an extensive journal he kept on his at-bats. The journal told him which pitchers he hit well and which ones he didn't. He said there was a common theme in the pitchers that he performed the best against.
"What I learned in my journal was that those guys I hit well weren't around the next year," he said, drawing laughs from the crowd of over 1,000. "That's pretty much it."
Helton was also a standout pitcher during his time at Tennessee, where he was mentored by current Vol Head Coach Dave Serrano. The impact then-pitching coach Serrano had on him was evident in his comments on success in baseball. He echoed comments Serrano has made on success in baseball relation to how well a player deals with failure.
"Part of being a baseball player is dealing with failing and having a short memory to go out there and do it again," Helton said. "If a guy had my number, I didn't know about it. Once I stepped into that on-deck circle, I didn't think he had my number."